A Teacher’s Impact
John Downing ’70 is a retired ophthalmologist who has spent the past 30 years living with his wife and family in Wisconsin. A lover of the sciences, John speaks candidly about how he found his calling in his biology, chemistry, and physics classes at Xaverian and why such experiences called him to place Xaverian as a beneficiary in his will, making him a member of The BrotherMarcellus Society.
How Xaverian’s earliest teachers shaped the man John Downing would become
XB: What is one of your most memorable moments as a student at Xaverian, especially as a student in one of the inaugural classes as the school?
JD: I took a lot of science courses and remember some exceptionally good teachers. In science, Mr. Duddy — he was a greatphysics teacher — and there was Mr. Murphy— who was a very good chemistry teacher— and then there was an older Brother who taught biology, Brother Bellarmine. I was on the debate team and there was an English teacher, Brother Gabriel, who was fairly new to the faculty and he was the coach of the debate team [which was only in its first or second year of existence at the time]. We started out as not being very good, competing against schools like Boston College High School and Catholic Memorial. By my second year we turned out pretty good, and we were able to be very competitive against these other schools and won a number of events where we came in close to the top. So, I spent a lot of time on the team and with Brother Gabriel who was a good coach and teacher.
XB: Did you feel challenged at Xaverian?
JD: The courses at Xaverian were more rigorous than the first year college science classes and that’s the best preparation.
XB: What was one of your favorite classes and why did you enjoy it?
JD: I loved chemistry and physics. The teachers brought the subjects alive so that it wasn’t just hearing a lecture, but you could really get excited about the classes. It propelled you to study the subject matter more intensely when you were at home. It was almost like an English class when you are in the midst of a great novel and you wanted tofind out how it ended.
XB: Can you speak to a particular story that changed you for the better while you were at Xaverian?
JD: In chemistry class, Mr. Murphy would call your name out if you were not paying attention. I must have turned around and said something to the guy behind me, and Mr. Murphy called my name out in class. Later on that month, we did an experiment in chemistry class, and it was about the melting point of — and I remember — it was about paraffin. And you had to plot the time and what the temperature was and all of that. So, the next day in class, Mr. Murphy said ‘I want everybody in the class to do the experimentover again, except for Downing [and my partner] Daley.’ I just remember this as a kind of instructive moment in chemistry. To be acknowledged by a teacher, who the previous week had called me out for not paying attention, said a lot about the caliber of that teacher and about Xaverian.
XB: Did Xaverian impact your career?
JD: Yes, I am a retired ophthalmologist, having just retired a few years ago. I loved science, basically chemistry, biology, and physics. At one point early on, I remember saying to myself ‘Well, I think I want to be a doctor. What would be one of the most challenging things to do in medicine,’ I thought. At the time, this was being an eye surgeon, and that’s what I did!
XB: How do you stay connected living so far away?
JD: I would say, write a note or two to go in to the alumni magazine, try to go to one of the reunions, try to reconnect with others — even if you are all the way across the country.
XB: What was your motivation for including Xaverian in your will as part of a planned gift?
JD: What Xaverian is doing in educating the next generation of leaders in the business and other professions is an important goal and it’s very much worth supporting. Actually, I feel like I want to support Xaverian more than I want to support my college. In some ways, I think the high school experience might even be more important than the college experience. If you support Xaverian and you support a school that’s helping this next generation become successful, ultimately this leads to a better city, a better state, and a better society.