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On Saturday, May 21, nearly 500 members of the Abbey Family gathered to honor Mr. Joseph V. Gleich with the Luke Rigby Award. Mr. Gleich has served as a teacher, administrator, mentor, coach, friend, and much more during his 41 years of service to Saint Louis Priory School. Here, we include remarks made by Father Paul Kidner, O.S.B., who was Priory’s headmaster when Mr. Gleich was hired, and Father Gregory Mohrman, O.S.B. ’76, who was headmaster during his last year. We also include Mr. Gleich’s remarkable speech, which shows his professionalism, loyalty, and humility. We will miss Mr. Gleich, and know that the Abbey Family will continue to be honored and graced by his presence.
By popular demand, we have created a Joe Gleich Tribute Fund. Click here to contribute!
FATHER PAUL’S REMARKS
My association with Joe Gleich goes back to the very beginning, as Jim Switzer has indicated.
By 1970 Saint Louis Priory School’s science program was well established with students having a lot of success in such events as Science Fairs as well as academic achievement. Father Thomas Loughlin had designed the science building and he had established an outstanding reputation as a Chemistry teacher. The Physics program was in the good hands of Mr. Brian Barry, an entertaining and inspiring teacher. In the 1960s Dr. Gerard Mudd and Dr. Donald Bussmann, both professors in Saint Louis University’s School of Medicine, had set up the Biology program and generously donated their time two days per week to teach a course to our senior boys.
In 1975 we were faced with the problem how to continue the excellence in Chemistry after Father Thomas Loughlin had returned to Ampleforth at the end of the 1973 school year, when our monastery became independent of its founding Abbey. Among the applicants for a teaching position was a young man completing his Master’s degree at the University of Illinois. Joe Gleich was thrown into a full teaching load right away, including Advanced Placement Chemistry (a class which included Father Gregory) and he was actively involved in coaching sports, specifically Cross Country and Track. He soon showed himself a capable administrator with a balance of attention to detail and the ability to see the broader picture.
There is always an element of uncertainty in hiring a new teacher, no matter how carefully you evaluate his credentials. There is no guarantee that a teacher who has been successful in one environment will be equally successful in a different one. And there is greater uncertainty with a rookie teacher. Joe Gleich has been a treasure and Priory was lucky in hiring him. Joe, we thank you for your many contributions over these 41 years, in the classroom, on the athletic fields and in other activities, as an advisor to so many students, as a wise and prudent administrator and as a friend to all of us. Thank you.
FATHER GREGORY’S REMARKS
Forty-one years ago, you stepped into the senior AP chemistry class at the beginning of the 1975-76 school year, your first year teaching here at Priory. The class was full of bright, somewhat motivated students, and I was among them. During the course of that year, we came to know you as an intelligent and extremely dedicated teacher, whose classes were meticulously prepared, who graded our work with incredible detail, and who communicated to us an enthusiasm for learning that was contagious. Though we did not always match your boundless energy and work ethic, much to your disappointment, we did pretty well on the AP. But we learned a lot more from you than just Chemistry: we learned what it meant to be a consummate professional.
Of course, my association with you did not stop there. I don’t know whether or not you had any sense of my emerging monastic vocation at the time, but it was clear to me when I entered the monastery in the fall of 1979, that you would be a source of support and encouragement. A few years after that, as I started to teach in the school myself, you proved a valuable mentor and guide.
In the summer of 1995, when I was suddenly appointed Headmaster, it was you, as Associate Headmaster, who guided me through the initial transition. Your patience with me, and your ever-present support was a constant blessing. Indeed, I don’t know how I would have made it through those years without your guidance, counsel, and unstinting support.
Since 2005, when I stepped down as Headmaster, our paths have crossed less frequently, but you are always there with a smile and a kind word in passing. As you come to the end of your time at Priory, I look back on one who has been for me a teacher, a mentor, an indispensable support in administration, a trusted colleague, and a friend.
Joe, may God richly bless you for the generations of students, whom you have so selflessly served as teacher, coach and administrator. May you know just a little of the enormous impact you have had on the lives of so many, and the incredible witness your life has given of your own faith and values. And may you ever experience the love and devotion of your students, past and present, your colleagues, and all the Abbey family.
God bless you, Joe, and Godspeed!
JOE GLEICH’S REMARKS
Abbot Thomas and Jim, I am humbled by your very kind words. I feel honored to be included among the founders, board chairs, benefactors and others who have contributed so much to make Priory the exceptional school that it is.
I was mystified in late November when the Abbot called me, requesting that I come over to the monastery. I felt like a boy who had been summoned to Mr. Finan’s office. Fr. Thomas disarmed me in that meeting, first by telling me the news that he had nominated me for this award, and then declaring “Take your time to think about it, but before you say no, I want to you know that Abbot Luke would have wanted you to have this award.” How could I argue with the Abbot, when he had been in communication with Abbot Luke?
Many of you have asked me how I feel about retiring, or how I feel about receiving this award. While I have consistently resisted ‘counting the days’ as Mark Marting puts it, I have given those two questions considerable thought the past five months. At the risk of being presumptuous, I can share with you exactly how I feel. I feel like St. Paul and Lou Gehrig all rolled up into one. An ‘odd combination’ you might be thinking, so allow me to explain.
Why St. Paul? Paul was only 24 years old when he was knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus. I was only 24 years old when I to applied to teach at Priory, interviewed for the job over Easter, and then put pen to paper signing a contract offered by -- Fr. Paul. Coincidence you might say? The analogy goes deeper than this. For the past decade, since my return from visiting schools in Santiago, Chile, I have made it a point to begin each of my classes with a reading from scripture. Over that time I have repeatedly been struck by St. Paul’s words to Timothy in his final Epistle. These words resonate with me today. He writes, “The time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” As a cross-country coach, I find this analogy a fitting one. I have not suffered Paul’s hardships or struggles, but I do feel that the finish line is in sight. Like St. Paul, I have sensed that God has been beside me along this path, guiding my steps when I clearly did not know the way.
Why Lou Gehrig? Gehrig’s nickname, The Iron Horse, was justly earned by the record he set for most consecutive games played over his 17-year career. At 2130 this record stood for 56 years before being broken by Cal Ripken Jr. When asked how he managed this feat, Gehrig replied, “I simply could not see a day without doing what I loved.” Blessed by remarkably good health, and fortunate to have married a woman whose work ethic allowed her once to clock 120 hours in a single week, I can honestly share with you that I have missed only a half-day of classes due to sickness in my 41 years at Priory. Like Gehrig, I have absolutely loved what I have done here, and could not envision a single day without doing it. This means that I have taught almost 6500 days, yet this is not the true reason why I feel like Gehrig. Rather, it is his iconic opening comment to a full house in Yankee Stadium, upon his retirement at the tender age of 36, with which I identify. Like Gehrig, today I too “Consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
While I have great admiration for both of these men, I did not set out to model myself after either 41-years ago. I came to Priory in 1975 with only two goals that I am able to recall. First, to teach my whole career at Priory. “Where else could be a better place than here?” I told myself. Here there were incredibly gifted students, a religious environment fostered by a permanent community of Benedictine monks, a teacher/coach model patterned after Juvenal’s axiom “mens sana in corpore sano”, supportive parents, and colleagues who also shared the vocation to teach. Well, the forty-year career I had hoped for has swiftly come and gone. Today that goal seems achieved.
My second goal was a simple one. I wanted to make a difference. I am not quite certain what I meant when I set that goal. The fact that there are so many here to celebrate with me -- men I have taught, parents I have known and befriended, and colleagues with whom I have shared so much – tells me that I did make a difference. As this event drew nigh and word of my retirement spread, I received scores of cards, letters and emails from past students, parents of boys I have taught, coached and advised, and my colleagues—both past and present. They have all told me that I was important in their lives. Many of the thoughts that they shared with me were both touching and inspirational. Yes, they said, I did make a difference, but not always in the way I intended. While some remembered my ability to make lessons on thermodynamics or electrochemistry understandable, others recalled my jumping on the teacher’s desk to illustrate electron’s jumping between shells, breaking two ribs in a ‘touch’ football game, or allowing them to fail in the short term in order to learn life lessons in the long run. I never fully grasped how much of an impression the little things that I did had on each of them. I am firmly convinced though, after re-reading their kind thoughts, of the words from the movie Lost Horizon. As a teacher “Everything you do, does reflect on you!”
As with any pilgrimage, and I would certainly characterize my four decades at Priory as more pilgrimage than journey, you are foolish to think that you can make it alone. These past 41 years were grace-filled and I have many to thank for transforming me along the way.
You may not believe it, but there was a ‘before Priory’ time in my life. I was given the gift of parents whose directives to us can be distilled down to five words: “work hard, share, be thankful”. Mom and dad allowed us to be our own person. My nine brothers and sisters became doctors, accountants, teachers, sculptors, musicians, carpenters, nurses and engineers. Mom and dad’s grounding surely instilled in me a strong work ethic, but also a desire to be part of a greater community, and a sense of a higher purpose in life—one directed by a moral compass. All of my brothers and sisters, and later my sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, and our numerous godchildren, were instrumental in creating the extended family which supported me, nurtured me, and provided examples for me of how to live a good life.
When I arrived at Priory in 1975, I was met with friendship. I fondly recall the four horsemen of the apocalypse—Brian Barry, Ed Cook, Tom Geiss, and Marty McCabe—who provided me with mentoring in what was known as PSO (Priory Standing Order). Along with Jerry Miller, they answered my questions, encouraged me every step of the way, helped me develop self-confidence as a first-year teacher, and then left me to ‘do it on my own’ as Brian used to say.
So many others helped me become a better teacher, and (I hope) a more caring person. While I know that I risk leaving many out, and apologize for that in advance, I feel compelled to mention those from whom I learned so much. From Diana, Beryl, Maralea, and Jeanette I learned to see Christ in our boys, while being both firm and compassionate. From Rick, Tim, and Mark I learned the value of humor and the need to laugh at myself at times. My ‘high humor threshold’, as many have called it, lowered over the years to the point where I could recognize that life is funny at times, and Priory boys are even funnier. From Dick, Fr. Finbarr, Barbara, Jerry, Fr. Gregory, Joe, Craig, and Fr. Michael I learned that ‘professional development’ is a life long activity, encompassing all of your talents, not just the subject you teach. Each saw something different in me and encouraged me to turn it into a strength. From John, Gregg, and Tony I learned many things: that family comes first, that excellence in all areas is a worthy goal, though never fully achieved; that the teacher/coach model is a powerful tool in reaching boys; and that “to be a good man”, as Tom Hanks said in Saving Private Ryan, is the most important thing. From Linda, Karol, Ann, Tim, Tom, Brian, and Diana I learned how to handle adversity. They taught me that illnesses, injuries, and even deaths of those close to us are endurable, make us stronger, and help us truly appreciate what we have, as well as the time we have with others. From my long time science colleagues –-Jake, Eugene, and Jim-- I learned the value of having a plan when you walk into a classroom, the courage to try new things, and the resilience to begin again when you failed to connect with a student. And from Kate, Doc, Mike Rebello, Fr. Ralph, and Harry I learned that individuality, diversity, and story telling are all essential if you want to reach every Priory boy. It does take a village of teachers; you can’t do it on your own.
It is not only colleagues, though, who have accompanied me on my pilgrimage. I was given the gift of working with so many incredible students along the way. Fr. Paul and Jerry Miller clearly hold the record, but in forty-one years I have seen more than 2200 Priory graduates earn their diplomas. Most of these young men I have coached, taught, advised, or mentored in some way. I have been challenged by the intellectual capacity of many of these students, whose remarkable blend of gifts and drive allowed them to surpass their teachers, me included! They taught me much about patience, fortitude, listening, curiosity, and thoughtfulness. There was rarely a day when I went home without wondering how Priory boys ‘got it all done’. Many of you here now, knew me first as ‘teacher’ or ‘coach’, yet now I count you as ‘friend’. To all those men who have known me in my various roles at Priory I say ‘thank you’. You kept me young, engaged, stimulated, always learning, and centered in my faith life. You made my pilgrimage worthwhile!
While my students and colleagues got to see me at my best most days, Joan has had to live with me every step of my journey. Some of those days, I am certain, I was not so pleasant to be around. There is no doubt, though, that without Joan I would not be here today to receive this award. She has selflessly encouraged me to grow both as a teacher and as a person. At heart I am not a risk taker, but Joan showed me how to step out of my comfort zone and embrace the unknown. She allowed me to spend summers at Princeton, Bath, and Oxford. She encouraged and supported my trips to Chile, Belize, Brazil, British Guiana, Europe, and more recently China. She tolerated the long cross country and track seasons; the hundreds of Saturdays, Sundays, and evenings I spent at Priory; and the summer vacations that had to be arranged around my schedule rather than hers. She listened when I complained, and provided wise advice when I was perplexed. Her ‘do what it takes to get the job done’ attitude was infectious, and she allowed me to immerse myself in ‘all things Priory’. She often told me, “Good thing you didn’t have a son, you already have four hundred of them.” For those who do not know Joan well, I can characterize her with a single sentence paraphrased from The Help, “she is smart, she is kind, she is beautiful, and she is important to me.”
I am deeply honored to accept this award, but I do so on behalf of each and every person who has accompanied me on my pilgrimage at Priory. This award really belongs to all of you who have graced my life: my brothers and sisters, all of the members of the monastic community, my colleagues, my students, and my spouse.
Laus Tibi Domine!