June 21, 2008 in Features

Beholder of beauty

Julie Krug Correspondent

Father John Navone stands outside the Jesuit Guest House at Gonzaga University Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

If you go

Father John Navone’s course in the doctoral program for Leadership Studies titled “Leadership and Spirituality” begins Thursday at Spokane’s Gonzaga University. In Florence, Navone will continue his classes, under the heading of “Faith and Beauty.

Father John Navone may be considered one of the most dynamic Jesuit scholars to grace the campus of Gonzaga University this summer, but lately he’d tell you he felt more like the city mouse that’s moved to the country. A year ago, the Washington native was living in Rome and teaching at the prestigious Gregorian University. He is the author of more than 20 books, and in the 1960s, befriended the late, great Italian moviemaker Federico Fellini and the prolific novelist and anti-establishment icon Gore Vidal.

After more than 40 years of service, university policy demanded that he retire from the classroom. But the vivacious Navone, now 77, had no intention of leaving the world of academia. From the hustle and bustle of Rome, he is now living a very different existence, teaching at Gonzaga’s satellite campus in Florence, Italy.

While this has been an enormous change for him, the Jesuit cleric has embraced the changes life has brought him, seeing the beautiful wherever he goes. Living in the birthplace of the Renaissance has not only opened new vistas, but reminded him of the feelings he gets when he visits Spokane.

“Spokane is one of the most civil places I have ever lived. The people here are amongst some of the most kind I’ve met – truly the salt of the earth.” And as a world traveler, Navone would know. Born in Seattle, he has lived in more than 10 countries. He completed his early education at St. Michael’s in Spokane.

“It was at St. Michael’s here in Spokane, with its superb instructors, that I began to study philosophy and learned about what I call ‘The Life of the Mind.’ ”

He earned his master’s degree at Gonzaga, entered the clergy, and then completed his doctorate at the Gregorian University in Rome.

Navone was a big fan of Fellini’s films. While studying at Regis College in Toronto, he wanted the director to know that, during a time the Vatican was turning up its nose to Fellini’s work, there were Catholic sources that enjoyed and supported the director’s art.

“I collected clippings of favorable Catholic reviews and sent a package to Federico Fellini. Soon after, Fellini contacted me saying he’d like to meet.”

Navone left Toronto for the Gregorian University in Rome in 1963 to complete his PhD. Within six weeks of his arrival, he found himself gallivanting around the ancient city with Fellini – complete with Italian paparazzi snapping photos – and elbow-rubbing with other elites in the Italian entertainment industry.

In 1966 he had a chance meeting in Rome with Gore Vidal. This would be the beginning of a life-long friendship. Vidal, who enjoyed Navone’s perspectives, even mentions the scholar in his 2006 memoir follow-up “Point to Point Navigation.”

Published in many magazines, including Time, Navone has written extensively on what he calls the theology of beauty.

“The joy of life, at every level, is a response to the beauty of life,” Navone says. “If we do not experience the beauty of excellence wherever we experience it, we shall never enjoy excellence wherever we find it.”

His classes have been a success, and his students understand why. says of Father Navone:

“To participate in a class with Professor Navone is one of those experiences that a student will never forget,” said Hector Rocafort, a Gonzaga doctoral student. “It will significantly influence the way he or she approaches life. In an informed, humorous and impacting way, he transforms a classroom into an international forum.”

Other students have found Navone to be an ambassador amongst people and circumstance.

“Father Navone ushered me into a world where communion, community and communication reveal an intelligible universe where self-transcendence happens,” said Patrick Olson, another of Navone’s doctoral students.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email