Euologizing my Mentor – Gerald P. McOsker

June 21, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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About five years ago, I was a senior in college. During the Fall semester, I had dropped a class before it had even started, and my roommate, whom I barely knew at the time, suggested to me that I take a class with him. It was a class on St. Paul, and since we both had a great fascination with, and love of, religion, I decided to take the class with him. My roommate told me that he had never met the man teaching the class, but he had heard the man was good. I took him at his word.

The first class never actually happened. As a class of about ten people, we waited in the classroom about fifteen minutes on a sunny afternoon before we decided he wasn’t coming. The next class was two days later, and this time, he showed. He had mistaken the time of the class, and promised he would never do it again. He was a tall, lanky Irishman with a booming voice and white hair. When he introduced himself, he said he did not want to be called “Doctor” because he didn’t practice medicine. Instead, he preferred professore or “your excellency.” Bespectacled and always with a bow tie, his name was Gerald McOsker, and he was a man who would change my life forever.

He knew St. Paul like the back of his hand; whenever he referred to religion, he always called it “this God thing.” Every class, he would practice Chesed, or the Hebrew word for ‘loving kindness’ (we don’t have a direct translation in English, but it is the love that God has for man), by giving someone in the class a dollar, saying “may He come soon.” I could never tell if he was serious or not. At that time. Although he was not Jewish (he was a practicing Roman Catholic), he never said the name of God in Hebrew, instead saying Adonai as a sign of respect and reverence. For Halloween, he dressed up as Darth Vader. When I threatened to take a picture of him with my camera phone, he told me “No! Jeez man, don’t get me in trouble, I’m adjunct! Let me have a little fun!”

At first, I thought he was just a funny bookworm, but he was so much more. He was a man who had lived.

He had been in the Army as a youth, and became a lawyer after graduating from Providence College. While he was successful, he had never lost his early love; he took courses in Theology at Providence College at night, and eventually got a Masters in the subject. He so effected me that I went on to do the very same thing he did and get a Masters in the subject. I would meet and become friendly with many of the people who had taught him, and every one of them were overjoyed when I told them of his teaching the subject. “He always should have been a teacher,” they exclaimed. One teacher in particular, a Hebrew linguist, liked him so much she gave him lessons in the language pro bono. He, in turn, bought her a typewriter that she still uses to this very day.

He was a man who learned from the best of times, and the worst of times. But I can only speak of the times I had with him. When I was going through personal problems (the kind college kids go through; the ones that don’t matter a week after they happen), he wanted to hear about them, and tried to help in anyway he could. He was blunt, but empathetic. Hilarious, but poignant. We spent hours talking about religion, politics, and life in general. He was my mentor.

He gave me an entire Anchor Bible Dictionary set as a graduation gift, and he simply said to me “I figured you could use it.” We kept up with each other here and there after I graduated. We met for lunch a couple of times; he always liked to quiz me about what I knew. We went to Mass together a few times, and I’m not even Catholic. He taught me in ways no other teacher ever could, because unlike those who go straight through from college to post-grad work, he became a working man first. He had been through the pain and rigors of life, and had come on the other side smiling.

When I had heard he was sick, I went back to the college, hoping he would still be there. But he wasn’t. It was the end of the semester, and no one was around who could give me any clue where he lived. I had his home phone number, but I didn’t want to bother his family. It will bother me the rest of my life that I didn’t see him one more time before the end.

At his funeral this past weekend, almost every man wore a bow tie in his honor. I was floored by the amount of love and support that was there for him and his children, grandchildren and siblings. The priest who eulogized him said something very poignant: “We have no doubt that he has gone to see his Father.” While I’m not a man to use flowery sentiments, I couldn’t have agreed more with that sentiment.

I miss him. But I know where he is and I know he has done well. He fought the good fight, and in the end, he gave up the ghost as all of us will.

You were a rare man. Thank you for everything, professore. See you in time.

Gerald McOsker, b. June 25, 1939 - d. June 14, 2010

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4 Comments »

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  1. Wow- pretty amazing to come upon this about my own dad. thanks a bunch
    S

    • Thank you so much for reading. Your dad was a great guy, and I’m glad I was privileged enough to have had him as a teacher.

  2. I know this comment is well off from the date of this original post; however, I am compelled to say that it is a great article.

    I, too, attended Salve Regina, after having transferred from a college in New Hampshire in January of 2008 for personal reasons. I had Dr. McOsker for my very first class…walked in with my hat on and he asked me to remove it. At first I didn’t think I was going to like him as a professor. As the semester progressed, he grew on me. I had trouble adjusting to Salve..I really didn’t know anybody, and here I was already mid-way through my junior year..I think he realized this and I developed a student-teacher friendship with him that I will always remember. I’d always stop by his office at times during the school year and we’d talk about various things, whether I needed to vent about some personal stuff or just rambling on different topics. The bow-ties were always classic. He was a very professional man. Upon graduating, I left a letter at his office thanking him for his help, and showing me that I was truly at a better place when having transferred to SRU. I stopped by from time to time to catch up with him, see how he was doing. When I found out he had passed, it was truly disheartening. Although I only knew him for a little less than 2 years, he had a very big impact upon my life. He was a great man. I, too, wear bow-ties now in the professional environment, workplace. It may sound corny, but it’s always in remembrance of him. He was the best professor I ever had in all my years of school & I will never forget his lessons in class and in personal life, which he talked to me about whenever I would sit and meet with him.

    • Typo: January, 2007.


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