- by Mount Saint Mary College

Author, poet, and educator James Finn Cotter, the longest-serving professor at Mount Saint Mary College, will be retiring from teaching at the college on Friday, August 7, after 57 years of dedication and outstanding service.

In recognition of his contributions to the college, Cotter will be granted professor emeritus status.

“I have decided to retire because I believe a new era is about to develop for higher education, and younger minds and hearts can deal with it better than I,” Cotter explained. “It is a challenge I will enjoy observing and commenting on as it develops at the Mount and on college campuses across the country.”

He added, “I know the Mount will continue to grow.”

Cotter, a professor of English with the Mount’s Division of Arts and Letters, began his tenure with the college in 1963. In his nearly six decades with the Mount, Cotter has taught in or chaired the Divisions of Humanities, Arts and Letters, and Religious Studies and Philosophy. His legacy is truly part of the DNA of the college, from his administrative service to the thousands of students on which he imparted a love of literature.

“Walking into a classroom had been as natural as eating, drinking, and breathing...I enjoy the poems we will discuss, the plays we will read, the stories we will analyze. The task is there before us, we are the readers and responders. Without us, there would be no Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, Keats, Hopkins, Dickinson, Frost, or Salinger. We keep them alive by being their audience, supporters, friends, and lovers. Each day is a new day, and each class has new faces and voices that will share their learning. Of course, I will miss the classroom, but my memories are real and remain in me alive and well.” - Dr. James F. Cotter

When Cotter arrived to the Mount in the Fall of 1963, he notes that there were fewer than 250 students. Now, more than 2,200 students take Mount courses. Over the years, Cotter has had an immeasurable impact on the academic growth of countless alumni, including Margaret Treacy ’13, director of Annual Giving at the Mount. Cotter was Tracey’s Creative Writing Professor.

“Intelligent, kind, and dedicated are just a few of the words I would use to describe Dr. Cotter,” Tracey explained. “He was always so enthusiastic about literature and writing that it became contagious. Before I knew it, my love of writing flourished, even outside of the classroom. As my internship became a full-time job, writing letters, press releases, and marketing campaigns became a breeze. I am so lucky to have been taught by this legend of Mount Saint Mary College.”

Cotter’s impeccable knowledge and passion for teaching didn’t just impress his students, but his coworkers as well. In 1966, Irene Nunnari, who had taught at Academia San Jose in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, was invited to direct Public Relations at the college and serve as an adjunct professor. It was Cotter who requested that Nunnari to join the full-time faculty in the fall of 1967. Nunnari would go on to become one of the most cherished and longest-serving professors the Mount has ever known.  

“I owe my own 48-year career at the Mount to Dr. Cotter,” said Nunnari, a professor emerita of the college. “In the entire history of the Mount, from the day it was founded until forever, there will never be another James F.  Cotter, who…in his own words, ‘welcomed the light of knowledge and searched for the height of truth.’”

Cotter’s search for truth lasted his entire career: As a scholar, he brings much to the table. In addition to having enhanced the education of thousands of Mount students, he is a celebrated translator of Dante’s Commedia, a Fulbright-Hays lecturer, and a recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. Among a great many other publications, Cotter is the author of Beginnings: the First Twenty-Five Years of Mount Saint Mary College, A New Life: Learning the Way of Omega, and the Mount’s alma mater, which is sung at every Commencement ceremony.

The professor had another indelible impact on Commencement as well: He was Master of Ceremonies at 40 Mount Commencement Ceremonies, just as he was for the Mount’s first Commencement in 1964. Only two people have led the procession in the entire history of the college: Cotter and professor emeritus James McEnery, who passed away in December of 2015.

As an author and English professor, Cotter knows there’s always another chapter and there’s always another book. Retirement is not quite the right word to describe that comes next, he explained.

“‘Retire’ is not a verb I am happy to contemplate, as it implies departing and leaving the scene,” he said. “I will continue my life of reading and talking with others about the books we pass around and share. I plan to write about the works that speak to me in a special way, a poem by Hopkins or a story by Salinger, and to send it out to be published and read.”

Thankfully for the college community, Cotter plans to remain an active part of Mount Saint Mary College.

“It is important that we all have as many in our circle as possible,” Cotter noted. “The Mount remains for me the center of that circle. I plan to be around on campus for academic and social programs and meetings. Certainly my many friends in the Dominican order will continue to be a part of our community life. My many friends in my own division and on the faculty I look forward to seeing as often as possible. I will still depend on the generous help of the IT support team as I have in the past. The Mount is a family, my family, and I cherish the years gone by and that have yet to come.”

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