He often returned a graded paper with a neat “A/F” inscribed at the top. The “A” was for the merits he thought he detected in your creativity or thought. The “F” was for mangling English.
Father Becker did not give these “Fs” arbitrarily. Using a red pen, he meticulously marked every mistake with a code -- “A61,” D128,” “H53.” Each referred to a specific rule in the Writing Handbook -- a clear, systematic and exhaustive 592-page text published in 1953 by two Jesuits. A student with an “A/F” needed to look up each rule he had broken and rewrite the paper to correct the errors. Father Becker would then change his grade to an “A/A.”
This, too, I found incredibly tedious. But then I went to college.
Father Becker was one of the teachers who recommended me to Princeton. I was accepted. I read more Shakespeare -- and Chaucer and Pope. I earned a degree in English literature. I became a professional writer and editor. Along the way, I had the opportunity to learn from many great English teachers. Yet, as time passed, I more deeply appreciated the teaching of Father Becker.
At St. Ignatius -- in Father Becker’s class and all others -- we wrote the letters AMDG at the top of our papers. They stand for “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” -- To the Greater Glory of God. These are the strategic watchwords of the Jesuit order: Everything ultimately must serve this purpose.
Father Becker taught us that Shakespeare was great not only because of the power and wit and poetry in his language but because his plays truly served the greater glory of God. They helped readers see good and evil and the consequences of choosing one over the other.
Father Becker also taught by example. He had the skills to succeed in many lucrative professions. But he took a vow of poverty and spent five decades as a good and faithful priest teaching boys to become strong and confident Christian men in an increasingly secular world.
In his later years, Father Becker published two mystery novels, while a third was published posthumously after he died three years ago. The hero, Father Luke Wolfe, teaches English at a Jesuit high school and spends his spare time at abortion clinics -- praying the Rosary.
In one novel, the fictional Wolfe gives a presentation to parents describing how he hopes to “help their sons become professional in their reading and writing and speaking” through the “analyzing of Shakespeare’s tragedies -- line by line.”
A front page of this novel is inscribed: AMDG.