By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 6, 2021
ATLANTA—John Favier got a kick out of making St. Anselm’s proof of God real for high school students by talking about their favorite food—pizza.
“Would they rather eat their favorite pizza in reality, or just in their dreams?” asked the classroom veteran.
Students in theology class remembered his lessons about this 11th century saint, he said, taking the abstract idea and making it relevant to them.
Favier, 43, was named the president of St. Pius X High School. He previously served in an interim role. He came to the school in 2004 to teach in the theology department.
He and his family worship at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur. He answered a few questions by email.
Was there a day you decided to become a Catholic educator?
When I was studying theology in college, I knew I wanted to spend my days discussing the nuances of Catholic thought and practice. Teaching was a clear opportunity to realize that desire, and though I initially believed I wanted to go into post-secondary academia, I quickly discerned that the high school level was a better fit for my personality.
As a teacher, what was your favorite lesson to teach, and where did the idea come from?
Seeking to prove the existence of God using St. Anselm’s ontological argument was consistently my favorite lesson from one year to the next. Anselm’s logical approach allowed students to wrestle with questions of faith using reason, which they found both academically rigorous and compelling.
The major premise of his argument is that for something to be the “best” or the “greatest,” it must exist in reality. Since these are high school students, I’d try my best to make this idea relevant to their lives. I’ve had former students return to tell me they still remember that class discussion since I urged them to consider if they’d rather eat their favorite pizza in reality, or just in their dreams. Or would they rather have a fictitious date with their dream boyfriend or girlfriend, or would they prefer to have that person actually show up at their house and take them out in reality. Students immediately “got it” and understood Anselm’s point…for God to be “that than which nothing greater can be thought,” God must exist in reality. The students always got a kick out of how I abbreviated that phrase to “TTWNGCBT” and repeated it over and over as we took notes on Anselm’s proof. It was a truly fun and engaging class.
What’s the best advice you received about teaching, and how did you try to implement it?
Make education enjoyable. That doesn’t mean it can’t be difficult. So many of our students participate in athletics, the arts and other extracurricular activities. They pour their energy into these challenging activities because they find them to be enjoyable, despite the long hours and hard work they require. I hope I demonstrated to students that their classroom studies could be just as rewarding and worthy of their dedication.