Dr. Anthony Esolen
I was born in Archbald, Pennsylvania, the grandson of Italian immigrants, peasants in Italy and coal miners here. My family attended Saint Thomas Aquinas Church, built by Irish miners in the late 1800’s, painted by an Italian master they hired to cover the church’s walls and ceilings, partly ruined by an otherwise sensible Irish pastor in the 1970’s, and now restored by a very fine and faithful young priest, who is not Italian but Lebanese, which is close enough. I attended the parish school there and learned grammar from a fine old battle-axe, and then went to Bishop O’Hara High School, where I knew some other battle-axes and began to study German and Latin. After that came Princeton, a smallish university in southern New Jersey where faith and reason used to go to die, but through the grace of God I ended up in the English department and studied under the incomparably fine Thomas Roche, John Fleming, and Robert Hollander, and there, for the first time, I learned that the life of faith and the life of the intellect were one.
Princeton graduated me summa cum laude, an honor which they might like to take back, but cannot, and then I went to the University of North Carolina, whose English department at that time required its graduate students to know a very broad range of English and American literature. My major was Renaissance literature, with a minor in Latin, and strong interest in medieval literature and languages. The most important thing that happened to me there at Chapel Hill was that God surprised me with a woman whom I fell in love with, who has been my wife, Debra, for the last thirty years. We were married in Saint Thomas More Catholic Church, in an old stone building that no longer exists, the parish having grown too large for it.
From Chapel Hill we went south to a place actually called Travelers Rest, in the up-country of South Carolina, where I taught for two years, as an assistant professor of English, at Furman University. That place proved to be a snake pit of envy and rebellion against the southern Baptists who still held some slight authority over its goings on, so we looked elsewhere, and in 1990 I accepted an offer from Providence College, where I taught for 27 years, 25 of them quite happily. I became the youngest person ever to be promoted to a full professorship, a record that still holds, and taught regularly in the school’s program in the Development of Western Civilization, happily also, until the program was beaten bloody and crippled, several years ago. I began at that school to translate poetry: Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things, Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. Over time I began to write articles for Christian journals such as Touchstone, Crisis, The Catholic Thing, Magnificat, and various others, and to write many books on Catholic theology, culture, Christian literature, and western civilization. For all of this work, the politically motivated Powers at the college rewarded me in 2016 with public repudiation, and we parted company.
I am now a teaching fellow at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, and for the first time in my life I am perfectly at home when I am at work. I have told my wife and anyone who will listen that I will never again feel that sense of futility, thinking that I am reaching only a few students here and there, or that all I do in my class will be undone in somebody else’s class, or that my students are going through the motions, not really in love with anything that I love so much. I find that I am really teaching, and working harder than ever, to my delight. My family and I have moved to New Hampshire, and here we plan to stay, here will be our home, until God calls us home indeed.