Fr. James Stromberg: RIP
A great man has passed before us. In your charity kindly offer a prayer for the repose of the soul of our beloved professor of ethics, Rev. Dr. James Stromberg, PhD. He dedicated his life to Catholic education at the College of St. Thomas/University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Fr. Stromberg was Catholic philosopher from the old school, a graduate of Laval University in Quebec during its storied days. He was part of a corps of really fine priests who in the 1950s Archbishop Murray and Archbishop Brady saw fit to assign to live and work among the young Catholic men of the College of St. Thomas and St. Thomas Military Academy. Countless students were indebted to him over the years. He inspired many of us.
I can still see him on his way to the clergy dining room in Murray Hall where the priests took their meals. I was there earlier this summer only to find that whole area has been turned into classroom space.
There were so many fine priests at St. Thomas in those days. They lived on campus, heard confessions, celebrated early Mass in the chapel (the chapel celebrates 100 years this year). Their presence was indispensable.
Each morning the sacristy was full of them. Their names are etched into eternal glory: Mons. Schuler, Mons. Lavin, Mons. Probst, Mons. DuLac, Mons. Flynn, Mons. Shannon and many others. All these years later that entire culture has been removed from UST which is a major loss to campus life and Catholic identity. The last surviving member is our beloved Fr. George Welzbacher, now in retirement.
For years Fr. Stromberg was my confessor at Holy Family parish where he was a weekend assistant. When I would drive by and see his Buick parked along side of the church, I would enter for confession. A brilliant philosopher and a saintly confessor, he adored St. Thomas Aquinas. A true servant, he was good at being a priest.
Fr. Stromberg graduated from St. Thomas in 1950 and was chair of the Philosophy Department from 1979 to 1984. From Aristotle he taught that happiness is a rational operation according to virtue in a complete lifetime, a truth which he spent his whole ethics class working up to.
Students were introduced by Fr. Stromberg to many literary treasures, including Veatch’s Rational Man as well as works by Avery Cardinal Dulles, including this one: http://www.catholicsocialscientists.org/CSSR/Archival/1999/1999_109.pdf.
B.K. Dolan, a Michigan student who studied under Fr. Stromberg in the 1990s reminisces of a classroom discussion: “I remember how he told a story of how he went to some wealthy friend’s house. Fr. Stromberg was left alone. He saw something odd on the mantle over the fire place. He walked over to take a look. It was a Coca-Cola can. Why would a Coca-Cola can just be sitting on this very wealthy friend’s mantle? He reached out for it and as he did his friend rounded the corner and yelled at Fr. Stromberg. ‘Don’t touch that!’ It was a can that Andy Warhol had designed. — He went on to explain beauty and that the end of art was beauty. Contemporary art was about the artist, and not about beauty being an end in itself. This is how I remember it at least.”