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Fr. James Lehrberger: Teacher, Minister and University Institution
Jun 4, 2024

The following is adapted from a speech given at the 2024 King/Haggar Ceremony, at which Fr. James Lehrberger, OCist, was named associate professor emeritus of philosophy.

If there were an award for the professor who has occupied the greatest number of distinct roles at the University of Dallas, our colleague Fr. James Lehrberger, MA ’79 PhD ’83, would be at least a finalist. He has been a master’s student in theology, a doctoral student in the Institute of Philosophic Studies, a teaching assistant in politics, and a lecturer in theology (in both Irving and Rome) and in ministry. In the Philosophy Department, he has been lecturer, adjunct assistant professor, visiting assistant professor, regular assistant professor (again in both Irving and Rome), associate professor, and interim graduate director. He has twice served as chaplain for the Rome campus, and he has ministered to the spiritual needs of countless students here in Irving.

If we look beyond the walls of UD, we find courses at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome, and priestly ministry throughout the Metroplex as varied as it is constant. At present, for example, Fr. James serves as chaplain to St. Francis Montessori, a school for three- to twelve-year-olds founded by UD alumni.

For four and a half decades, Fr. James’ work as scholar and teacher has been centered on the metaphysics and anthropology of St. Thomas Aquinas and on the question of faith and reason. A broad-minded Thomist, his work reflects the influence not only of Frederick Wilhelmsen, his teacher and colleague at UD, but also of Etienne Gilson and Bernard Lonergan. His first publication, however, was on Augustine; his last to date was on Nietzsche: “Artistry and Genealogy: The Literary Structure of On the Genealogy of Morality’s First Treatise.” This title, it is worth noting, echoes that of his master’s thesis in theology many years ago: “The Literary Structure of Clement of Alexandria’s Protreptikos pros Hellenas.” These titles reflect the influence of the Straussian tradition, with which he remains in dialogue to this day.

There is an old photograph, now readily available on the internet, of G.K. Chesterton standing between J.M. Barrie and George Bernard Shaw. I would give a great deal to have a similar photo of Fr. James with Fritz Wilhelmsen and Leo Strauss. There is a Chestertonian joy in Fr. James’ life and work: an unshakeable conviction that life is worth living, and that the good fight is worth fighting. There is something too, though in a more scholarly mode, of Chesterton’s taste for paradox: the paradox of Nietzsche, the greatest prophet not to believe in God; the paradox of St. Thomas, the greatest philosopher not to be a philosopher; and the paradox of an utterly straightforward man, our friend and colleague, thinking through with Leo Strauss the paradoxes of esoteric writing. Fr. James, I would say that we will miss you, but I know that you are already plotting your return. We wish you joy in your latest appointment, and we look forward to seeing you back in the classroom this fall.

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May 20, 2024

The Cowan-Blakley Memorial Library was one of just 50 institutions around the country to receive a recent grant from Theatre Communications Group (TCG).

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The University of Dallas is the only Catholic university to receive an A+ grade from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

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