Fr. Naumann on teaching, the Aud, and having students memorize two lines of poetry every night

CHS Staff

 

Fr. Paul S. Naumann, S.J., passed away on June 17, 2022, following a brief illness. He taught English and served as the moderator and director of student theatrical productions at Canisius High School from 1965 to 1994. 

The wake (11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.) and funeral Mass (1 p.m.) will take place Friday, June 24 in the Panasci Family Chapel on the Le Moyne College campus in Syracuse, N.Y. Fr. Naumann is originally from Baldwinsville, attended Le Moyne prior to his entrance into the Society of Jesus and taught at Le Moyne from 1994 to 2001.

Fr. Naumann wrote the following reflection on his days at Canisius. The article, which editors asked to be 500 words, was published in the Summer 2019 edition of CHS Today.

* * * 

Always begin in the concrete, I taught my students.

So, “Good grief! 500 words! That’s practically a novel!” I don’t think I ever asked my students to write 500 words, at least not all in one assignment.

Not knowing immediately where or how to begin this assignment, I sit in my window gazing out at the roof and tree tops of East Syracuse. Oddly enough, what floats up first in my memory is the Canisius auditorium/gym, where I did much of my best work and made some of my worst decisions.

“But surely, Father, much (or most) of your best work was done in the classroom.”

Of course one hopes that would be true, but the results from the classroom usually don’t show up as quickly or objectively as the results of a rehearsal. And besides rehearsals, I DID spend a lot of time in the Aud painting scenery with the help (gratefully accepted) of Sr. Loretta Webber from Nardin Academy down the street. Together we covered acres of muslin flats and, usually, for each production, painted a new design on the stage floor. We did this painting after dinner because the afternoons were taken up with rehearsals in the cafeteria until production time was hard upon us.

“About the classroom, Father?”

Yes. Just let me say one more about the Aud. The gym floor took up about half of the Aud, and that was, of course, the basketball floor. About two weeks before curtain time the basketball team moved graciously down to the small gym, with no arm wrestling necessary. I was always very grateful for that because my nervous energy extended just so far before giving out.

The classroom, ah yes, the classroom: Two lines of poetry every night, or almost. "Why’s that?" I hear you ask. Lyric poetry is one of the fine arts, as is dramatic poetry. English poetry, in both categories, is as good as or better than any others. Furthermore, Shakespeare excelled at both kinds, and there is, perhaps, no better lyric poetry in English than that of the American Emily Dickinson. Some as good, some different, but none better.

My best, greatest English teacher, in or out of the Society, Fr. Edwin D. Cuffe, S.J., had us young Jesuits memorize two lines a night. I was following his sterling example. Moreover, memory is a muscle and needs exercise.

I liked teaching. I even enjoyed it, sometimes more than others. I liked my students and even enjoyed them, inevitably some more than others. But they were all bright inevitably, etc., and a challenge, some a little more than others. But what would teaching be like if you were not challenged? Boring. Even when everything was rolling merrily along, the challenge remained.

Helpfully, I had found in my breviary what I thought was the perfect prayer to use before class. Once found I used it always: “Lord teach us goodness, discipline, and wisdom, and these gifts will keep us from becoming hardened by evil, weakened by laziness, or ignorant because of foolishness.” Amen.

* * * 

Per the obituary: In lieu of flowers, friends are invited to make a donation in memory of Father Naumann to:

Canisius High School
c/o Fr. Naumann Scholarship Fund
1180 Delaware Ave.
Buffalo, NY 14209

Donations can also be made via canisiushigh.org/giving

At the "designation" dropdown menu, choose "In Memory of Rev. Paul S. Naumann, S.J. / Fr. Naumann Scholarship Fund" 

Gifts will provide scholarships for promising students in need of support.

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