Professors prepare for retirement



Joe Cramer

The end of the 2009-’10 academic year will see not only the graduation of the senior class, but also the end of several professors’ tenure at Villanova. 

Over the past five years, Villanova has seen 35 faculty members retire, and this year, eight more are joining them. 

One of these professors is Ray Heitzmann, professor and program coordinator of undergraduate teacher education in the department of education and human services. 

A Villanova alumnus himself, he graduated with the class of 1964 with a B.S. in education of history.

He began his 41-year long career at Villanova in 1969 after five years of teaching middle school and high school in tough school districts around the country. 

During his tenure, he has taught over 15 different courses, both inside and outside of his main field of study. Based on his interest and experience in journalism, he began a workshop called Writing for Publications. The course called on his extensive and varied experience in newspaper, journal and magazine writing.

“I’ve interviewed everyone from Hulk Hogan to Tim McCarver, at that time an announcer for the Mets,” Heitzmann said.

Another program he is especially proud of is the Leadership Institute for Student Athletes, a yearly program that holds lectures and workshops for student-athletes at the University.

 The idea first came to Heitzmann’s mind when he perceived a lack of leadership skills in games, despite the athletic talent of the players.

“We had a lot of great kids here, but they weren’t showing leadership during games so the teams weren’t winning,” Heitzmann said.

Along with his involvement with the athletic programs, he has an even more surprising connection to the current Villanova campus.

“Father Peter was a former student of mine,” Heitzmann said. “And the rumors that he still owes me work from a class I had him in years ago are untrue.”

Despite his retirement, Heitzmann doesn’t plan on disappearing completely from campus. He plans on teaching summer classes as well as one course and one workshop in the fall.

After 41 years of teaching at Villanova, Heitzmann will miss the diversity of thought he experiences daily on campus, as well as what he sees as a uniquely dedicated and spirited student body.

“I can go down to lunch and sitting with me will be a theologian, a historian and a Chinese instructor, and the conversations are just unbelievable,” Heitzmann said. “And our students are great. They’re bright, they’re articulate and they’re fun.”

James Murphy, professor of English and director of the Irish Studies department, will also be bringing a long and impactful tenure to a close this spring. Murphy began as an English professor in 1963, fresh out of his master’s program at Niagara University. In 1979, after 16 years of teaching assorted composition and author-specific courses, he began putting together the Irish Studies program.

“It began as an effort to come up with interdisciplinary courses,” Murphy said. “It occurred to me that the studies of Irish culture lent themselves to that kind of approach.”

Since then, he has seen the program develop and prosper at the University. Every year, 50-60 students study abroad in Ireland, and he regularly brings recognizable Irish writers and speakers to campus, the capstone of which he sees as the sold-out reading by Seamus Heaney and Peter Fallon last Tuesday.

“I come from a strong Irish-American background,” Murphy said. “Both of my parents are from Ireland. The program is a nice gesture of respect for all those who came over.”

After retirement, Murphy plans to work on personal writing as he splits his time between his Pennsylvania home and his home in Galway, Ireland. He already had a portion of his planned memoir, entitled “Finding Home,” published in the magazine Irish America.

“I’m planning on a combination of writing, reading, grandchildren and travel, which is not a bad combination at all,” Murphy said. “I have no interest in moving to Florida or Arizona.”

Despite these plans, Murphy isn’t overly anxious to leave his profession behind.

“I’ll miss the regular contact with young people,” Murphy said. “Each year I may get older, but the students stay the same age. In a way, it helps keep me young.”

Maureen Sullivan, a professor in the College of Nursing, will also wrap up her 32-year career this spring –– just as soon as she locates a few missing final exams. 

After speaking to Sullivan for just a few minutes, it becomes clear that she, effused with energy, is well-suited to the hands-on nature of her profession and to handle the pressures of preparing students for a field that places increasing responsibility and autonomy on its nurses.

“I love the teaching,” said Sullivan, who devoted most of her time at Villanova to teaching rather than research. “I absolutely adore the students. We have the best students here.”

From 1978 until 2008, Sullivan shared an office with nursing professor Catherine Todd-Magel. Although they had their own desks, they shared a file cabinet and a bookcase.

“And there was no ceiling,” Sullivan added. “My daughter told me, ‘You would retire right after moving into this gorgeous office.'”

But despite the newly renovated Driscoll Hall office which she moved into about two years ago, Sullivan misses her “roommate.”

“We would have conversations about food every day,” she said.

Sullivan’s interest in chronic disease, neurology and adult rehabilitation piqued as a nursing student studying at Bellevue in New York, where she most enjoyed being able to get to know the patients and their families. 

Sullivan recently celebrated her 25th anniversary of teaching at the University along with three others, each of whom was honored at an Alumni Mass and presented with gifts geared to their individual tastes, Sullivan’s being that of the self-proclaimed “wild New Yorker.” 

She also cites the sense of camaraderie among the nursing faculty as one of the things she has loved about her work here. As for what she will do once retired, Sullivan, an avid reader, will continue to check out books from the library and already has trips scheduled to South Carolina and Georgia to visit friends.

“I might take another trip to Italy,” she said. “I’ll spend time with my granddaughters. I might clean the house –– and get my winter clothes to the cleaners, bring the porch furniture outside. The time will be filled. I’m not the kind of person who gets bored easily.”

Other retiring professors include Julia Bukowski, Walter Conn, Martin Kleiber, Daniel O’Mara and Elise Pizzi.

Daina Amorosano contributed reporting to this article.