St. Thomas professor celebrates a half-century teaching at the university

St. Thomas University Professor Richard Raleigh, right, and school President the Rev. Msgr. Franklyn Casale show Raleigh's Presidential Award for Distinguished Service.
St. Thomas University Professor Richard Raleigh, right, and school President the Rev. Msgr. Franklyn Casale show Raleigh's Presidential Award for Distinguished Service. For the Miami Herald

Alumni of St. Thomas University came together Saturday to celebrate the longest-serving faculty member of the university, a professor who has taught there for 50 years.

Richard Raleigh, an English and humanities professor at the private Catholic school in Miami Gardens, was awarded the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service by the university’s president earlier that day.

“An awful lot has changed since you were here as students,” the Rev. Msgr. Franklyn Casale, president of the university, said as he addressed a room full of St. Thomas alumni and Raleigh’s former students. “But one of the constants is Richard Raleigh.”

Casale added that one of the alumni at the event anonymously donated $50,000 to the school in Raleigh’s name. The donation will help fund internships in the communication arts major, a university discipline Raleigh created.

Raleigh started teaching at St. Thomas in 1966, when the university was named Biscayne College. He went on to become director of the humanities department for several years and was voted Professor of the Year nine times.

“Each student is special to him,” Casale said. “Each one of them felt like he had a special relationship to him. He does a fantastic job and he does it with humility and dignity.”

Several of Raleigh’s former students said that he had a significant impact on their lives.

Sean Melvin, a former student who is now a professor at Elizabethtown College, said another alum recently told him that Raleigh saved his life.

“He has this attachment with his students and they trust him,” Melvin said. “For people going through a crisis, he wasn’t just a professor, he was a counselor.”

Raleigh taught in and was the director of a study-abroad program in Spain in which Melvin participated.

“I use it as a marker for changing my life,” Melvin said.

Melvin teaches in a study-abroad program in Prague and he said he has his students send Raleigh postcards from Prague to thank Raleigh for showing him that studying abroad can change a person’s life.

Michael Cassidy, another former student who participated in the study-abroad program, said that he started working on university publications after being inspired by Raleigh’s love for writing.

Cassidy is now the publisher for a group of fishing and hunting magazines. He also does missionary work in Africa, which he said he wouldn’t have started if it wasn’t for his time in Spain with Raleigh.

One of Cassidy’s sons, Tristan John Raleigh Cassidy, is named after the professor.

Other students who took classes with Raleigh outside of the program said that he was a dedicated professor.

“He was very methodical in the classroom,” Jimmy Smith said. “He made sure you understood what he was teaching.”

Smith, who was captain of the St. Thomas basketball team, said that Raleigh was also supportive outside of class.

“He came to every single one of our home games,” Smith said. “There was not a more loyal fan than Richard Raleigh.”

Another former student, Peter Byrnes, lived down the hall from Raleigh during his first few years at St. Thomas.

Raleigh lived in a dorm when he started at the school and Byrnes said he would often act as an advisor to the students in the dorm.

“If you were conservative, he would challenge you,” Byrnes said. “Back then, most of the kids were conservative and he was pushing us to think of things differently. But he challenged nicely.”

Raleigh said St. Thomas isn’t the same place as it was when he began teaching there.

“I feel like I’ve taught at many different institutions,” Raleigh said.

When St. Thomas began as Biscayne College, it was a men’s school with only a few hundred students. Currently, about 5,000 men and women are enrolled there.

Raleigh said he never considered moving to another university.

“It’s been a wonderful 50 years,” Raleigh said. “For me, it’s been like watching a child grow up.”