Feb. 16, 2006 • Volume 14 Number 11
Scholar, teacher, mentor, colleague, friend: Rev. J. Robert Barth, SJ (in photo), the former College of Arts and Sciences dean who died last September, was all those and more. And that's how Lect. Michael Raiger (Philosophy) set out to memorialize him in a recently published essay.
Raiger's article, "In Memoriam: J. Robert Barth, SJ (1931-2005)," appears in the current issue of The Coleridge Bulletin. Echoing Fr. Barth's observations on Coleridgean imagery, Raiger writes that Fr. Barth's personality "was directed outward from a central point that sustained his energies and his attention in the direction of others.
"But like the stone that disappears, while the ever-larger circles grow outward on the surface of the water, his life even after his death remains clearly visible, as the evidence of his presence in those who knew him."
Raiger, who has taught English and philosophy at the University since the fall of 2001, first encountered Fr. Barth while studying for his master's degree, which he completed in 1989.
"It was our shared interest in Coleridge that brought us together," says Raiger. "Fr. Barth was helpful in getting an article of mine published, and he did so without really knowing me. I saw this as an indication of his generosity towards young scholars, which I've come to see as a integral component of his understanding of himself as a scholar. It also showed me a side of his personality that ran very deep."
In recent years, Raiger and Fr. Barth both attended the annual Coleridge Summer Conference in England, a signal event for scholars of the 19th-century British poet. The conference provided for Raiger his fondest, and most enduring, memory of Fr. Barth - but not just as an academic.
"At 6:30 every morning - and a late July morning in the west country of England is one of the most beautiful settings one can imagine - Fr. Barth said Mass under a very large weeping willow tree for the small contingent of Catholics present at the conference. I've been told that he did the same for years at Dove Cottage in the Lake District of England, for participants at the Wordsworth Conference.
"I think everyone there at these Masses sensed the appropriateness of it. Sharing the Eucharist in the natural beauty of the English countryside that Coleridge loved so well, seemed like the best way to prepare for a day dedicated to discussing the writings of a man whose vision of nature led to the experience of God.
"Fr. Barth, through his own personality gave of us a glimpse of that far country."
Writing a tribute to Fr. Barth in The Coleridge Bulletin, which is published by organizers of the conference, was appropriate for any number of reasons, says Raiger.
"I was asked to do it because of the BC connection, and also because we both saw Coleridge as a deeply religious poet and thinker from whom our own religious experiences could draw strength and inspiration. I've admired this aspect of Fr. Barth's scholarship: It wasn't an academic exercise, but a way of living that mattered, and Coleridge helped us to understand and articulate this in similar ways. Fr. Barth's approach to scholarship really has inspired me in my own academic career."
The Coleridge Bulletin Web site is www.friendsofcoleridge.com/Coleridge-Bulletin.htm. With their permission, Chronicle has made Raiger's article available at www.bc.edu/bc_org/rvp/pubaf/chronicle/v14/f16/barthmemoriam.html. -Sean Smith