Teacher’s career is fascinating and circuitous

GREENVILLE — Richard P. Gildersleeve was a successful scientist, college professor and business executive when he had what he calls a Franciscan moment that changed his life completely. He is now committed to a ministry of teaching theology and science to Catholic middle schoolers.

“Middle school kids are searching for the truth,” Gildersleeve said.  “They want to know if what they have been hearing about their faith is true or not. They’re left with questions they can’t answer.”

Answering some of those questions was an opportunity for Gildersleeve to teach them about the dignity of the human person in the years when their minds are shaped, he said. Six years ago, he and his wife decided to give up the corporate culture that had taken over their lives and grasp the opportunity to help in the Christian formation of children — including their own. Mary Gildersleeve, who has a master’s from William and Mary, home schools their younger children, and Rick teaches at St. Joseph’s Catholic School. For a while, he taught middle school and acted as a consultant to the biotech company where he had been vice president for global development. Then, he cut the cord completely and went to a pontifical institute to add theology to his advanced degrees.

Gildersleeve had already earned a doctorate in animal science from Louisana State University near his hometown of Baton Rouge, and had done postgraduate work in science at North Carolina State University, where he went on the faculty. He left to help found and work in the lab at a new biotech company, and eventually worked his way up the ladder to senior management. As money and success rolled in, his life in commercial science suddenly no longer satisfied him.

“I had reached the point in my career where I could step out and go help the Catholic Church in science education during the formative years,” he said.

He took that step and then one more. After teaching for five years, he was accepted at the International Theological Institute in a masters program of theological studies. He moved his family to Austria for two years while he went through a rigorous program that focused on the human person in the context of the family. Mary also gave up her work as a flight analyst for Delta Airlines. The family then settled into their new lifestyle in South Carolina, near Rick Gildersleeve’s parents.

He had heard of St. Joseph’s as a Catholic grass-roots effort, he said, and was honored to accept a teaching position in the new middle school. He was honored and the school was impressed. A colleague, Robert L. Lober Jr., said that Gildersleeve is serious about his work in middle school education and considers it a sacred trust. He has helped the school with his example and generous attitude, Lober said.

“One is impressed by the quiet gravity with which he conducts himself (and) the benevolence of his nature …,” the history teacher said.

Gildersleeve recently went to Bishop England High School in Charleston to lecture on “The compatibility of faith and reason in science education” at the 2004 South Carolina Catholic Home School and Family Conference. In June, he is booked for three presentations in Denver at the 2004 Catholic Educators Conference.