6/5/2014 10:52:00 AM REFLECTION 'O.B.' retires
after 47 years
BY KATHLEEN DUFF
Dr. Paul O'Brien's vocation to Catholic education spans 47 years.
When "O.B.," as he is affectionately known by students, posted about his retirement on Facebook, the message received almost 700 "likes" and close to 300 comments in two days. But perhaps his classroom, room six at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School in Schenectady, tells the best story of his legacy.
Room six speaks of hospitality. Inspiration and imagination are palpable in this classroom sanctuary. A sturdy wooden rocking chair has a cardigan sweater draped across the top. Jesus and Mary, Ernest Hemingway, Audrey Hepburn, Nelson Mandela, Robert Kennedy and John Lennon are among the many "teachers" present.
Music is always playing - from easy listening to rock and everything in between. Arlo Guthrie and Richie Havens are vanguards on record album covers from another decade. Books are everywhere. A bicycle wheel near the ceiling in the corner is a long ride of a lesson.
Students love Dr. O'Brien, a classy, passionate educator with a casual demeanor and steadfast allegiance to his beloved New York Yankees and Notre Dame's Fighting Irish. "O.B.isms" such as, "It's key, keep hope alive and God bless," are etched in the heart of the room.
The students remember Monday-morning classes when he showed clips from "Saturday Night Live;" they say O.B. is a positive role model and mentor who inspires critical thinking, self-discovery and love of poetry and Shakespeare. Room six has been filled with the poetry of Mary Oliver, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and Naomi Shihab.
O.B. is the "real deal." He's been in teaching for the long haul - both the easy days of barbecues and winning teams and the really tough times when death becomes the teacher. Room six, the classroom near the chapel, will miss this gifted troubadour who wears his scarf like a mantle of grace.
In his Facebook post about retirement, O.B. says, "The 47 years teaching at Notre Dame and then at ND-BG have been good ones; every day I learned something new about what it means to teach. And I have come to realize in heart and soul that we are all teachers, and each day we enrich the lives of each other."
I will remember room six as being the home of a gentleman, a prophetic evangelist with a spirit of dignity and respect, a Gospel witness making the world a kinder place. It is a classroom big enough to embrace and support this human treasure chest overflowing with good stories. Blessed are we to hear them.
(Ms. Duff is retired campus minister for Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School in Schenectady.)