RIP Dr. Lorna Shoemaker

Yesterday, I learned of the passing of Dr. Lorna Shoemaker. Lorna was one of my professors at Christian Theological Seminary and part of my Masters Thesis Board, along with Drs. Frank B. Brown and Marti Steussy . Lorna’s also one of the top educators in my life journey who had that D.H. Lawrence pulse of a “passion for instruction.”

Great educators who make a life impact are rare (although I’ve been blessed). They can never receive enough credit and, contrary to some perspectives, it’s not the institution, school, church, building (or fill in the blank), but the exceptional individual as teacher who makes the difference and impact. I saw the evidence of that after having teachers like Lorna, Frank, and Marti, then proceeding to another school where the teachers were competent, but I honestly cannot recall the name of one instructor I had there.

When I first had Lorna as a teacher (History of the Church), we were to share our major, year, and denomination in the class setting. Although I was the only theology major (everyone else was MDIV) and she clearly found some identity in my preferring that (as a focus), she was also curiously cautious when I said I was Catholic. I suspect the (well earned) reputation of a lot of Catholics as hierarchal cheerleaders may have had something to do with that caution, but we found a tongue-in-cheek common ground when she called on me in a discussion on Pentecost, which I had described as midrash on the Tower of Babel Story ; the first testament narrative in which God pulled out his Star Trek phaser (or whatever) and zapped the tower builders so they couldn’t finish the tower and see Him chilling out on his cloud (or whatever He was doing). While there were several audible gasps from shocked classmates, Lorna burst out laughing and that was the breaking of our ice.

I so enjoyed her class that, upon learning that she didn’t teach the next period of Church history class, I opted out of it.

However, the student/teacher relation with her became most edifying when I had a one-on-one semester with her for thesis preparation (I specifically requested her as she made dialoguing wet and exciting). In preparing for my thesis on the Marian art of Thomas Merton, in addition to the Thomas Merton Center, Lorna suggested and encouraged me to visit Merton’s Our Lady of Gethsemane in KY and spend time with the Trappists. I followed through with that suggestion and it was a life-altering experience, which we discussed in detail upon my return, as well as Cistercian spirituality. Perhaps more than that even were the edifying discussions that occasionally veered from the topic at hand and the ones I recall most vividly were our engagements about the Mozart operas that I had recently written about in an online blog, which, much to my surprise, she had read. When I only half joked that I found Mozart more spiritually rewarding than either the bible or religion, she related and proceeded to give me background information on the early Mozart operas, several of which I did not know and, again, she encouraged me to further exploration. That segued into several spirited conversations; from Claus Guth’s radical staging of Handel’s “Messiah” to the Maya Deren film; “At Land.” I was amazed at Lorna’s expansiveness, told her so, and said she was one of the most versatile instructors I had since a Jesuit priest many years before. When she asked his name, I told her and, lo and behold, she knew him (go figure) and that lead to an in depth discussion on him and the nature of Jesuit spirituality.

In addition to authentic ethics and faith, Lorna had a deeply pastoral heart, seen in her profoundly expressed empathy when Dr. Brown lost his wife. Lorna also had an admirable feisty side (albeit restrained) that I became privy to when asking her about a fellow (unnamed) teacher there that I was considering a class with. By that time, Lorna and I had known each other for a year, so she was comfortable enough to tell me that while I could learn from him, she foresaw a possible clash as he was extremely systematic. That was typical of Lorna’s inherent intuition; her ability to guide according to personality and I suspect that she would have readily recommended him to someone who preferred that kind of structure.

Dr. Shoemaker, wherever you are currently abiding, know that you made a considerable impact. Thank you and Blessings.

Condolences to Holly Hearon

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