Life’s lessons in a Latin class have big impact on Burke students and faculty, By Nancy Kriz MONROE - It’s a rarity for any school to close on a regular school day in order for its students, teachers and administrators to honor one of its faculty members. But that’s just what happened on Dec. 2 when John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen cancelled classes so everyone would be able to attend the funeral services for its beloved teacher, Dr. Ralph Leitner Jr. of Monroe. Leitner taught at Burke for only seven years. He was diagnosed with lymphoma 13 months ago, but was able to complete the entire school year while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. He retired last Aug. 31. His death on Nov. 26 didn’t just affect his family. For those who had a chance to know him as a teacher, mentor or colleague, Leitner’s impact was more far-reaching than that short seven year time span could ever provide. “He was so influential,” said Meghan Travers of Monroe, a junior at Burke who studied Latin with Leitner for two years. “I felt I learned lessons about Latin, but he made you feel like you learned about everyday life. His lessons didn’t stay in the classroom. I took them with me.” 46 years, 8,000 students Leitner’s family estimated that during his 46- year teaching career, he taught approximately 8,000 students at the high school and undergraduate levels, in French, Latin, and Japanese, English, ethics, philosophy and history. With two doctorate degrees - in Asian history and philosophy, his wide range of knowledge, including subtle and not so subtle messages about life, was passed onto students no matter what subject matter Leitner was teaching them. “He was really inspirational,” said Kathryn Hancharick of Warwick, also a junior at Burke, who studied Latin with Leitner last year. “He had all these stories. In his own way, he taught these life stories to us, without leaving the topic of Latin.” John Dolan, Burke’s assistant principal who also heads its guidance office, called Leitner a good friend and exceptional teacher. “He loved each and every one of them (the students),” Dolan said. “He took pride in what he did. And he was loved by the faculty as well. In a short time, he won over the heart of the school.” His daughter Beth Zeman of Monroe agreed. “Through his broad intellectual interests he was a true Renaissance man,” Zeman said during her eulogy at her father’s funeral Mass last Dec. 2 at the filled-to- capacity Sacred Heart Church in Monroe. “However, his passion was the thrill of seeing his students succeed. As an educator, you calculate success with a very different yardstick than you do in business. You measure it in lives you enrich. And judging from the outpouring of messages and prayers just in the last few months of his life and the attendance here today his success is glorious. I always knew my dad was something special, I just had no idea there were so many people who felt the same way.” Dolan was glad the school made the decision to cancel classes that day so the Burke community could attend Leitner’s funeral services. Smart, intelligent, funny “He had a real connection with students,” said Dolan. “He was a really kind guy. He was articulate and intelligent, but he was really funny, too. He always had a bunch of jokes to tell. And he never said a bad word about anyone.” His students equally saw those attributes in him as well. “He was so accomplished and did so many things,” said Hancharick. “It’s just that he knew all the answers about all things
all topics. He knew things that most people didn’t. He made you want to study and do other things. And he had the best sense of humor. He made Latin fun.” And students admired him, too. “There was something about him that made you want to respect him,” said Travers. “He deserved your respect. I feel he would talk to you as an equal. He was always trying to better us as students and people. In conversations with him, he always made you feel like he really wanted you to succeed, and that made me want to succeed. He made his time here worthwhile.” Dolan noted Leitner’s faith was important to him. “He was a very spiritual man,” said Dolan. “His spirituality had a lot to do with how people felt about him.” Dolan was among the last people to see Leitner when he was hospitalized. “When I visited him, I remember saying to him, Ralph, it’s good to believe in the things we believe in, it makes everything so much easier,’” added Dolan. “I know this (faith) makes it (his death) easier, because of what we believe in. I hope his spirituality and kindness are what people would take back at Christmas and think about.”
I felt I learned lessons about Latin, but he made you feel like you learned about everyday life. His lessons didn’t stay in the classroom. I took them with me.” Meghan Travers of Monroe, a junior at Burke
Remembering Dr. Leitner The social networking site Facebook was again a place for people to post their thoughts about Ralph Leitner, with over 465 people joining a “Fans of Dr. Leitner” page as of this past Tuesday. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say. To post your own thoughts, visit: ww.facebook.com/?sk=messages#!/pages/Fans-of-Dr-Leitner/114791835239766. Jill Chappell Stallings: Dr. Leitner taught my daughter Emily at Burke for 3 years. On my first meet the teachers nite when she was a frosh, I was going thru the hoohum nite listening to the same old speech from each teacher, and then her last class was Latin. He knocked my socks off, so funny, smart, what every teacher should strive to be. He had that rare gift for teaching, and I fell in love with Burke Catholic that nite because of him. My daughter is studying to be a teacher also, and I have to think that his influence guided her to that. Ashley Paveglio: Rest In Peace Dr. Leitner, You were truly an inspiration for all of us as your students. I am so blessed to have had you as a teacher in my life. You have imprinted our hearts with the kindness and knowledge it takes to be an incredible role model. May God Bless you and your family always. Elisa Miller: Tears fall from the heavens today for a great man has passed. Dr. Leitner was an awe- inspiring, remarkable man who donated greatly to all those who knew him. He was a superb teacher, an admirable figure of devotion and success, and shall be missed terribly. From learning Latin for three years to Japanese for one, Dr. Leitner taught me more than just a foreign language. He taught us life lessons and skills that will last a lifetime. I hope that my life can be amazing as his was and that the values he bestowed upon us will continue to be passed down upon the generations. Not only was he my teacher, but a great friend, role model and all around nice person. Requiescat in Pace. Lisa Mizell Taillon: A wonderful man and a gifted professor. Rest in peace Dr. Leitner.