Thursday, August 14, 2008
I have mentioned a few times in this blog the directed readings I took last year on "Anthropological Issues in Theology." The instructor, Carl Starkloff, would meet with me every few weeks to talk through a book and develop ideas for the paper I was working on. At the end of last semester, Carl developed a recurrence of cancer in the stomach, which he had dealt with once before years ago. He did chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, and so on all summer, and I emailed regularly to see how he was doing. As soon as I got back into St. Louis last week, I went to see him in the nursing wing at Jesuit Hall, the main Jesuit residence at SLU. It was a bit of a shock to see him at first - Carl was a tall, robust man of 75 with a full head of dark hair, but because of the surgery and the therapy, he had lost his hair, and he looked shrunken and frail. He was on oxygen because he was having trouble breathing, and his legs were too weak for him to walk far. He was a bit depressed when I talked to him because he couldn't work, couldn't even write the book he wanted to work on because the medicine he was on made him drowsy and nauseous. The doctor told him that he should be fine, but it would take a while. He told me it would have been easier if the doctor had told him to prepare himself to die, because the uncertainty of his health, the feeling of helplessness (uselessness?), and the frailty and weakness he was dealing with were taking a toll on his spirits. I asked him if we could get together during the semester to read a few books, partially because I really did want his help, but partially because I thought it might make him feel more productive. Yesterday one of my co-workers told me that Carl was back in the hospital with fluid in the lungs, and I was actually planning on calling today to see if I could visit him, but when I got to the office this morning, a Jesuit who works in campus ministry told me that Carl died during the night.
Carl was a giant of a theologian, and worked for years in Toronto and here in St. Louis. He also spent a long time working with several Native American communities in the Pacific Northwest, which provided the initial impetus for my desire to work with him because of his expertise in both theology and anthropology. At the time of his death, he was working on an ambitious project with a tribe near St. Louis on the history of the Jesuits' interactions with that tribe. Above and beyond his profound intellect and teaching ability, Carl was a wise and good man with a great love for SLU and the students. He had been involved with campus ministry, saying weekday masses in residence halls and directing students on Ignatian retreats. I was fortunate to call Carl my teacher, my mentor, and (if I may be so bold) my friend, and his death is a great loss to the Society of Jesus, to SLU and to me personally.