Br. Patrick Horner’s 50th Year at Manhattan

by Alexa Schmidt, Features Editor

Brother Patrick Horner, Ph.D., celebrates his 50th year at Manhattan College. An English professor with a specialty in medieval literature, Horner teaches a variety classes at MC, including Roots, Chaucer, British Literature and Classical Origins of Western Culture.

Br. Horner is quick to point out that being a Christian Brother offered him the opportunity to pursue an education in the first place. He attended high school at Manhattan Prep, which amounted to six classrooms in what is now De La Salle Hall.

“In my day, you sort of had to make a decision. When you got to be a junior, you were either going the physics math route, or the language route. In our situation, it was difficult to do both. Most of us made a choice, and I made the choice to do languages,” said Br. Horner.

However, Br. Horner originally wanted to go down a slightly different path: to major in Latin. He was deterred by a Brother who told him, “We don’t need any more Latin teachers.” So Br. Horner chose English and received his doctorate at SUNY Albany.

While he was immersed in his studies, he visited MC’s campus to speak to the chair of the English department, and ask what the department needed. One of the Brothers was retiring within the next two years, and the college needed a professor specializing in medieval literature.

Br. Horner went back to Albany and wound up becoming acquainted with and working for a professor who was a highly prominent medieval scholar.

“I mean I was headed that way and then with his presence and influence, I eventually became a graduate assistant for him, so I was working for him for most of the the time I was getting  the degree, and that’s where I wound up in my niche,” Br. Horner said.

After he received his Ph.D., he applied to work for MC, which at the time, was the only Lasallian college in New York. He received the job. Since then, he’s loved teaching and engaging with students.

“I particularly enjoy teaching students who are interested in learning, and who are willing to do the work involved, Br. horner said. “When that happens, I have had a good day. That’s literally true. They don’t necessarily have to be the smartest students. But they have to be interested in the subject and willing to do work. If they are, it’s a pleasure for me and I hope it’s worthwhile to them.”

  In addition to teaching, Br. Horner has noticed a couple changes at the college. One of the most major ones was when he arrived to the college, and it had really just begun to go co-ed, which heavily impacted the campus in a positive way.

“The women deserve a huge amount of credit, because at least initially, that was, rightly or wrongly, an all-male world,” Br. Horner said. “If you ventured into it, you had to be really good to hold your own and it seems to me that the young women that have over the years, graduated with engineering degrees, have made the place proud.”

He continued.

“They had to be good in order to, initially, ‘survive’ because it was such a different experience. Over the years, not only have they survived, but they’ve shown themselves to be outstanding. Co-ed is probably the most prominent difference, and now it’s as if it never happened because it’s so obviously  a co-ed campus. But there was a lot that had to be done in order to make it a campus that would be comfortable and hospitable for women,” Br. Horner said.

Another significant change has been the way people dress. He brought up how people used to dress up every day to go to school. But, now he knows that whenever his students come to class, with suit and ties or business suits, he knows that’s because they have to go on a job interview. Otherwise, ordinary dress is much more casual.

Br. Horner applies the change in dress to his personal life.

He jokingly said, “In one sense, you could say, ‘Well he don’t look like a Brother.’ I mean, Brother Robert Berger and some of the other Brothers wear the black shirt and collar. I’ve never really done that. And why? Because when I first began teaching, I perspired so much that the plastic collar would drive me nuts. So I said I can’t stand this and I took the collar off and went to shirt. But, shirt with tie. In “the old days,” students were dressed as if this were a serious matter.”

He continued.

“It does change. Perceptions and whatever. I continue to dress the way I have all the time because for me at least, this is a reminder that this is a serious enterprise,” Br. Horner said. “It’s not just passing the time. That may be a limitation. Maybe I need to realize I can be just as serious without putting this garb on, but it’s just been part of my training and nature, so I do it.”

Over the years, Br. Horner noticed the lack of Brothers almost immediately.

“I am concerned about how we figure out how to maintain the identity of the place, and the values that it had, and which the brothers were important in creating and preserving tradition,” Br. Horner said.

“When I first came here, and I joined the faculty, there were more than 50 brothers in the community of the college. And a couple of us who came the same year, said, ‘the fountain of youth!’ because we were the youngest, and it was clear, even then that there weren’t going to be that many behind us.”

At that point, the presence of the brothers on campus was very evident, not only by dress, but also because they were faculty members and part of the administration.

Presently, President O’Donnell is, for the first time in the college’s history, not a Brother. While Br. Horner notices this change, he hopes the character of the school can remain without the Brothers.

When looking back at the past 50 years, Br. Horner admits that they have really flown by.

“I tend to live in the present and the moment, although it is true. It’s easy and it can be enjoyable to go down memory lane, but you don’t live there,” Horner said.

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