Beliefnet
The Deacon's Bench

Many know him only as the University of Illinois professor who was sacked for explaining Catholic teaching on homosexual behavior.

But the backstory is very compelling — and his life up to that point anything but ordinary:

The University of Illinois scholar who lost his job over his exposition of Catholic teachings has walked a winding path that includes a decades-long conversion, leaving other positions, including one as a Presbyterian minister, and facing down an armed man who shot at him five times.

kennethhowell-thumb-200x228-16289.jpgUntil May, Kenneth Howell taught a course on Catholicism in the Religious Studies Department as an adjunct professor whose salary was paid by the Newman Foundation.

The university responded to a complaint that Howell used hate speech in an email to students when he described the Catholic natural law and utilitarian theories of homosexual behavior, using bestiality as one of the examples.

In 1995, Howell was in the process of converting from Presbyterianism to the Catholic Church when he nearly died of a wound to his neck in Bloomington, Ind.

He says that event was the first true suffering in his life, and brought him closer to Christ.

“At first it seems strange. But the idea began to grow on me, the emphasis Catholics place on redemptive suffering. Suffering is never wasted,” Howell said in an interview with The News-Gazette. “By participating in the sufferings of Christ, we grow closer with him.”

The gunman was never caught, said Lt. Craig Munroe of the Indiana University Police. He never spoke, either, according to the police report, so no motive has ever been assigned to the act.

Howell, then a 43-year-old visiting professor at Indiana, was walking near Goodbody Hall around 3 p.m. on June 3, 1995. He was working on his second doctorate at the time, and teaching as well.

The campus streets were nearly deserted, with a large graduation-related ceremony going on, Munroe said.

A man walked past Howell; then the professor heard a shot. Not even aware he’d been shot, the professor began to run.

Howell described the man as in his mid-20s, with dark brown hair sunglasses, a Walkman and wearing a black jacket. He never said anything, the police report says, but he continued to fire, missing his target.

Called by passers-by, the police found Howell sitting on a stone wall, bleeding heavily from his neck. Howell said the bullet missed his carotid artery by 2 millimeters. It damaged his voicebox as well.

“That was his instrument in the symphony” of university teaching, says a longtime friend and spiritual adviser, Marie Justras.

There’s much more at the link.

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