Deaths in the family

Author: Notre Dame Magazine

At age 9 she couldn’t read, but Sabine MacCormack grew up to become “one of the most distinguished humanists in Notre Dame’s history, and one of the leading humanists in the contemporary scholarly world,” said John McGreevy, dean of the College of Arts and Letters. MacCormack died in June at age 71.

MacCormack was born at the end of WWII in Frankfurt, Germany, and the uneasy situation in Europe disrupted her education. At 9 she was sent to Bavaria to live with her grandmother and attend Catholic school. At 11, she moved to England and later attended Oxford there.

Academically, she plunged into two dissimilar fields — Ancient Rome and colonial Latin America —and achieved prominence in both. Her studies focused around the progressions of culture and religion. As a reprieve from heavy research, she could often be found in South America painting the landscapes she studied, her friend Marika Smith said.

In studying religion, she became curious on a personal level. “She told me she came to Notre Dame to find out if she might become a Catholic,” Smith said. After taking instruction from University President Rev. John Jenkins, CSC, MacCormack became a Catholic and daily communicant.

Her personal life was equally rigorous. Colleague Tom Noble said, “You had this feeling she had read every novel ever written and had the terrible capacity to remember them all.”

She also wasn’t afraid to share her opinions. “She would get her jaws on an issue like a pit bull,” Noble said. The Hesburgh Library was one of those issues. MacCormack was known to bring up the library at every meeting she attended, a persistence that may have expedited the current renovations.

MacCormack was equally determined that Notre Dame establish a doctoral program in Latin American history and a Latin American Indigenous Language Learning Program, which she generously endowed from her Mellon Foundation award.

A faculty member since 2003, she was elected to some of the most prestigious academic societies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, yet still found ample time for students and time to enjoy humor.

“She laughed easily. She saw humor in things and had a huge laugh that could fill up a room,” Noble said.

After more than 50 years of service to Notre Dame as both a Holy Cross priest and faculty member, Rev. Joseph Walter, CSC, died at Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine, in Maywood, Illinois. He was 82.

The Braddock, Pennsylvania, native earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Duquesne University and received a full fellowship from the Atomic Energy Commission to pursue graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh. There, he did research in inorganic and analytical chemistry and worked in the lab of Dr. Jonas Salk, developer of the first polio vaccine, until receiving his Ph.D. in 1955.

While adept at chemistry, Walter felt he had another calling. Days after completing his studies, he traveled to Notre Dame to join the Old College Program. On February 4, 1961, he was ordained a priest and so followed his many cousins, aunts and uncles into religious life.

After he returned to Notre Dame he taught in the Department of Chemistry and was named the chairman of the Department of Pre-professional Studies. During his time as chairman, he saw 5,800 graduates become health professionals and his letters of recommendation to medical school were highly coveted, Father Richard Bullene, CSC, said.

“He’s present in a lot of medical practices across the country. He instilled a high level of competency in students,” Bullene said.

In 1983, Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, presented him the President’s Award for distinguished and extended service to the University, where he would serve for 20 more years.

Following his 2005 retirement, he spent time visiting his nieces and nephews, tracing his family’s genealogy, playing the organ and traveling to locations as far as Antarctica, always making friends along the way, Bullene said.

“He would tell stories of his grandparents and people I never knew but I felt like I did. He could really weave a story,” Bullene said.

John Darby, a professor of comparative ethnic studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, will be remembered not only for his applied scholarship but also for his Irish sense of humor. He died in his home in Portstewart, Northern Ireland, at the age of 71.

Darby was born during a tumultuous period in Northern Ireland. As the Troubles escalated, he was removed from his teaching position at Saint Malachy’s College Belfast and appointed to a research position for the Northern Ireland Community Relations Commission. He began to study conflict across countries and time periods and situations and eventually founded the Centre for the Study of Conflict at the University of Ulster.

He also put his research into action. His extensive research in combination with his unbiased demeanor allowed him to serve internationally as a mediator during wars and peace treaties.

“[John] understood that despite its brutality there was a certain logic to violence and conflict — it had a real face — a face even beyond the participants and combatants at the table,” colleague George Lopez said. “He knew that what a scholar could bring to that was to speak the truth of history by . . . getting right into their face.”

In 2004, Darby became the director of Kroc’s Peace Accords Matrix, the world’s largest compilation of data on peace agreements and one that allows for easy comparative analysis. The matrix is funded by the U.S. Institute of Peace and has brought many doctoral candidates to the University.

Darby was adamant that students, even the undergraduates, work on the matrix and collaborate with faculty. “He was always looking ahead to the next generation of researchers and peace builders, and felt that shaping members of that generation was central to his vocation as a scholar,” Scott Appleby, the Kroc Institute director, said.

His work on violence never darkened his personality and he was known for his humor, Lopez said. “John was one of those people for whom violence was not a surprise — it was not paralyzing, he always thought we could get over it. He had the ability to embrace lots of other things that could create happiness.”