(Published September 4, 2007)

Brother Robert Smith, FSC, a long-time tutor at St. John’s College, Annapolis, died at Napa, California, on September 12, 2006, aged 92. I was asked to deliver one of the eulogies at his funeral, which took place on Saturday, September 16, 2006 at the chapel of St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. The text of that eulogy follows.

I will try to keep my remarks short and simple. My name is Peter Gilbert. For a considerable part of my life, about 25 years, I have been blessed to know Brother Robert as a friend. I have been asked to deliver a eulogy on him, and to speak especially on behalf of those of us who have known him in the context of his life as a tutor at St. John’s College. I feel this as a solemn responsibility and a debt of friendship; there is much that can be said, and I am without doubt unable to say all that needs to be said about his life and work at Annapolis, where he taught continuously for the past 34 years and began cultivating friendships and ideas as early as the mid-1940’s. Brother Robert has meant a great many things to a great many people; although I will try to say something about what he has meant to the college as a whole, I must necessarily speak, more particularly, for myself and about what Brother Robert has meant to me. But I think my own impressions of him, gained from 25 years of friendship and conversation, will not be unrepresentative of those of others.

Let me begin by speaking briefly and in a factual way about the history of Brother Robert’s engagement with St. John’s College. For my knowledge of this history, I am largely indebted to other people, particularly to Bill Ney, who provided me with information over the phone during the past few days. After that, I will try to state some of my impressions of Brother Robert as a tutor, as a thinker, as a Christian, and as a friend.

Brother Robert, as mentioned, had a working relationship with St. John’s College stretching back to the 1940’s. He first visited the college in the summer of 1943, two years after he began teaching philosophy here at St. Mary’s; by all accounts, he was very impressed with what he saw there, and, if he had not been so already, he became firmly convinced of the excellence of that form of education that operates by way of seminar discussions and an encounter with great authors, what for lack of a better name may be called a “Great Books education.” This was only a few years after the launching of what at St. John’s College is still called “the New Program.” It was, by all accounts, a time of intense intellectual ferment at the college, but also of great uncertainty as to the college’s chances of survival. Brother Robert met the founders of the New Program, Scott Buchanan and Stringfellow Barr, men who have since taken on a kind of iconic and legendary status; he also met a tutor there named Jacob Klein, perhaps even more important to the college’s history, who would later become dean at the college and for whom Brother Robert had a profound reverence; in his later years, Brother Robert asserted that Klein was one of the two or three most remarkable people he had known in his life (and Brother Robert, it must be said, knew some very remarkable people). These contacts with St. John’s College in the mid-1940’s would prove to be the beginnings of a lifelong engagement.

About Brother Robert’s work here at St. Mary’s College and his establishing of the Integral Program, now in its fiftieth year, there is no need for me to speak. I will only note that, at the beginnings of this program, Brother Robert brought many people from St. John’s to lecture or teach here — people like Michael Ossorgin, Douglas Allanbrook, Elliott Zuckerman, Robert Sacks, and others, who would remain close friends and colleagues of his for the rest of his life. My guess is that it may have also been about this time, that is, in the late 1950’s, that Brother Robert — perhaps as a result of his friendship with Ossorgin, who, besides being a tutor, was a Russian Orthodox priest — began also that spiritual engagement with Eastern Christianity — a love of the Orthodox Church, especially in its Russian form — that seemed to grow more profound as the years went on, and that was, in a way, the occasion of my getting to know him.

It was evidently after Brother Robert gave a lecture on Rabelais at St. John’s College around the year 1965 that the dean of the college, Jacob Klein, told Brother Robert that he would be invited to teach there, and he in fact took up that invitation during the subsequent academic year. After that, he returned to his duties guiding the Integral Program here at St. Mary’s, until, in 1972, after some disagreement with the administration as to whether the Integral Program should be allowed to continue, Brother Robert took up an invitation from Klein to come and teach at St. John’s College on a permanent basis.

By the time I matriculated at St. John’s College in 1977, Brother Robert was a well-known and distinctly visible member of the faculty. He lived in Annapolis in a house near the end of Market Street, around the corner from some other tutors, including his friend Douglas Allanbrook; the two of them would habitually accompany one another for the half mile or so walk to the college, engaging in discussion along the way. Brother Robert occupied the top floor of a two-story house, which he rented from an old widow downstairs; one approached Brother Robert’s apartment by a somewhat rickety external staircase that wound around the left hand side of the house. It was a bright and airy house, with a free-standing fireplace in the midst of his living room, and with walls hanging with fine tapestries and his beloved icons. He always left the house unlocked; students who came to visit him were told simply to come inside and wait for him if he were not there.
For students, it was an enviable privilege to be invited to Brother Robert’s house for dinner, in part because one was assured of an uncommonly fine meal, prepared after the French or Italian manner and served with a choice wine, but more especially because one was likely to encounter a yet more satisfying feast of conversation.

My acquaintance with Brother Robert began in my senior year at college; he was on the committee that examined me on a senior essay I had written on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The essay argued that the long-standing division between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church is theologically unfounded, that the Latin doctrine of the Trinity and the Greek doctrine of the Trinity are really compatible. (I should point out that I was baptized as a child in the Greek Orthodox Church, and that I remain a communicant of that Church, in fear and trembling.) As it turns out, I had touched in this essay upon an issue very close to Brother Robert’s heart. And perhaps the bond of my friendship with Brother Robert, simply put, is that he was a Roman Catholic who lamented the separation of Catholicism from Orthodoxy, and I am an Orthodox Christian who laments the separation of Orthodoxy from Catholicism. We were, as it were, two people looking at the same problem from different vantage points, a great wound at the heart of Christianity, one of the deepest wounds Christ has had to bear because of human sin. I always depended on Brother Robert’s wisdom for guidance in dealing with this issue. I’m frankly not sure how I will deal with it without him.

As a true teacher, Brother Robert met people where they are, with their own questions, dilemmas, foibles, ideas, and dreams; because his conversation with each of his students and friends depended so much upon where that other person was in his or her life and thinking, it is difficult to make general pronouncements about his own conversation. It depended so much upon who it was he was conversing with. For instance, in my own case, there was this concern with theology, always present at least in the background, and Brother Robert was fully happy to address himself to it. But it would be wrong to think that, because Brother Robert was a deeply devout Catholic and a member of the Christian Brothers Order, he had a one-track mode of conversation; that those whose questions tended to politics, or metaphysics, or mathematics, or French or Russian literature, or the history of scientific ideas, or all of the above, found him less engaging and engaged with their own concerns. What this sometimes meant was that, in a crowd, Brother Robert would tend to focus upon a single person, and carry on a discussion with that person as though the rest of the world didn’t exist. He seems to have believed that to change one person in a deep and lasting way was worth more than getting ten thousand unreflective persons to repeat the right slogan. He was a humble man, but he did not suffer fools gladly; and when he was right, and you were being a fool, he had ways of letting you know it.

There is a saying about Brother Robert that has been passed down over the years. Jacob Klein, who brought Brother Robert to St. John’s College, who embodied the principles of the St. John’s education more than anybody else, and who put the college onto a solid footing when there was great danger of it collapsing as an idea and a reality, said of Brother Robert that he was the freest man he had ever known. Klein was not a man given to rhetorical exaggeration. Klein’s statement may be interpreted in various ways; I must interpret it in the way I know best, which is theologically. Klein’s impression of Brother Robert as the freest man he had known was based, I must think, on the specific way Brother Robert lived out his Catholic faith in the very intense intellectual environment of St. John’s College. It seems to me that the freedom Brother Robert exemplified to others was a freedom, in the first place, from the despair that is endemic in the world and in the intellectual world in particular. Like St. Augustine, Brother Robert knew that the human heart can find no solid resting place outside of God, that the various substitutes we make for ourselves all prove ultimately unsatisfactory. Perhaps like St. Augustine as well, or perhaps not, Brother Robert also thought that, once God is our resting place, the rest of the intellectual life does become very satisfactory; once we know that the world is not our final goal, we can accept the world for what it is, and be grateful for all the beauty and truth and goodness we perceive in it, as things that lead us back to God. In this way, faith really was, for Brother Robert, the foundation for being a good liberal artist. Being a Christian, for Brother Robert, did not mean putting one’s mind in a straightjacket; quite the contrary. Brother Robert was, I think, fully in agreement with St. Thomas Aquinas, who held that grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it; faith does not destroy reason, but lets it do its proper job. Faith saves reason from the useless and self-destructive effort to become its own foundation. Brother Robert knew this, and lived it; and, in doing so, he became a model to other people of what a fully Christian and fully rational life could be.

While Brother Robert was a highly influential and respected presence on the faculty at St. John’s College, it would not be true to say that he invariably had an easy time there; evidently, within the small and arcane world of faculty meetings and internal politics, Brother Robert got into many scrapes. This is an aspect of his life of which I always remained dimly aware, without ever really understanding any of it. But Brother Robert seemed, in his own way, to relish such things; he was a monk, but he was an intensely political and practical man. Perhaps this also had something to do with the freedom Jacob Klein saw in him.

In any case, it was Brother Robert’s peculiar embodiment of faith and reason, of realism and hope, and his remarkable insight into human souls that led so many of us to see in him an anchor for our sanity, that kept us coming back to him for advice and solace in the midst of the strange twists and turnings that life can pull. And, obviously, we came to him because of who he was, and for the particular love that he showed us.

Towards the end of his life, Brother Robert was working on a book. He wanted to call it “Light from the East.” At one level, this book is meant to give an account of why Pope John Paul II said, in his encyclical Orientale Lumen, that “the prime need of Catholics is to become familiar with aspects of Eastern Church tradition and be nourished by them.” Brother Robert saw this as a remarkable statement, that was not being sufficiently appreciated. At another level, the book is a commentary on certain Eastern Christian texts, especially the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete and the monastic sayings of Evagrius of Pontus. At a third level, the book is a collection of Brother Robert’s own mature reflections about the deepest issues of life, about how we grow in the knowledge and love of God, of others, and of ourselves through the various particular incidents of our lives, in our faltering response to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In reading the work, one soon perceives that it is the fruit of a lifetime of prayer. Brother Robert loved the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, a liturgical poem read in the Eastern Church during the first week of Lent, in part because it was the poem of an old man, facing approaching death, who was trying to see himself with the eyes with which Christ saw him — an old man acknowledging all his sins, but asking that they might be thrown upon the abyss of Christ’s mercy.

Brother Robert finished this book, but he left it unedited and unpolished. But it contains unpolished jewels, and I would like to close this eulogy by reading some of them, knowing that, in this audience, I will not be casting pearls before swine.

In a draft of Chapter Four of his book, Brother Robert speaks about what Jesus calls the first and great commandment of the Law, that is, the commandment to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and the accompanying commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Let me read to you some of the things he says:

We might choose to think of these two precepts (he says) statically, that is, as laws we already understand more or less adequately, and, consequently, that our remaining problem is simply making up our mind to observe them.

This point of view neglects one fact: the deeper meaning of these mysteries crosses the threshold of our love of other persons; it has its mountains and valleys, that is, selfish and blinding concerns that beset us here below. The conquering love of God comes over us only gradually. It usually happens through slow and painful experiences under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

When we think about keeping the commandments in this context we realize learning to do so is a mysterious process that goes on over our whole life. Events have a part in shaping our lives and all of them are occasions where God can further teach us how to serve him. Our success or failure in progressively realizing this is what makes us the unique individual each one of us is. We in our own person can come to love God as our sense of him and his claims grow but this growth stays intertwined with our feelings for our fellow men and women.

In that sense we are not born able to love God uninterruptedly with our whole heart and mind. We will be able to do this completely only when we see him face to face. In this life, we must struggle step after step. This sense of gradualness is tied to our dependence on the Holy Spirit. This fact is something the Eastern tradition knows intimately. There is an alternate way saying the same thing:

Our growth in loving God is inseparable from our learning in practice to love ourselves and our neighbors not only as the imperfect beings every one of is when looked at in any given moment. Our finiteness, even pettiness, is inseparable from the fact that we are progressing toward something infinitely better. Knowledge and love of God apart from daily circumstances in our lives can be no more than verbal.

In these remarks, one sees something essential of Brother Robert, in his work as a tutor, and in his relations with men and women generally. In the growth of others, he saw the opportunity for his own growth towards God. In the opening of the minds of young people, he found his own mind continually renewed. Earlier this year, I visited the Guggenheim Museum in New York with Brother Robert; he came there to see an exhibit of Russian art. Here was this 91-year-old man, still exhibiting the joy and exuberance of a child. It amazed me.

Brother Robert now no longer has to look at icons; he is seeing the real thing. The last time I spoke to him was on the phone, about a week ago. The first thing he said to me, as he woke up from sleep, was, “I just had the most amazing vision!” I asked him what it was; he wouldn’t tell me.

We who are here are unable to love God uninterruptedly with our whole heart and mind. We will be able to do this only when we see him face to face. May Brother Robert, whose vision of God is much clearer now than it ever was before, whose childlike joy is unceasing, who is journeying to meet the object of his love — may he pardon us all our failures towards him, immersed in our own selfish and blinding concerns, and may he entreat the King of Glory on our behalf, that, like Elisha of old, who saw his teacher Elijah go up in a fiery chariot, we may be granted a double portion of his spirit.

26 Responses to “Eulogy on Brother Robert”

  1. Susan Peterson Says:

    Wow! You are also a St. Johnny!

    I went to SJC 1970Feb-1973. (Started in 1968 but had to go home with mono, went back with the Febbies in 70)

    I also knew Brother Robert, although not nearly so well as you did. My husband knew him a bit better and once sent him an ecclectic set of essays along the lines of a philosopher in the kitchen-my husband was a chef for many years after leaving SJC. Brother Robert read them and answered with a very kind letter comparing them to Walker Percy, which meant a great deal to my husband.

    You left out Winfree Smith as one of the people who went from SJC to teach at St. Mary’s. Did you know him? He baptized me in 1971. Nine months later I became RC, for which he very kindly forgave me.

    Thank you for this remembrance of Brother Robert.

    Susan Peterson

  2. bekkos Says:

    Dear Susan,

    I did indeed know the Rev. Winfree, although I never actually had him as a tutor. I sat in on his extracurricular New Testament class one semester, I think it was in 1979 or 1980; I remember he used Luther’s Commentary on Romans as a basis for his expositions. Like many other students, I was invited to his home on one occasion, where he served his trademark mint julips. He identified himself as a “39 Articles” man; in those days, I had no notion what that meant. I think I have a somewhat better idea of it now: it implied that he was a traditionalist Anglican, that his theology was based on the teachings in the Book of Common Prayer, and that he had moderately Calvinist leanings.

    Brother Robert and the Rev. Winfree were both men of keen intelligence and high Christian principles. They also seem to have hotly disagreed with each other on certain theological matters. Those were the days when biblical literacy was more or less commonplace, and the St. John’s curriculum reflected traditional Protestant/Catholic quarrels over issues like faith and works, grace and nature, and so on. My impression is that Brother Robert and the Rev. Winfree Smith often found themselves at odds over such issues; that Brother Robert had little patience for Rev. Winfree’s residual Calvinism, and that the Rev. Winfree probably thought that Brother Robert gave altogether too much scope to human mediations and put too little stress upon the sovereignty of grace. Still, they obviously respected each other highly, as well they might.

    You didn’t by any chance also have Michael Littleton as a tutor? He was another man at St. John’s College who, in my day, represented to those of us who went there a sort of knight of faith. A very humble Christian, but fierce against any hypocrisy or deceit.


  3. Susan Peterson Says:

    Yes, I had Michael Littleton for junior seminar. He and his wife were also “Christian witnesses” at my first son’s baptism. (One Catholic godparent is required, then Christians of other traditions may be ‘Christian witnesses’ at a baptism.) I had many discussion with Mr. Littleton. It was impossible to have a discussion of a religious issue with him without soon realizing that you were talking about your own salvation and your own relationship with God.

    When I told Winfree I was thinking of becoming a Catholic, he told me I knew nothing about the Reformation. I also had had the question in seminar, when we started to read Luther, what position was arguing against, since our Aquinas readings had been about law and justice, not about anything like the issues that Luther was raising. With these two stimuli I started trying to learn the questions about justification. Talking to Mr. Littleton I soon realized that I was also asking about my own justification and salvation. He somehow broke through theological intellectualization to the heart of the matter.

    I never did write my senior thesis, which I was trying to write about justification. The scope of what I wanted to do in the paper was just too large. But the attempt was valuable to me nevertheless. And the conversations with Mr. Littleton were ever memorable.

    I don’t think SJC can ever be the same without Winfree and Michael Littleton. I asked at the parent orientation (my youngest is a freshman there right now) whether they were doing anything to find tutors like this. I specifically mentioned Winfree’s New Testament class, which I went to both years. (He alternated Romans and the Gospel of John.) It concerns me that students there now who want to be serious Protestants have no one to guide them. Outside people come in and use very narrowminded evangelical Protestant study bibles and teach in a very non St. John’s way, which I believe makes these students choose between Christ and an honest intellect. Michael Littleton understood such students and helped them find a way which allowed both.

    A little note: When St. John’s went to a new computerized library system, they removed the old hand signed cards only as people took the books out of the library.A few years ago, I went up to the religion section and with permission, took the cards left in some of the books there. I chose those that had my name in them and the names of friends. Pheme Perkin’s name (writes on scripture) is on just about everything there. I found my name, Derek Cross (now Fr. Cross of the Toronto Oratory), Winfree, Michael Littleton, Mr. Sparrow, Prudence Davis (now Mother Zoe, abbess of a Benedictine convent in England) …and I am almost certain I saw your name on some of them. I didn’t know you, but when I heard your name it rang a bell…I think it is because of those cards. I will have to go look. I think it is a shame they got rid of them. The young person at the desk said something about “confidentiality.” I am not sure why one would want to keep confidential what books one was reading in the SJC library. And it was such a beautiful sign of continuity and connection between generations of St. Johnnies.
    Susan Peterson

  4. Joan Kirby Says:

    Peter Gilbert,
    I am deeply touched by your eulogy for Brother Robert who was introduced to me last night by a dear friend. Br. Robert’s spirit lives on and other’s are being tutored by his spirit.

  5. Mike Coss, A81 Says:

    Bravo, Peter! You struck a fine chord that resonates so well with all of us who knew and loved him. You have captured his essense using his own words that describe our struggle in life and how he illuminated it for us. He was the best and had a tremendous impact on so many of us. I am glad to know he drafted this book and hope to read more of it, but you created a beautiful passage and eulogy for all of us to remember who he was and what he did for each of us. Thank you.

  6. Kopaba Kpahta Says:

    Could someone tell me what is the religious affiliation
    of St. John’s College?
    Thank you,

  7. bekkos Says:

    Dear Kopaba,

    St. John’s College is nondenominational, and apparently always has been. It was started in 1696 as “King William’s School”; when the American Revolution had brought the British royal house into disfavor in America, the school’s name was changed to its present one. There is much disagreement among historians of the college as to why the name “St. John’s College” was chosen, and which St. John in particular is its patron saint (my friend Johny Blood has often argued for St. John the Dwarf, perhaps in view of the college’s diminutive size). The likeliest explanation seems to be that the name, along with certain things in the college’s insignia, indicates an eighteenth-century connection between the college and Freemasonry. Medieval masons organized themselves into guilds, and celebrated June 24th, the feast of St. John the Evangelist, as their patronal feast day. Eighteenth-century Freemasons regarded this practice as part of their heritage, and called their meetings “St. John’s lodges.” It may be that some of those who reestablished the college, in the aftermath of the Revolution, had Masonic leanings.

    I would only add that such an historical connection with Freemasonry, if indeed it is real, has essentially no relevance for the education the college currently seeks to give. The college’s Great Books program, sometimes still called the “New Program,” dates back to 1937. The founders of the New Program, Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan, had no previous connection with the college, but were essentially sent there from the University of Chicago as part of an educational experiment. So far as I know, neither of them were Masons. That the education at St. John’s College has an interesting ideological history is I think true; but nothing I have read or seen leads me to think that Freemasonry has ever played a significant part in determining the contours of that education, or that it does so at the present time. The college is, by and large, what it claims to be: nondenominational.

    Probably this was a longer answer than you were looking for.


  8. Kopaba Kpahta Says:

    Peter, thank you.
    Forgive my ignorance in things American, but does non-denominational mean religious in a general Christian way, non-affiliated to a specific denomination? Or does it mean secular? Would a secularist (what you might wish to call an atheist) feel comfortable there as a professor or as a student?
    Thank you for your time and trouble,

  9. bekkos Says:

    Dear Kopaba,

    Forgive me for taking a few days to get back to you. You ask a very good question. It would probably be true to say that the meaning of “non-denominational,” in current-day American speech, varies according to context. If one talks about a “nondenominational Bible study,” then, in most cases, one refers to something having a generally Christian content. If one talks about a “non-denominational chapel,” as may be found in some airports and hospitals, and on some university campuses, then the religious meaning is rather broader; such places are used not only for Christian prayer, but by other religions as well. If one speaks of a “non-denominational college,” then the basic meaning is that the college professes no formal religious affiliation. A lack of formal religious affiliation does not in itself necessarily imply hostility towards religion on the part of a college or university; on the other hand, it doesn’t automatically exclude such hostility, either. Hostility is, in any case, a subtle thing; sometimes people see it where it doesn’t exist; sometimes it exists where people do not see it; sometimes people bring it into existence by the act of looking for it. Probably nowhere in America would an academic institution — at least, a “non-denominational” one — openly exclude someone for holding to Christian beliefs — that would constitute “discrimination,” which is the great academic sin; on the other hand, it is unfortunately not uncommon in American academic circles for Christians to be pegged by professors or by colleagues as unimaginative, intolerant, uncooperative, etc., sometimes prior to their ever having said or done anything to merit such a judgment.

    St. John’s College is, undoubtedly, a place where many secularists and atheists feel quite at home. It is also, curiously, a place where some people find Christian faith who didn’t have it before. Students at the college spend more time reading classic works of Christian theology than they would at almost any standard American undergraduate college, more, indeed, than at many church-affiliated institutions; they are obliged to read and discuss, not only much of the Bible, but also St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, Kierkegaard, and many other writers who address issues of faith. (Luther, I should note, was taken off the reading list in Santa Fe in recent years, to make room for Maimonides; that situation has changed recently, and a Calvin reading has been added.) They also read people like Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and many others whose attitude towards faith, and towards Christian faith in particular, is unrelentingly negative and critical. Some people would question why Christians would want to expose themselves or their children to anti-Christian literature, and to an environment where their deepest beliefs are almost inevitably going to be subjected to serious and sustained questioning. A brief answer would be: So as not to live in an intellectual ghetto. Much of the rationale of St. John’s College, I think, is to be a republic in miniature, where the underlying questions that shape one’s experience as a citizen in a democracy become explicit, and where one learns to discuss these questions in a civil and intelligent manner along with people with whom, very often, one has the most profound disagreements. At least, ideally, that is what happens. In practice, experience varies; conversations are not always civil and intelligent, and the moral life on campus sometimes is pretty dismal. But, on the whole, I think the college does accomplish, to a remarkable extent, what it sets out to do, which is to produce free men and women out of children, using books and a balance. That is the basic reason why anyone, Christian or otherwise, would want to go there.


  10. Marion Betor Baumgarten Says:

    Hi Peter- I doubt if you remember me- I graduated St. John’s in 1982. I even remember your senior essay! Hi Susan, we seem to run in to reach other on the internet don’t we. Peter, a lovely image of Brother Robert no longer needing his icons. I am ashamed to admit that I think I went only to one of Winfree’s bible classes, but I acted as acolyte at St. Anne’s all four years while I was at St. John’s and served many early morning communions with him. I am still plodding along in the Episcopal church, my husband was ordained a permanent deacon three years ago, so we are immersed in what I would call the practical side of Christianity, the homeless, the hungry, the lonely. I find the older I get the less patience I have with theology, I hope it’s not intellectual laziness on my part. One of the things I’ve never really resolved since St. John’s is the difference between studying about God and being with God. (If that makes sense). Hope you are well, I look forward to poking a bit around your website.

  11. bekkos Says:

    Dear Marion,

    The difference between studying about God and being with God makes a lot of sense. And I can understand why theology might induce impatience, particularly if the theologian’s own being with God is dubious. You may know that it is a kind of stock characterization to say that, in the Christian East, the “theologian” is not the rational discourser about God, but the one who talks with God, the one who prays. This view of theology is worth keeping in mind, even if the contrast between East and West in this regard is sometimes overdrawn.

    I didn’t attend many services at St. Anne’s, but I often would stop by there, and found it a peaceful and prayerful place. I’m grateful to them for keeping their doors open.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting on the blog.


  12. William Ney Says:

    I was in attendance that day at St Mary’s when Peter read this eulogy. Rocked the house. Also there from St John’s was David Auerbach, also once known as Johnny Moron, the leader of the Ragazzi.

    Here is my account of that day …


    .. and others across three weeks of celebrations of sorts that took place out in California — at St Mary’s and at Mont LaSalle, the seat of BR’s order — around and following his death.

  13. Tom Dolan Says:

    I wish that I had known Mr. Littleton and Brother Robert(often referred to as both Bro Ro and Frere Rober in those days, affectionately) better. Winfree was my advisor for my sophomore essay (on the importance of seeking natural knowledge to Christian life) and my senior essay (on the role of human authority in a Christian community). His almost unfailing good humor and his natural respect for a youth as callow as I was made a deep impression on me and was an important part of ther St. John’s experince for me. I am now engaged professionally in higher education and I hope that I can, at least a little, show the respect for my students (who most certainly deserve it) that Mr. Smith, Miss Brann, and most of the other tutors whom I knew did. I still remember Miss Brann saying in class more than once, what Mr. Dolan is saying is…I was fascinated because while I had no such conscious thoughts, what she was attributing to me turned out on reflection to be inherent in what I said. I think that she understood what Iwas saying better than I myself did.

  14. Alison Wright Says:

    Dear Bekkos,

    My name is Alison Wright, and Brother Robert was my Great Uncle. He was my grandmother’s eldest brother. Is there any way I can receive a copy of his book? It’s been mentioned in the family, but none of us know how to find it. I literally whispered “Please help me find this”, with hopes he might hear me…. And I stumbled upon your eulogy. I can’t thank you enough. I have no doubt I have found this for a reason. Please contact me.

    With Gratitude,

    Alison Wright

  15. bekkos Says:

    Dear Alison,

    I can certainly send you what I have. The story of your great uncle’s book is complicated; it really should have been published long ago. So far as I can see, the main problem is that, when Brother Robert went back to Napa, California during the last months of his life, he was working on this book with some people at St. Mary’s College in Moraga; along with a woman who was then teaching there, he made some final revisions to the book. I unfortunately do not remember the woman’s name; she was, I believe, from Bulgaria. After Brother Robert’s death, I assumed (and, as I recall, was told) that the preparation of the book for publication was in the hands of people at St. Mary’s. A couple of times I offered to help them with editing it; I was told that my assistance wasn’t needed. About a year ago, I heard Brother Donald Mansir (the head of the Integrated Program at St. Mary’s) give a lecture at St. John’s College in Annapolis; after the lecture, I asked him again about Brother Robert’s book. He told me that, at this point, it was ready to be published, but that the idea of publishing it in a standard, book format was no longer being actively pursued; the main idea they were contemplating at St. Mary’s was to make the book available on-line. I asked Brother Donald to let me know when the book would be published on-line; I have not heard back from him.

    I have not wanted to be in competition with the people at St. Mary’s or get involved in any legal issues about ownership; for this reason, I have not sought to edit and publish the book myself. But perhaps that is what Brother Robert would have wanted me to do under these circumstances. When he was leaving Annapolis, one of the last things he did was to make sure that I downloaded the files of his book onto my computer; it seems to me he was worried that, in moving, he might somehow lose these files, and he wanted to make sure that he could recover them if necessary. But perhaps he also wanted to make sure that someone he trusted would see to it that the book would actually get published.

    Brother Robert wrote the book on a Macintosh; I have the files on another computer. I will send them to you soon.

    I should simply add that your uncle was like a father to me, someone I could always rely on for friendship, wisdom, and sound advice. I miss him greatly.

    Yours very truly,
    Peter Gilbert

  16. George Partlow Says:

    Thank you for sharing this moving and eloquent eulogy.

    I found my way here by a long concatenation of circumstances. I’m not sure why I didn’t read it 3 years ago. Michael Littleton was my senior thesis advisor; J. Winfree Smith was the senior tutor in my sophomore seminar; Brother Robert was my Junior language tutor, and also attended (I think every meeting) of the preceptorial on Montaigne and Pascal my senior year, which was ostensibly led by Douglas Allanbrook, at his house. When my class celebrated their 25th anniversary, I wrote on the form under “suggestions”, “A seminar, of course!”, and apparently my idea of Don Quixote won out, with Bro. robert as leader. It was a memorable occasion. A few years ago my wife and I visited Joe Sachs, and when we explained that we were just coming from a reunion concert of the Yale Russian Chorus. which I had joined at Yale Divinity School right after St. John’s, he wanted to know more. I happened to have a “sampler” CD with me, and after we listened to it, Joe said, “You know Brother Robert would love to have a copy of that!” (much of it is Orthodox liturgical music, such as the “Blazhen muzh” (Ps. 1) from the Kievo-Pechersky Lavra). So I got a friend to burn a copy and sent it off to Brother Robert. He tracked down my phone number at our winter home in AZ and called me to thank me. it was the last conversation I had with him. Later Joe told me that they found the CD on his bedside table (I don’t know whether that was in Annapolis or Moraga) and that he listened to it a great deal. When I am feeling depressed I sometimes remind myself that at least I did _one thing_ right!

    This evening we will be performing selections from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers and John Rutter’s Requiem here in Juneau… and I will be thinking of Brother Robert.

    George Partlow, SJCA 1968
    Douglas, Alaska/Yuma, Arizona

  17. Peter,

    Please contact me: I have some updates from Mont La Salle (where Brother Robert died) related to his book. It’s important that his work not be forgotten.


  18. bekkos Says:


    I will write to you soon; probably cannot correspond this weekend, as I have to give a lecture this weekend and still have to put the thing together.


  19. Tom Smith Says:

    To Beekos and Mike Tscheekar,

    My name is Tom Smith. Brother Robert was my uncle. My father was Jimmy’s youngest brother. My father always spoke of him with such pride. We were to always refer to him as Brother Robert but he often referred to him by the name he called him as a young boy. I came across a family photo of my fathers family when he was less that a year old. It is a fantastic photo that had been lost to me for quite some time and I was relieved to find it. If you have any information about his book I would be greatly interested. Thank you for saying such kind words about my Uncle. I had little interaction with him. Thank you for painting such a complete picture of him.

  20. Tom Smith Says:

    If you need any assistance in getting the book published do not hesitate to contact me.

  21. bekkos Says:


    My apologies for taking so long to reply. Through Mike Tscheekar, I made contact some time ago with the archivist at the Christian Brothers’ house where your uncle spent his last days; yesterday she got back in touch with me, and told me that the Provincial of the order says it is okay for me to edit and publish Brother Robert’s book. (I had been worried about the legal issues involved in this.) Because work at the school where I teach is very demanding, I doubt that I’ll be able to get much done on this before this summer. But I’ll let you know when it gets closer to completion.

    Brother Robert, I think, still prays for his friends and family. You are fortunate to have had him as an uncle.

    In Christ,
    Peter Gilbert

  22. Tom Smith Says:

    Thanks for the update. Keep me posted.

  23. David Burkhalter Says:


    All I knew of Brother Robert in my college days was that he had many devoted admirers among my classmates. Now I understand why.

    All the best,


  24. bekkos Says:

    Thanks, David.

  25. deborah klug Says:

    Hello Peter. How goes it with Brothers Book? Going through some personal tests of faith right now. Thought about my uncle and friend. You see he too was like a father to me as my own Dad died suddenly in 1971. My mom was brothers sister Marjorie. He began staying with us during summer months when not in Paris or Santa Fe. Cooking wine and politics and of course sharing the Christian Science Monitor were daily routines that developed our bond that I cherish to this day. Any progress in the release of his book? Thank you. Brother Roberts neice Deborah

  26. bekkos Says:

    Hello, Deborah.

    Last week, for the first time in a long while, I opened the files to Brother Robert’s book, and did some work on them, mostly cleaning up spelling and such. (It is clear that, in his last years, Brother Robert didn’t care much about proofreading.) I confess that, for the past couple of years, not much has been accomplished on the project; mostly this is because I had the responsibilities of teaching at a small school (six different courses at the same time). At present, I am out of work, which has the advantage that I am able to get some work done on other things; in the first place, I am trying to get my work on John Bekkos finished and published, but I am also going to try to edit your uncle’s book. It is not an easy job; the first thing I need to do with it is get some sort of an outline. As it stands, it is rambling and repetitive; each “chapter” is, by itself, about the length of a short book, and different “chapters” contain much of the same material; it’s not altogether clear to me which of them present his latest revisions. If you would like, I can send you some of this material as it stands; nevertheless, I do mean to work on it, and hope to work it up into a book that can be published. Unfortunately, that’s all that I can report on it at this point.


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