Professor Profile

Dr. John Pilsner

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Professor Profile

Dr. John Pilsner

English professor and new humanities and Catholic culture director looks forward another decade teaching.

Autumn 2023 | Melissa Zifzal

In This Article

Dr. John Pilsner says he always wanted to work for an authentically Catholic university—and Franciscan University checked all the boxes.

Now embarking on his 11th year at the University, the assistant professor of English looks forward to a new decade he’s sure will be just as meaningful as the first.

“It’s a beautiful gift to be in a faculty community with so many good, faithful people,” he says, and the students “make it easy to bring the faith into everything we do because they relate to it.”

Pilsner holds bachelor’s degrees in drama and English from Hofstra University, a master’s degree in English from the University of Toronto, and a PhD in comparative literature as well as a certificate in Renaissance studies from The Graduate School and University Center of The City University of New York. Before joining Franciscan’s faculty, he taught comparative literature, writing pedagogy, and philosophy at Queens College, New York.

A lifelong student and teacher of literature and the humanities, Pilsner is passionate about his field, noting that only an art form like literature captures the whole condition of the human person and, in doing so, not only combines the insights of several other disciplines—especially moral philosophy and the social sciences—but also inspires readers to strive for higher values and eternal truths.

“You can read vicariously; you can put yourself in situations and ask, who am I? what would I do?” he says.

He counts among his classes Milton, Lyric and Dramatic Voices, Literature of the Renaissance, and The Catholic Church in Western Civilization but can’t pinpoint a favorite.

“As soon as I walk into a classroom, it’s my favorite class,” he says. And though the title of the class remains the same from year to year, its focus may be different. “I never teach the same class twice. I’m always changing something, always learning.”

Pilsner has studied and conducted interdisciplinary research both at home and abroad, making him the perfect fit as the new director of the Humanities and Catholic Culture Major. He succeeds the much-loved Professor James Gaston who helmed the program for more than 30 years. The major, Pilsner says, is “powerfully historical,” as students examine the experiences of the human person, including religion, which he calls “the most profound shaping influence on culture.”

Additionally, Pilsner is the faculty sponsor for Franciscan’s English Honor Society and a vocation coach for the Leadership Institute Fellows Program, guiding several students as they plan out their programs of study and career goals.

Originally from New York, Pilsner met his wife, Concetta, at the Church of St. Thomas More in New York City—fitting, he says, because the saint is one of his favorite authors.

Concetta works at the University as well, as an adjunct English instructor and the coordinator of Undergraduate Fellows of the Veritas Center. The Pilsners have a heart for their students, keenly aware of the parental dimension of their vocation as teachers.

“Teaching with love is in my nature,” he says, looking forward to the next decade and beyond. “It’s something I can’t help doing.”

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