While reading my first semester’s set of essays for English 101 some thirty years ago, I came across a most unexpected find, one that I remember still. It was a closely reasoned, passionate celebration of St Augustine’s response to a contemporary heresy. After finishing, I was even more shocked to find that it seemed to be written by a “pagan.” At first I though it might be a stage name, chosen by some rebellious rock star wannabe, but when Peter identified himself, the rock star theory was quickly discarded. The terms “quiet” and “shy” seemed more applicable until one day when he spoke up rather forcibly in class, correcting the other students and me for misinterpreting a Catholic writer we were studying. I sensed a problem in the making, but once again Peter proved me wrong. Many conversations in my office ensued, with Peter exhibiting a strange mix of certainty in all that he said, mixed with a hunger for debate and challenge. Like his beloved St Thomas Aquinas, he was eager to embrace whatever good or truth even his fiercest “opponent” might possess. Yes, Peter was a warrior of sorts and he trusted that truth and compassion were the ultimate weapons.
Peter’s restless mind enjoyed more sedate battles as well, involving his favorite game- chess. I ignored his entreaties to learn the game, but his gusto and patience in mapping strategy sheds light on the future professor’s love of logic and detachment. He approached chess in the same way he approached his profession… as serious play. Even during our later discussions and arguments, Peter would often become convulsed in laughter. As seriously as he took philosophy (Ewa mentioned his arguing metaphysics with the doctor two days before his passing), his Christian belief provided the arena of hope that let him keep all the aspects of his life in happy balance. Peter combined so many opposites: pride in his accomplishments yet deeply humble, serious yet often silly, relentless yet flexible. Most importantly, his love for God, the Church, Ewa, his family and friends was the anchor that helped him through the challenges he faced (he loved it when I nicknamed him Job) and this belief gave him the strength to balance his sorrow at leaving the life and people he cherished with the joy and knowledge that he was finally going “home” where his life was just on the threshold of truly beginning.…..
Peter Pagan was born Nov 8, 1961 in New York City, and grew up in New York and Puerto Rico. He spent some time in California and attended the University of California at Berkeley where he discovered a love of philosophy and theology. After completing a Master’s Degree in Philosophy at UC Berkeley, he earned a doctorate in philosophy at Fordham University, where he studied with Deal Hudson and Father Joseph Koterski, S.J. Peter taught philosophy at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, WV starting in 1996 and then Aquinas College in Nashville, TN.
Peter was married and the father of five children. His great scholarly project was understanding and making known the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas—particularly Aquinas’ metaphysics and ethics. He was beloved by his students who appreciated his dry wit, sharp reasoning and careful explanations. His students also appreciated that he was a good listener whose door was always open for conversation about high ideals or the mundane trials of undergraduate life. Peter was also active as a scholar—particularly through the American Maritain Association, an association of Catholic philosophers united in their respect for two great Thomist philosophers of the 20th century.
Peter died July 2 in Nashville and is survived by wife Ewa Poplawska-Pagan; children John Paul, Leo, Maria, Gregory and Catherine; and sister Michelle Pagan and nephew Justin. Peter will be missed by family, colleagues and friends.
Funeral Mass 10 am Friday, July 16, 2021 at St. Henry Catholic Church with a visitation one hour prior.
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