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Msgr. Thomas A French, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies

Msgr. French studied for the priesthood at Blackrock College for the Archdiocese of San Antonio. He was assigned to a parish here for a short time before he became Chaplain at the Incarnate Word Convent and full time Religious Studies faculty for Incarnate Word College and then University. He is but one of a number of priests who came to Incarnate Word as Chaplains or members of the faculty in many areas, and were housed in Brackenridge Villa. Msgr. French knew many of them and he only recently retired on campus. He managed over the years to avoid public recognition until, against his protests, an Endowed Chair was named in his honor, an honorary doctorate was awarded, and finally Professor Emeritus.

Former students have legendary stories of his no nonsense approach to teaching and paying attention in class. Like the students, most of the priests were here for a relatively short period of time. A few shorter than others. And few appreciated the full value of his droll and witty Irish sense of humor. Until one time.

One homecoming he decided to give a trip down memory lane on priests he had known on campus, and some he recalled, “flashed through our sky like a visiting comet.” Other than his on campus duties he served the Archdiocese in a number of capacities, perhaps the longest as Vicar for Religious Women for which he was eminently qualified.

Other priests who added to our history were Rev. J.G.Bednarek of Chicago, here for health reasons, managed to design and supervise the construction of the campus Grotto and help with the Motherhouse Chapel. Rev Albert Lohmann was a gifted musician and composer, and Rev Fridolin Schneider taught in English and German. Rev John P Donaghey with degrees from the Universities of Bonn and Munich, built up the physics program as a former student of X-Ray inventor Roentgen. Rev John Hayes of Chicago who replaced Father Donaghey was a champion of social justice and urged his students to work with the poor, something he did into his 90s after retirement. Rev Lawrence FitzSimon, later the bishop of Amarillo, taught Italian classes.

Msgr Lawrence Steubben and now Bishop Edmund Carmody were both chaplains at Incarnate Word High School. Rev John Frizelle devoted much of his time teaching psychology. And the names of Revs. Cogavin, Durr, Kohnke, O’Donoghue, Nevlud, Cannon, Lamberty and Dymnowski gave years as chaplains in recent years. And all were on call when needed. And for Msgr French, that meant streaking like a resident comet!

This is part of our heritage. Making a difference.

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