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Alumnus Gives us Lessons Learned and Re-Learned that Apply to a Crisis

Larry J. Payne '72If you know alumnus Larry Payne ’72, who majored in theology and minored in philosophy at University of St. Thomas, you know that he is a deeply faithful man who holds dignity of the human person close to his heart. His work over the years with vulnerable populations at Habitat for Humanity, SEARCH and more have had recurring themes of social justice, race equality and education as a path to a better life.

Payne is also author of “The Heart of HoUSton: Lesson in Servant Leadership.

In addition to attending St. Thomas, Payne attended St. Mary’s Seminary. He left the priesthood formation program before ordination but remains deeply committed to his Catholic faith. During his journey, he was the first lay person and the first person of color named a Vicar in the Catholic Church in the United States for the Diocese of Bellville, Illinois.

First UST Theology and Philosophy Classes Struck a Chord

Payne, who always waxes effusively – preaching and teaching - in a deep and meaningful way, can trace in part to who he is today from the first theology and philosophy classes he attended at UST.

As Payne sees it, “All that foundational stuff formed me and led me to being named the Rev. Vincent J. Guinan Distinguished Alumnus of the Year in 2007.” This distinction is an honor that he treasures.

“Part of the reality of COVID-19 and crisis of pandemic; and soon to be a recession, reminds me of this question from my freshman theology class, which I have carried around my entire life:

  • What is the fair and ethical treatment of all human beings?

From there we thought about:

  • All human beings lives matter, and
  • All human beings are equal.

Payne says you “Can’t talk to the second two profound statements until you dive deeply from an ethical perspective into the first question.”

From his first philosophy class, he remembers these two questions:

  • What is knowledge?
  • How do we treat each other based upon having knowledge of what and who human beings really are?

Payne's Five Defining Courses,Three Life Lessons

According to Payne, there were five defining courses - Theology, Philosophy, Latin, Catholic Social Teaching and Political Science; and out of those classes came these three life lessons.

  • Different is different amen period. Not better than, not more than, not less than, just different.
  • Always be aggressive as necessary to the issue and as reconciliatory as possible to the person involved in the issue.
  • The master never gets tired of being the master however you define that person; therefore, it is always incumbent on the oppressed one to initiate change.

The determinants of inequality are primarily political and ideological rather than merely economic, technological or cultural.

Applying Wisdom to Thoughts About Life After COVID-19

Payne, who will celebrate his 50th class reunion in two years, has never stopped thinking about these questions and is now applying this wisdom to thoughts about life after COVID-19.

“When we will look back to this virus and the recession that is probably coming on the back side of it, all of these questions will come in to play,” Payne said. “Here is how it is going to play out:

  • The relationships that we need going forward are the same ones we needed to have before this, but they will be more important than ever going forward, as we all try to discern what the new normal will be like.
  • So the relationships that we build, nurture and maintain based on mutual trust and respect, will be the cornerstone for our ability to move forward because nothing happens without trust.”

Amen brother Larry.