Former Boston College theology professor Rev. Michael Himes, who died on June 10 at age 75, was a joyful and imaginative professor who found the good in everyone, according to BC theology professor Stephen Pope.
“He was moved by the goodness of students,” Pope said. “It’s a goodness that wasn’t fake or sentimental. He saw the goodness in them that often they don’t see themselves. But when someone sees the goodness in you, you actually can start to see it in yourself and then you want to live up to that goodness.”
Pope said he first met and became close friends with Himes when the professor joined the University in 1993. Pope taught a class on Dante and Aquinas with Himes, and according to Pope, Himes used his imagination and appreciation for literature to teach about love.
“The main trait I would ascribe to him is that he’s very imaginative,” Pope said. “He thought that the best depictions of theological themes were done in poetry and fiction, rather than through didactic, theological texts. Poetry and fiction create imagination and that fed into his main view of God as love.”
Kenneth Himes, Himes’ brother and a theology professor at BC, said many priests tell him they remember his brother for his exuberance.
“He did demonstrate a kind of zest for life and an enjoyment in being with others,” Kenneth Himes said.
This exuberance was evident in his teaching—Kenneth Himes said large numbers of students would eagerly sign up for Himes’ classes, freeing up other faculty to teach smaller classes.
“Michael took on a huge part of the student body during his time there and that was actually a benefit not just to me as the [former] department chair, but to all of us in the department,” Kenneth Himes said.
Stavros Piperis, MCAS ’19, took a class with Himes the fall of his senior year. Piperis said he was not only impressed by Himes’ mastery of the material—he often recited theological texts or poetry in varying languages from memory—but also of his enthusiasm.
“He adored the subject matter that he was covering, and you could see his excitement every time he brought it up,” Piperis said. “He would either be relishing it because he loved it so much … or you could see when he discovered something new … he had a humility about him that every time he re-approached his material to teach it, he was open to seeing something new in it and he was constantly surprised by what he found.”
Not only was Himes an excellent professor, but he was also a sought after public speaker, Kenneth Himes said. Himes would often lecture for clubs and at Agape Latte events on campus, drawing many students to him.
“You couldn’t really walk across the campus with Michael without literally a dozen students stopping to chat with him to say hello,” Kenneth Himes said. “He was very well known and very visible on the campus.”
Rev. Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean, said Himes’ career highlighted the significance of a Jesuit education.
“Fr. Himes has helped us all to more deeply understand the power and purpose of a Boston College Jesuit education,” Kalscheur said.
One of Himes’ gifts, Kenneth Himes said, was his ability to help people gain deeper self understanding.
“He just, I think, helped a lot of young people to become more reflective and thoughtful about their daily lives,” Kenneth Himes said.
Kalscheur said Himes’ first book, Doing the Truth in Love: Conversations about God, Relationships, and Service, helped him better understand the power of God’s love.
“I first became aware of his work in the mid-1990s when I read his book, Doing the Truth in Love, which illuminated for me the ways in which an authentic commitment to service and justice is grounded in and flows out of an experience of God’s love,” Kalscheur said.
According to Kalscheur, Himes had the power to connect community members to the University’s religious values and teachings.
“When I arrived at Boston College, I was amazed at the number of students who packed St. Mary’s Chapel whenever Fr. Himes preached and celebrated Mass,” he said. “In my work as Dean, I [have] been tremendously grateful for the ways in which Fr. Himes’ scholarship helped me to articulate how the Catholic intellectual tradition might animate the lives of faculty members as teachers and scholars and connect their academic work to the Jesuit, Catholic mission of the University.”
Kenneth Himes said his brother’s impact on the BC community is further seen through the many letters and emails from staff at BC who remember taking their lunch to hear Himes preach in St. Mary’s every Wednesday.
Himes was able to connect with people from various different religious backgrounds, according to Pope. Pope said that when Himes was invited to speak on the Trinity at his son’s school, students of all faiths thanked Himes for his talk.
“He was able to capture this core Christian belief and express it in a way that wasn’t excluding other faiths,” Pope said. “He depicted the Trinity as being an eternal community of love. … He so beautifully was able to help us see the depth of Christian faith and its connection to other faiths.”
Piperis said that Himes broadened student’s perspectives on Christianity, teaching them that joy is at the center of the Christian worldview. According to Piperis, this message was not always apparent to him until he took Himes’ class.
“I chuckled looking at my notes from his class where I wrote down from him a quote that says ‘one of the most Christian instincts or actions is the feeling that we’ve got to have a party,’” he said. “In the Christian faith we set aside time to celebrate things that matter. And he lived in such a celebratory way all the time. It was inspiring.”
Piperis said that Himes encouraged open dialogue in his classes, rather than merely lecturings.
“One of the reasons he was an excellent teacher is he was never handing down the understanding of a topic from above as the expert hands it to people who don’t understand,” Piperis said “He encouraged dialogue. … He really encouraged his students to discover the material themselves.”
For Kenneth Himes, his brother especially helped him discover meaning in all life experiences—from friendship and love to sickness and death.
“He helped me to appreciate that what’s really important is how we shape our imagination … in the sense of our ability to sort of construct a world of meaning for ourselves,” he said.
Piperis said he was particularly moved by Himes sharing how he put his career aside to take care of his mother.
“I remember Fr. Himes saying, just so assuredly, that [taking care of his mother] was the best thing he had ever done,” Piperis said. “It showed his priorities as a person.”
According to Piperis, Himes’ anecdote about his mother proved how the professor lived up to his own teachings.
“His teaching and lecturing about God and love and self sacrifice and all these things were real,” he said. “I think it’s maybe a temptation for someone who knows that theology really well to just enjoy knowing that theology and not so much living it. I was always aware that for him his actions were the most important and whatever he had to say just backed up how he lived.”
Himes lived out his own teachings even in his death by remaining “serene” and never growing bitter, Kenneth Himes said.
“I think he kept showing people how to live by the way he died,” he said.