Frederick McGinness

Citation for 2008 Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Teaching

In the words of one of our students, “[Fred] McGinness is the most interesting professor I have had in my life.”  Student postings to MySpace and Facebook testify plaintively to the extraordinarily moving effect he has had on student lives.  Who is this man?

First, he has been the beloved chair of the History Department since 2005. His courses reflect the breadth of his expertise. He has taught courses in Ancient Greece and Rome, Rhetoric in the Ancient Greek Cities, Early Ireland, Early English History (55 BCE-1400), Medieval History (300-1300), Europe (1300-1600), Europe in the Age of the Reformation (1450-1600) and Europe: the Age of Reform and Revolution (1600-1815).  A student in his course on medieval England remarks that she “had as much fun as the Vikings on a good pillaging.” Another in the course on Ancient Greek and Rome states that “He is one of the best history teachers I ever had. I loved this class. I learned enormous amounts about Ancient Greece and Rome.”  And another student explains, “Frederick’s lectures were ‘enchanting.’ Much happens in story telling mode.” And, “He has a way of making the history come to life.”

Fred has also been the moving force behind the Complex Organizations program for over twenty years.   In addition to this work, he directed the internship program at Mount Holyoke for many years where he helped secure on campus interviews for students from non-profits as well as super-profits like Goldman-Sachs and other financial institutions.  For years, he has taught “Ethical Issues in Complex Organizations” and “Leadership and the Liberal Arts” which are core courses in the Complex Organization minor.  The most famous of these,  “Leadership and the Liberal Arts,” is perhaps the Mount Holyoke College course that most directly engages our mission of “fostering the alliance of liberal arts education with purposeful engagement in the world.”  According to his Complex Organization students, Fred is “very charismatic, yet refined,” “his lectures are tactfully planned,” “his excitement radiates throughout the classroom,” and he “is extraordinarily respectful and kind.”  One student declared that his course was “the first class I’ve taken in the morning that I really don’t want to miss”. The students find it “wonderful learn about leaders [and] approaches to leadership” and they “learned a great deal about a liberal arts degree in the business .... world.”

Fred is a brilliant scholar.  He received a B.A. in Classics from the University of Detroit, a Bakkalaureat in Theologie from Hochshule Sankt Georgen, and a Ph.D. in History from the University of California at Berkeley.  A former priest, he speaks nine languages and has written numerous articles on the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, Rhetoric, and Preaching. His 1995 book, Right Thinking: Sacred Oratory in Counter-Reformation Rome, won the Howard R. Marraro Prize from the Catholic Historical Association. His research is a “must-read” for scholars in the fields of the Renaissance, Reformation, Sixteenth Century, and Catholic History.  His writing is elegant and deep. One of the world’s leading authorities on Erasmus, Fred is editing volumes 67 and 68 of the Collected Works of Erasmus, a labor of love that will be invaluable for future generations of students and scholars.  A former priest, a devoted and loving husband of another terrific scholar and teacher, and as gentle as he is brilliant, Fred also has a certificate in Business Administration from the Wharton School.  We were surprised nonetheless to learn from a student in “Leadership and the Liberal Arts”  that his favorite organization is not as you might expect the Catholic Church, the Post-Reformation Catholic Church, nor even the Medieval Catholic Church, but is, if we believe the student, Dupont.

We at Mount Holyoke should count ourselves lucky that this one-time priest found his way not to a secluded monastery, but to our classrooms. He engages our students in thinking about ancient history and just as readily about what their education means for their future roles as leaders. They leave Mount Holyoke to engage today’s world armed with their understanding and appreciation for the past. Fred McGinness truly is a leader in the liberal arts at Mount Holyoke.