All College

by Thomas J. Susanka
Funeral for Dr. John W. Neumayr
Thomas Aquinas College, California
July 25, 2022


“Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots    around your table.”


— Ps. 128: 3


Bridget, what a gift it was to me to spend so many happy hours with you and Jack at your kitchen table. During these recent years when I visited your home, I felt what it might have been like to among the olive shoots around your table.

Jack was very much like a father to me beginning even in my freshman year at the College. He was the soul of patience with my self-made confusion with Porphyry and Aristotle. “Keep reading, Tom. It’ll be alright.” And it was.

Later, in my first year as Admissions Director, way back in September 1979, he blithely and with unshakable, even fatherly, confidence put first-year tutor Norman De Silva and me together as co-leaders of a Sophomore Seminar. At the end of our first semester, we reviewed our performance and gave ourselves high ratings for success with our section of sophomores. But one Tuesday early in the second semester, faculty who were to lead seminars that evening met with Dean Neumayr and President McArthur in anticipation of the visit of a team from the accrediting commission. Team members would be on campus for a look-see at the College. We were strongly urged to be on our better behavior and to mind our Ps and Qs. The team likely would like to observe classes.

Norman and I were aghast, but we took our places at the seminar table with great hope for a successful conversation with students on Dante’s “Purgatory.” We weren’t expecting how purgatorial the next two hours would be. The conversation, in fact, did not get much traction for the first 30 or so minutes. Then, in came a middle-aged, well-dressed woman. She sat at the table. The discussion became if anything less a discussion even than it had been. Until the middle-aged, well-dressed woman decided to take it in hand. She asked a question, followed up the student answer with another question and a comment. The conversation absolutely took off. Students, but not tutors, showed what they could do. Texts were cited, discoveries were made, excitement rose to heights. The well-dressed woman smiled complacently, rose from the table, and left the room.

We had betrayed the Dean’s confidence and ruined the College’s chances for accreditation. As it turned out, our seminar guest was only a visiting if sagacious prospective student who did enter the freshman class in the following autumn. Norman and I did not judge that a full and frank confession of our youthful incompetence and despair was necessary. Dean Neumayr had enough already on his mind.

Jack’s and your influence on my own family began early, too. Fr. McGovern had the joy of often visiting your home in those early years. He observed the art and science as you helped your children practice the Fourth Commandment. Father perhaps also observed the less than artful efforts exercised with the Susanka children. He mentioned how Jack and Bridget kept eyes open for an opportunity for quick and mostly painless follow-through on instructions given their children when they failed to obey. Something along the lines of, “Don’t pick up that book;” or, “Stay in your chair.” If a child strayed from that simple instruction, as now and again he or she might do, the parents were quick to deliver the consequences. Therese and I did learn this parental tactic with, we thought, pretty good effect.

Later, as we began homeschooling our children, we found maps of the world and of the United States and hung them on the walls near our dinner table. This was in imitation of Jack’s geography lessons with your children. I often myself failed the lessons I tried to give my children during dinner, and I think they often wished they could just be left alone to eat! I lost track of and made muddles of state boundaries and continental divides and highways between Newport News and Jamestown Settlement and the history of Shield’s Pub in Williamsburg, Virginia. I just didn’t have Jack’s catalogic memory of all his own travel, and the children certainly didn’t have his stories and travelogs to make learning the lay of the country and the world a pleasure.

Another, more successful, imitation of Jack’s fondness for geography was our use of the splendid travel and adventure books by Richard Halliburton he recommended. We managed to find five or six of them — The Royal Road to Romance, The Glorious Adventure, New Worlds to Conquer, The Flying Carpet, Seven League Boots. These were read and re-read with good effects, geographical and literary. In case you do not recall the recommendation, I give you hearty if tardy thanks. These books still are in our bookshelves and will, some day be squabbled over in the Susanka legacy.

How happy I was to have been invited by Jane to help while you were recovering from your fiery accident and Jack was recovering from his heart valve surgeries. Jane set us up with coffee each morning and brought us lunch after her morning’s work ... or her morning doubles. Jack and I spent hours together philosophizing and discussing literature. We complained about errant liturgies. We ignored dozens of incoming calls from spammers and scammers. And Jack brought me along with his ever-urgent interest: We sought understanding through faith ... fides quarens intellectum.

Your family and friends have much they want to say to you, and Brooks has put in yeoman’s work in scheduling our afternoon together. So I bring my stemwinder to a close. But let me just mention this one other gift from Jack. If I’d received it when I was younger, I might have been a better man all my life. On one of those days in the autumn of 2020 while covid was waxing and I was driving down from Ojai to be with him, and you were still at the Grossman Center. Jack took to his recliner at his doctor’s orders. For some hours, he kept his feet up above the level of his heart. And then his heart opened up in a quiet meditation on the life to come in heaven: its perfection of our knowledge of God in His perfection; its fulfillment of all that is not yet seen but which our faith now hopes for; its joy in the unending possession of God to which our love for Him now impels us; its deeper revelation of the mysterious essence of the Holy Trinity and of the Church which is Christ’s bride. Its unending peace in the company of those we have been blessed to know and love in this life.

He was for me, that afternoon a father and a guide, a friend and a saint. For your part, Bridget, in making Jack what he was and is, and for yours, Mary Bridget, Catherine, Jane and Anne; Thomas, John, and George. God’s blessings be on you. We will always be grateful to you.

As I think about your family, Bridget, and especially about Jack’s fatherhood, I am moved by how well King David’s words anticipate you yourselves:

If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil. In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat: when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.

Truly sons are a gift from the Lord, a blessing, the fruit of the womb. Indeed the    sons of youth are like arrows in the hand of a warrior. O the happiness of the man who has filled his quiver with these arrows! He will have no cause for shame when he disputes with his foes in the gateways.

— Ps. 127

Happy the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gets understanding, for the gain from it is better than gain from silver and its profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are  riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are paths of peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy.

— Ps 3: 13-18

“Jesus said to Martha, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection of the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”

— Jn. 11:22-27

In closing, let us remember again King David’s words: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad” (Ps. 118).