Teacher’s Pet: Dr. Tom Donlan
By Charles Louis Dominguez ’14
Mr. Smith’s question from May’s “Teacher’s Pet”: Would you rather live in a world without your favorite food or live in a world where you have to eat your favorite food three meals a day, every day for your entire life? P.S.: What is your favorite food?
Wow, that’s tough. I think I just have to lean towards my more disciplined side, which is less fun. So my favorite food is ice cream, and it would kill me if I ate it non-stop.
Why would you say your favorite food is ice cream?
Ice cream is just like frozen liquid magic. It’s like instant gratification, so sweet and tasty.
What college did you attend?
I went to Notre Dame for undergraduate, then I did a masters at Yale, then a Ph.D. at the UofA down in Tucson.
What draws you to religion specifically?
I think it’s multi-faceted. When I was little I just had a natural inclination to think spiritually or to experience things spiritually, so I prayed almost naturally. I’m sure my parents encouraged it or modeled it for me but I found myself praying and talking to God, both with people and also when I was alone. So it was sort of at all times. It was both a social thing and I liked the solitude and peace. I had a keen sense for God’s presence when I was alone, especially in nature. The experience of the divine in all of reality was just a part of me since I was little. Intellectually, I wanted to study it and talk about it.
Why did you become a teacher?
I didn’t expect to do it. I thought I might become a counselor or a therapist, actually, but for a variety of reasons I ended up doing some substitute teaching at my old high school, and I really enjoyed it. I love being in front of young people. I love sharing with them the things I had learned, and I enjoyed the process of getting their minds in motion and brainstorming and being creative. It was like a perfect fit, so I ended up teaching at a Catholic high school soon after I did a little subbing, and I knew it was a vocation right away.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as a teacher?
Ooh, that’s tough. One valuable lesson among others is that education is a relational process. I’ve had to learn that as much as I like talking and as much as I like to be the fountain of wisdom and knowledge, ultimately that doesn’t serve the goal of education or serve the growth of students. One of the greatest lessons is to give the students the floor, to a point. Obviously the teacher’s in charge and the teacher gives a framework. That, in a nutshell, is one of the most valuable lessons. The students need to be participating and I need to let that happen.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened during your time at Brophy?
That’s hard. I think one of the craziest things I’ve witnessed is the “May the Fourth be With You” gatherings. I had never heard of that or seen that. It cracks me up, I love it. It’s mayhem and disorder, but with a good spirit behind it. No one wants to get hurt and no one’s trying hurt anybody, and yet, it’s a bit of chaos that’s fun for everybody involved.
Would you say you’re a Star Wars fan?
I love the movie, but I’m not a huge fan. I don’t know all the names of the characters and all the things like that. I do love the first movie in particular. I love the figure of Yoda. For me, there are Jesus-like qualities to Yoda. There are some basic spiritual teachings that Yoda shares with Luke that, for me, are priceless. That relationship between Luke and Yoda is a beautiful thing. So, I’m a big fan, but not a mega fan. I don’t have action figures at home or anything.
Do you consider Jesus a Jedi?
Yes. I think Jesus does have Jedi-like qualities, and Jedis have Jesus-like qualities, which I think George Lucas—the creator—is tapping into spiritual traditions when he created that. I think there are parallels between Jedis and Jesus. You could have a whole class on that, I think.
What makes you laugh?
As students who have had me know, I like the absurd. I’ll be ridiculous and say I like the juxtaposition of the incongruous. I love setting things up and moving in a logical way, not just for the sake of a joke. I like talking about serious things and making sense of things, but along the way, there’s no question that I enjoy diversions that explore or at least visit the absurd. If for no other reason, it makes us laugh. For me it’s pure joy.
Could you explain the significance of the rock badger?
I think it’s from the Hebrew Bible, I think Leviticus. We’re going to have to go back and ask the priestly authors of Leviticus about the rock badger. I mean, there’s no question there’s something funny about the rock badger—just the two words coming together: rock and badger. Then the fact that you can or cannot eat them is just a mystery.
Lastly, could you compose a question for next month’s “Teacher’s Pet?”
Sure, so the question for the next teacher will be: If they had to choose between being a plastic chicken soft taco or being an upside down rhinoceros, what would they choose and why?