With his ready smile, kind manner, and warm baritone voice, English professor Christiaan Theodoor Lievestro inspired 25 years of Santa Clara students.
He made it a point to know every student’s name by the end of the first week of classes. Using the Socratic method, he would ask his students challenging questions. “Learning is hard,” he would say—and they loved it.
The son of Dutch immigrants, Lievestro grew up on a farm near Hyde Park, New York. He spoke Dutch at home, learned English at school, then became fluent in German and French. He worked his way through college at the State University of New York, Albany, won a Fulbright scholarship to study at the universities of Leiden and Amsterdam, then attended Oxford, studied Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, and received a graduate fellowship to Harvard where he earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature.
He was passionate about history and much of it touched his life. He attended Franklin Roosevelt’s funeral and corresponded with Eleanor Roosevelt. His early career in the performing arts included radio, television, and stage appearances. He sang with the Boston and Philadelphia orchestras, recorded with Columbia Records, and performed at President Kennedy’s memorial and at a celebration honoring Martin Luther King Jr. for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
At Santa Clara, Professor Lievestro taught English and comparative literature courses as well as interdisciplinary Honors seminars on Time and the Bloomsbury Group. A dedicated teacher, he would pause in his office for a few moments of meditation before each class, to “center down,” he would say, so he could be fully present to his students. Former student Jack Treacy, S.J. ’77 says he was “superb in his teaching, generous with his time, wise in his counsel, and engaging in his conversation about a host of topics.” He wrote a letter of recommendation to support Jack’s entrance into the Jesuits and they stayed in touch over the years.
Christiaan Theodoor Lievestro died on June 19, 2017, at age 91. Among his many published works were studies of the Renaissance scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, lifelong friend of Sir Thomas More. Like More and Erasmus, Lievestro had a gift for friendship. A devoted friend to many colleagues and former students, he offered his wisdom and advice to me when I chaired the English department. We were friends for decades. And he carried on an active correspondence, staying in touch with friends around the world and generations of students including Brandon Schmidt ’92, who married Shannon Perry Schmidt ’93 and they named their first son, Ryan Christiaan, after him.