Thursday, October 25, 2012

Australian Jesuit recognized as world's oldest teacher.

Earlier this month, 99-year-old Australian Jesuit Father Geoffrey Schneider was officially recognized by Guinness World Records as the world's oldest serving teacher. Here is more on a remarkable Jesuit, by way of The Australian (article also available sans paywall via UCAN):
As the world’s oldest full-time teacher, Sydney priest Geoffrey Schneider knows a thing or two about how to bring the best out of students.

The secret, according to the 99-year-old, is "a mountain of patience."

"If things are going wrong, don’t start shouting. Just proceed quietly and things will settle down eventually," said Father Schneider, who turns 100 in December.

"Their books will eventually open."

The Jesuit priest has taught at schools in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, shaping the intellects and values of leading figures of Australian government, business, academia and sport, including Tony Abbott.

But as most workers switch between jobs or eagerly plan their retirement, Father Schneider yesterday signalled no intention of ending his 47-year tenure at Sydney's St Aloysius' College, where he is touted as the world’s oldest full-time teacher.

Nobody has so far come forward to challenge that title.

"Retirement?," he says.

"So I can read the paper every morning and then forget what’s in it?"

"That's what a retired friend told me happens to him," he said, recounting a recent visit to a home for retired priests.

"At 3pm there's afternoon tea and if you don’t turn up in the first minute they come knock on your door and say, 'It’s tea time now.'"

"Really, I shouldn't be frightened of it, but it just doesn’t appeal to me. I just feel I can be more useful here."
Later in the same article, Father Schneider comments on a unique tribute paid to him by some of his former pupils:
[Father Schneider] enjoys a fierce popularity at St Aloysius'.

In the early 1990s, Year 3 students were asked to name a new building after their favourite Jesuit saint. Innocently, they chose "Saint" Schneider.

"I didn’t worry about it at the time, really, but after that we received a direction that the Jesuits were not to have any buildings named after them while they are alive," he said.

"I don’t believe it wasn't a direct consequence of what happened, but they managed to name the building before that order came down."
How does he do it? In an interview with Australia's Catholic Weekly, Father Schneider emphasizes the importance of physical and spiritual health:
"Jesuits don’t retire while ever we’re on our feet," Fr Schneider says.

"The ones who do retire it’s because sadly their bodies have let them down. I’m still active."

"I make sure I take walks regularly and I still do some simple exercises."

"My health is good, immunity fine and I haven’t had to have any 'repairs' carried out."

Fr Schneider says his spiritual health is equally important.

"My other strength I gain from St Ignatius, St Francis Xavier and the Ignatian spiritual exercises; and what a man Francis Xavier was."

. . .

"What I particularly learnt in my novice days was that you realised you had to work hard, you had to do a good job, to show what you were made of, and to demonstrate that, yes, you would make a Jesuit," Fr Schneider says.

As he did. And what does he say about the Jesuit community?

"A life of good works and prayer. A Jesuit has to have compassion and love. To be a good community man."

"Our prayer life is constant all the time. The task is to confirm or reinforce what we learnt as novices, always."

"It gets me closer to God through Christ, and I am walking in the steps of great saints."
There is a lot of wisdom in Father Schneider's words on the importance of having a regular prayer life and following the example of the saints, and I can't help but admire this near-centenarian for his dedication to the apostolate and his continuing hard work. For a few more words from Father Schneider and some of his current and former pupils, here is a profile presented earlier this year by Sky News Australia:

After all that, what can I say but 'ad multos annos'? AMDG.


At 10/26/2012 12:55 AM, Anonymous Madeleine said...

Great article, Joe! What an inspiration this man is!


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