It’s all a journey: Retiring professor Michael Lopez-Kaley reflects on teaching religious studies at Viterbo


Calum Sullivan

“I never intended to be a university teacher,” Dr. Michael Lopez-Kaley said in his interview with the Lumen on April 12.  Reflecting on 11 years of teaching in the Religious Studies department at Viterbo University, and 16 years of teaching religious studies in general, Lopez-Kaley called it “a journey – I mean all of it: life, college, career, family, etc…” Lopez-Kaley reflected on this when giving advice to current Viterbo students.  “Embrace the journey and realize that the process may be more important than the end result,” Lopez-Kaley said. “As a priest friend of mine once said, ‘If the process is not right, no matter how right the result is, it’s missing something.’” 


Lopez-Kaley reflected on the blessing and the challenge that is teaching theology to the modern student.  “I have noticed fewer and fewer students have a religious background, which makes teaching religious studies and theology more challenging, but also more exciting. It really opens up the range of questions that are asked,” Lopez-Kaley said.  Reflecting on the benefits of this, he mentioned the blessing of being able to “better explain theology when [students] have heard things that are distorted or just not true.”    


But Lopez-Kaley does not just see himself as changing students’ perspectives.  “I love students who ask probing questions that frequently make me rethink my own positions about things,” he said.  Open-mindedness and discussion are staples of Lopez-Kaley’s classroom, as is his appreciation of students.  When asked what he would miss most about teaching his reply was simple: “students, students and students… I will miss saying ‘good morning’ to students as they approach the classroom and getting that ‘what the heck is going on with him’ look,” Lopez-Kaley said.  He added, “I will not miss Zoom.”   


Lopez-Kaley intends to stay busy once he has retired, mentioning volunteer activities, gardening, and hopes of becoming a trained hospice visitor as potential plans.  “And, of course, spending more time with my grandson, who I hope to provide daycare for once or twice a week,” Lopez-Kaley added.  Dr. Mike will certainly be missed by his students.  The same students surprised by his cheerful “good mornings” have grown to look forward to the greeting and the open-minded approach Lopez-Kaley brings to teaching at Viterbo.