James Mooney: 50 Years and Still Going Strong

In the fall of 1965, when Sonny and Cher topped the airwaves, moviegoers flocked to watch The Sound of Music, and the Dune Chronicles captivated America, Jim Mooney arrived on the campus of Immaculata College. Fifty years later, Mooney is still going strong, teaching a full class load, and serving as chair of the English/Communication Department and as advisor to Pilgrimages, the campus literary publication.

“People at Immaculata are just a little nicer, and they treat people just a little better than other places,” he stated. He noted that after you’re at Immaculata for a while, you forget that not all places treat people as well as Immaculata does. “It’s almost like you have to go away from campus and then come back to appreciate it anew.”

Occupying the same office that he was first assigned, Faculty Center #30, Mooney has taught American Literature every year for 50 years. In addition to the literature classes, he has enjoyed teaching linguistics courses. As many faculty members can attest, there is a real need for the teaching of basic grammar. He appreciates how instrumental the IHM Sisters have been in education. He remembered seeing the textbook Voyages in English, co-written by Sister Donatus MacNickle, IHM, that was the quintessential grammar textbook used in grade schools.

As an educator, Mooney has noticed dramatic shifts in college education over the years. The focus of education is now career training rather than liberal arts, and he acknowledges that that is a significant loss.

“There is a core canon of knowledge that all educated people knew,” he stated. “Now parents want to make sure their educational investment will help their son or daughter become well-trained and employable.” According to Mooney, in 1965, education was content-oriented as opposed to skills-oriented. “The pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction,” he said. “It’s an entrepreneurial market now.”

Asked how Immaculata has changed over the years, Mooney’s first response was the most obvious one: IU became coed. But after further reflection on his campus experience and having served under five college presidents, he said, “When I first arrived, there were two dining halls: one for the IHM Sisters and one for the lay faculty.” Now, the Immaculata community “breaks bread together” at multiple locations across campus.

Also, for his first semester of teaching at Immaculata, Mooney had at least 30 students in each of the five courses he taught as compared to the 9:1 undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio at Immaculata currently. He also stated that at one point, Humanities was the largest major at Immaculata, while now Nursing is the major with the highest enrollment.

After over 40 years of educating women, Mooney admits that he found it “peculiar” at first when the school became coed in 2005. “It was a big adjustment,” he said. Since then, he has noticed that the caliber of male students just keeps getting higher each year. He laughs when he says that he has to compete with the guys for “talk-time” during class.

At some point, he’s not sure exactly when, “Mooneyisms” began. He coined the term for his students’ sake. He wanted to differentiate his personal opinion from fact so the students would know the difference, so he has labeled his “bizarre ideas” as Mooneyisms. If the students don’t remember anything else from his class, they always fondly recall his Mooneyisms.

However, those Mooneyisms almost never had a chance to be invented. “I never intended to become an educator,” he laughed.

His dream job, like many little boys, was to play center field for the New York Yankees. Once he realized that wasn’t happening, he enrolled at Kings College, earning his Bachelor of Arts, and then attended graduate school at Niagara University, completing his master’s degree in one year. He was bitten by the “teaching bug” one night when a faculty member, who was feeling ill, asked if he would cover his class the next morning. The subject for the class: Shakespeare’s sonnets. The rest is history.

Looking to return to his hometown, Mooney applied for a teaching job at Immaculata and was hired. He and his wife, whom he met at Immaculata, have four daughters and one son and live in Downingtown, PA. Anne Mooney Blanke, his oldest daughter, earned a Bachelor of Music from Immaculata in 1996.

When asked to give advice to the next generation of college educators, Mooney didn’t hesitate to pass along the advice given to him by Sister Marie Eugenie, IHM, who served as department chair and who hired him back in 1965: “Protect your reading time.” He remembered her saying, “Set aside certain hours during the week and treat them reverentially.” Mooney thinks that is excellent advice—truer today than ever before.

And on the subject of reading, students know Mooney as the Moby Dick professor, since he has taught it every year since 1965. However, he wonders how long books will be around. “People don’t buy books anymore; they download them and they only download what they need. Meanwhile, students aren’t reading nearly at the pace they used to.”

According to Mooney, one book students should become acquainted with, no matter what format they choose to read it in, is Viktor Frankl’s 1946 Holocaust story, Man’s Search for Meaning. He says it is a life-changing book that students should take the time to read.

Mooney explained his love of reading by saying, “When you read a book, you’ve lived someone else’s life. The characters in Pride and Prejudice are friends and a real set of people that I know because I read the book.”

For 50 years, Mr. Mooney has inspired his students and ignited a passion for reading that has lasted long after their graduation.

When Immaculata announced on its Facebook page on August 29 that Mooney was celebrating his 50th teaching anniversary, Meg Daly Fischer ’79 commented, “My favorite professor! You made those words jump off the page and
come alive! So blessed to have had you for a teacher.”

Author: aduncan

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