In Pursuit of the Magis: Ilona McGuiness

By Andrea M. Leary, Ph.D., affiliate professor of writing

Ilona McGuiness, Ph.D., left Loyola University Maryland this summer to become vice president of academic affairs for Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y. Andrea Leary, Ph.D., shares this personal reflection on the impact McGuiness has left on her and on Loyola.

Ilona McGuiness, Ph.D.

A little over 20 years ago, I had the honor of being hired in the writing department. At that time the department chair, Barbara Mallonee, assigned a mentor to me, someone to ease my transition to Loyola College, a teacher who could field my questions. She became much more than that: a trusted friend who would support my growth, my family, my children (as they came along), in short—me—as a whole person.

That wonderful mentor and friend is Ilona McGuiness.

Ilona’s spirit—one my husband would call “a pure heart”—characterizes her every interaction. Her gentleness and ability to listen are but two wonderful qualities Ilona shares with others. To these she adds her faith, her intellect, and her endless energy. In the sum of these qualities we have a woman committed to making the lives of those around her—our lives—better.

From the deep attention she pays you in a short chat on the Quad, to her award as Distinguished Teacher of the Year in 1998, to her commitment as the dean of first-year students, Ilona demonstrates her commitment to serving others—to help others achieve the magis.

The magis, as described in Loyola’s mission statement, is that “characteristic Jesuit striving after the ‘greater good,’ the ‘better thing.’” As one of my students referred to it years ago, the magis is about doing “the more.” Where Ilona is concerned, there is always more, never less.

Pursuit of the magis comes naturally to her, a teacher at heart. She spent many years in the classroom, here in the writing department, guiding her students through readings, challenging them as they expressed their ideas in writing, asking those young people to revise and think deeply. But teaching does not begin and end in the classroom. When she left the official setting of desks and chalkboards, she replaced it with plans to educate in other ways.

The Maguire Scholars come to mind. I remember talking with her one day, years ago, about her Scholars. She was so proud of their achievements and their dedication. Just the other day she spoke of this extraordinary group of students with the same enthusiasm along with good wishes for their continued success.

She has shared that sort of dedication with our first-years as their dean. I imagine I am not the only person who has encouraged a first-year student to visit her office if he or she needed more than I could give. And I know those students have been met with that same concern and patience and kindness that has met me every time I have entered her office. You are welcomed wholeheartedly. It’s as if she is waiting with anticipation to see how she might serve you—just so—in this particular situation. She teaches in that all important one-on-one conference setting—and encourages our students to be more, to seek “the better thing” for themselves and for others.

We have been honored to have Ilona with us—as a colleague, a teacher, a friend—for so many years. It is hard to see her go. But knowing that she will be making the lives of those around her better in her next journey lightens our loss. After all, she continues to work for the “greater good,” and that quality is one we are happy to share.

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