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Teacher and friend

I was surprised and saddened to learn of the death of my teacher and friend Edward Mahoney, professor emeritus of philosophy and a Catholic priest in the Raleigh Diocese, who passed away Jan. 8. Only a month ago, his health, although poor, appeared stable. I expected to see him upon my return in late January to continue the trivial but cathartic task of sorting through his old files. Although one can hardly call the death of a chronically ill 76 year-old unexpected, it was nonetheless untimely.

We had been sorting for the last few years, trying to organize his massive lifetime collection of photocopied manuscripts, research notes, personal correspondence and academic trash. Progress was slow and next to meaningless, but it was a good excuse to spend time together. Even as his mind deteriorated, Mahoney continued to educate in these sessions as he reviewed his unique insights into medieval philosophy and reflected on his own life and career, offering me free advice along the way.

The slower pace of his final years also provided time for Ed to reflect on his life. His pensive moods were infused with gratitude, regret, advice and mirth. Midway through his scholarly career Mahoney made an unusual decision. He took a long sabbatical to continue his training for the Catholic priesthood. After decades of lay service in the Church and encouraged by friends, he was ordained and served as a priest in the Raleigh Diocese, following through on the vocation he had discerned as a young man. When he arrived in 1965, Durham was a strange place for a New Yorker to settle down, but being a Catholic in the South was stranger still. The challenges Mahoney faced in pursuing his late vocation are difficult to overstate, but throughout he exercised great patience and prudence.

Uncharacteristically modest for a scholar, he was an excellent homilist and dedicated in his pastoral duties. He, of course, realized that his scholarly output would have been greater had he abandoned his service to the Church, but he saw his two vocations as mutually supportive, which indeed they were. Always cognizant of the difference between theological and philosophical questions, Ed brought to his ministry great erudition and perspicuity. And in the classroom he exercised an uncommon concern for his students' intellectual development, with his office hours always available for encouragement, reading lists, conversation and critique.

Mahoney reflected a lot in his final year about paths not taken, papers not written, and opportunities missed-thoughts that death inspires in all of us. These provoked his frequent pieces of advice to me, such as "publish as much as you can when you are young and you'll be forgiven for your mistakes later." Far outweighing his regrets, however, were his memories and affirmations of his friends, family, teaching, scholarship, and ministry.

Although untimely, Mahoney's death was a good one. He was surrounded by friends and former students in his final week, some of whom were at prayer at his bedside during his last moments. Generous to the end, Mahoney stated in his will that his favorite tie should be worn by his brother to the funeral and then given to the Chapel bell ringer, Sam Hammond, so that then "he would have two ties." I will miss Mahoney very much and join with the Church in commending him to the God he loved and served so well.

Bill English is a Ph. D. candidate in the department of political science. The complete version of this guest commentary can be found on backpages.chronicleblogs.com.

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