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Stories

Remembering Fr. Theodore Rynes, S.J., 1921 – 2015

By Christine (Long) Brunkhorst, English, ’83

When I took my first job as an English teacher years after I’d graduated from Santa Clara, I called the best teacher I knew: Fr. Ted Rynes, S.J.

“How do you do that daily paragraph thing?” I asked. “How does that work?”

I took notes at my kitchen table, trying to get his system down.

Fr. Rynes was a good man and a dedicated teacher, and for many of us, he was a mentor and friend.

Fr. Rynes taught English at Santa Clara for 45 years. He taught 18th and 19th century British Lit, The Bible as Literature, Literature and Religion, and English 20 among others. I used to joke that he’d given the University two careers instead of one, that he deserved two retirement packages—not that the man would ever retire. He would say, “I will keep teaching for as long as I’m effective.” And judging by student evaluations, the number of former students who went on to become teachers, and all the friends and former students bewildered by his passing, he was indeed effective.

“He ruled the classroom,” recalls Chris Bruno, ’84. “He was like a casually-attired Abe Lincoln who’d escaped an assassination attempt and thereafter threw his life into religion. In a knit tie and a suit, he skirted the edge of conformity just enough to be intimidating. He read every poem with the gravity of the Gettysburg Address.”

There are teachers dedicated to their craft and knowledgeable about their subjects, but Fr. Rynes was more. With him you had an advocate, a man of high expectations, and an example. What many of us learned from Ted Rynes was that you don’t have to conquer the world, or make a lot of money, or be important—you just have to love literature, think deeply, and serve others. He will be deeply missed.