An Interview with Dr. Richard Berquist
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of St. Thomas
Q: How did you first become interested in philosophy?
A: I’d always thought of religion and reason as completely separate domains: reason was confined to math and the sciences, and faith answered the important questions of life. When I was a student at Cretin [now Cretin-Durham] High School, one of the Christian Brothers there gave me a copy of Maritain’s Introduction to Philosophy, and I realized that there could be rational knowledge that also addressed those important questions.
Q: Where did you study?
A: I was an undergraduate here at St. Thomas, then I went to Quebec and studied at Laval for two years and got my license [similar to a master’s degree] in philosophy. I wrote my thesis in logic. I entered the Dominican Order but left after two years because of health problems. Then I went to Notre Dame for my doctoral work; I studied the jurist [legal philosopher] Giorgio Del Vecchio, who was in Rome.
Q: What led you back to St. Thomas?
A: I left Notre Dame ABD [having completed all but dissertation] and went to New York, where I taught philosophy at St. John’s University on Long Island and met my wife, who was a graduate student in history. Then I got a grant from the Italian government to go to Rome and complete my dissertation there with Del Vecchio. After finishing my dissertation I went back to St. John’s for about a year, and then [at Fr. Stromberg’s suggestion] Fr. Du Lac [the department chair at the time] called and asked me to come back and teach at St. Thomas. I didn’t want to raise my family in New York, and I had friends and an elderly mother here in St. Paul, so I was glad to come back.
Q: What were your favorite classes to teach at St. Thomas?
A: A lot of my teaching was of the general requirements, and I liked those. I liked Ethics a lot. For a number of years my main upper-level course was Medical Ethics, and I was chair of the Archdiocesan Bioethics Commission during that time as well. I also liked teaching logic, especially Aristotelian logic.
Q: What interests and hobbies do you have, other than philosophy?
A: I enjoyed spending time with my children—we had two sons and a daughter—and my grandchildren. My daughter lives in France, and my wife and I always enjoyed going there to visit her and her husband and children. We really loved playing tennis also.
Q: What have you been doing since you retired?
A: I still teach independent study courses occasionally; this semester [Spring 2011] I’m teaching one on metaphysics. I wrote a translation of Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on the Posterior Analytics and am working on a book on natural law.
Q: What advice would you give to young philosophers?
A: Read as much of St. Thomas Aquinas as you can and study his arguments: it’s as fast a way of learning as you can get. I learned more from a paragraph of St. Thomas than from anything else.
PDF of Interview