A Death in the Family

Author: Notre Dame Magazine staff

EDWARD J. CRONIN ‘38, a legendary professor in the Program of Liberal Studies who taught at Notre Dame for nearly 50 years, passed away on Christmas Day at age 88. He so loved what he taught —literature, especially James Joyce’s Ulysses — that in class he would often read aloud a line from a book and ask, “Isn’t that beautiful?” He said his wish was to die sitting on a bench at the Grotto reading Dickens. He actually was at a local nursing home when he died. The PLS professor was a demanding teacher, nicknamed B-minus Cronin by students because of his high standards and tough grading. As one former student recalls, he would return “themes” in a box labeled “Garbage Out” placed outside his office in the basement of the library. Students were admonished to pick up the papers quickly so as not to violate a city code prohibiting the leaving of garbage in a public place for longer than 48 hours. The devoutly Irish—he referred to Ireland as “the Holy Land” —and Catholic professor was always available to talk with students, though. He referred to these conferences as “confessions.” His teaching was so valued that it wasn’t unusual to hear a student remark, “I’ve got to get my Cronin course before I graduate.” He was a member of the regular faculty from 1949 until he retired in 1981 but continued to teach one course a semester until 1998, when he suffered a stroke. His focus on teaching rather than published research recalled an earlier age for academia, and he was old-fashioned in many other regards. Women were encouraged to wear skirts in class and men to remove their caps and hold the doors open for women. In 1983 the Program of Liberal Studies established the Edward J. Cronin Award for the best-written paper turned in as part of routine departmental course work. The professor himself would present the award at an annual dinner and make a show out of carefully opening the envelope and reading every word on the page, even the letterhead, to draw out the suspense. This year will be the first that the award is presented without him.