A professor who 'could change your life'

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 30, 2008 - 9:29 PM

Joseph Connors, a retired University of St. Thomas English professor, began his relationship with the school in 1933.

Joseph Connors, a University of St. Thomas English professor who presented literature in the context of the history, politics and culture of the time, probably affected the lives of thousands of students over the years. Connors, who was a student of history, art, music, sports, even Sherlock Holmes, died on Jan. 26 in Bloomington.

Joseph Connors, a University of St. Thomas English professor who presented literature in the context of the history, politics and culture of the time of its writing, probably affected the lives of thousands of students over the years.

Connors, who was a student of history, art, music, sports, even Sherlock Holmes, died Jan. 26 in Bloomington.

Connors, 93, who had suffered from Parkinson's disease, was a longtime St. Paul and Minneapolis resident.

"He was someone you would hope that you would have as a professor," said Jim Winterer, news service director at the St. Paul university. "He could change your life."

After graduation from Minneapolis' DeLaSalle High School in 1933, Connors earned his bachelor's degree at the old College of St. Thomas. He turned to teaching at the St. Thomas Military Academy until 1942.

During World War II, he served as an Army intelligence officer in the Pacific Theater.

After the war, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, served in St. Thomas administration and was a professor from 1964 to 1982.

Martin Costello of Minneapolis, a longtime friend and former student, said Connors believed the teaching of literature "should be integrated into the culture of the era, its artwork, the music of the era."

"He didn't think you could study literature in a vacuum," Costello said. And he had a wry sense of humor.

Costello recalled a senior-level course where one student hadn't begun a major term paper and the deadline was near. Connors asked for the student's introduction and was met by silence. He asked the student for his main thesis and again was met by silence.

Connors responded: "You must be somewhere in the middle, then," said Costello, adding that Connors was ever gracious.

"I never heard him say anything about another [person] unless it was true, necessary and kind," said Costello.

Connors was deeply interested in a wide variety of subjects, including Minnesota history, boxing and the Minnesota Twins.

Connors retired in 1982. In 1985, he completed a history of the university for its centennial. He was named Professor of the Year in 1973, and received St. Thomas' Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1986.

He enjoyed hiking along the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities.

His wife of 41 years, Catherine, died in 1985. He is survived by several nieces.

Services have been held.

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