Get to Know Ronald H. McKinney, S.J., Ph.D.
Ronald H. McKinney, S.J., Ph.D., provided us so many good answers, we couldn't fit it all in The Journal's print edition! Check out our expanded interview with him below. The purple highlights indicate additional responses and questions found only here!
In 2010, you passed the baton as the director of the University’s Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program, ending a 24-year run. You have called directing SJLA a privilege, how so?
To be able to work with remarkable students from the first day of school, to see them develop as persons and scholars over the next four years, and then stay in touch with many of them and their families for years to come, that’s a privilege not every professor gets to experience. In my role, I probably have greater opportunities than most professors to receive expressions of appreciation, far more than I deserve.
If you could ensure your former SJLA students learned one thing in the program, what would it be?
Only one thing? Compassion for themselves and others. The realization that we don’t have all the answers, but despite our limitations, God still works through us and others. A close second: A sense of humor and love for the incongruities of life.
You have been complimented as having a “sleeves-rolled up” approach to Ignatian education. What do you think your admirers mean by that?
Perhaps they mean that my informal attire mirrors a desire to go beyond a merely academic approach to things. That we’re not just educating minds, but whole persons. There have been some students who graduated as SJLAers who, GPA-wise, should have been dismissed early on. I hope my pastoral approach to SJLA remains: sometimes it’s not the person with the highest GPA that contributes the most to their peers. And sometimes they are the ones who will appreciate what SJLA has to offer far more than the 4.0 student does.
What does magis mean to you?
The usual translation as “the striving for excellence” doesn’t work for me. I’m very wary of perfectionists. Perhaps my legendary “teasing” of students is due to my awareness of our mutual need for humility. Magis, for me, is more the willingness to find serenity in the things we can’t change. It’s linked more to gratitude than to a desire to make the world more perfect.
When did you realize you wanted to become a Jesuit and why?
I come from a long line of Protestant ministers in my family. Though I converted to Catholicism in order to become a Franciscan, I quickly learned that the Jesuits were a better fit for me as I went through college. Their model of the hyphenated priest (professor and minister) was always the draw for me to the Jesuits.
What drew you to philosophy?
Philosophy has always enabled me to be the interdisciplinary generalist I am by nature. As an undecided student when I went to college, I chose philosophy because it allowed me to also pursue my interests in science, politics, history, literature, art, theology and psychology.
You have been at Scranton for more than 27 years. How has the institution changed?
Physically it has become a much more beautiful place. Its growth in complexity, though, has made it far more of a challenge to maintain our sense of “community.”
How has our Jesuit university remained the same?
It’s still a place where young people can find professors, staff and fellow students who will care about them and their growth as persons and learners. It’s still a cheerful place that allows room for all us melancholics to hide in.
What is your favorite place on campus and why?
No, it’s not the chapel. I’m not that stereotypical. Outside my own room in the residence hall (I’m an introvert after all), I would say my favorite place is Jefferson Auditorium during musical productions of the Liva Arts Company, the student group I moderate. It’s easy there to have a tangible feel of pride for what our students are able to creatively accomplish together.
If you’re not on campus, where can you be found?
I don’t travel that much in comparison to most, so if I’m not on campus, I’m walking in the Hill Section each day.
You have published more than 35 articles for professional journals and monographs. What topics and subjects interest you the most and why?
I read randomly through all kinds of books and topics during the year and then try to make connections. So this past year, for example, I was reading up on musical theory, as well as articles and books on the multiverse concept. So I wrote an article this summer using musical theory as a lens for understanding multiverse theory. Or my interests in comic drama, moral casuistry, and chaos theory will find me connecting them together in an examination of Tom Stoppard’s play “ARCADIA.” My research agenda, in short, is completely unplanned. But I suspect the central theme is always my wonder at the pluralism that exists in this universe of ours.
Last year, a play you wrote was performed in Baltimore, Md. Tell us about the play, and what was it like seeing it come to life on stage?
I have been writing plays for a long time and was lucky to have my first play, “HAMMARSKJÖLD,” produced by the Spotlighter’s Theater this past summer. What amazed me most was watching the director and actors discover dimensions within the characters I created that I never “consciously” intended, but were clearly there on some level. Every play I write always has to involve a mystery of some kind. One of my heroes has always been Dag Hammarskjöld, the former UN Secretary-General, who died in a plane crash over the Congo. His life itself was full of mystery, and so, for the play, I imagined a man mugged in Central Park today waking up in an ambulance with all the memories of this man who died in 1961. His quest to discover who he is triggers the same quest in others around him in my play.
Years at Scranton: 27 years
Hometown: Grew up in Michigan, but came east with family during college
Hobbies/Interests: Fantasy football and baseball; addicted to reading, playing piano, writing plays and walking
Most Remarkable Place You Have Visited: El Salvador
Childhood Hero: St. Francis of Assisi