After a rewarding teaching career, John Halloran moves from cultivating students to cultivating his garden

Beautiful Results

By Christine Cox | Fall 2014

Printer Friendly

It was Friday on a football weekend in 1976 and John Halloran, a newly hired assistant professor of finance, was headed to the library. “I’m just walking along and these four older gentlemen stop me, and they want to talk to me about [Irish football coach] Frank Leahy,” he recalls, laughing. “They want me to tell them inside stories. You know, Frank Leahy was here in the 40s and 50s! And this was the 70s, and I’m brand new to Notre Dame. So I say, ‘Guys, Frank was a little before my time. I’m really sorry.’” 

Halloran, who retired as an associate professor on Dec. 31 after 37 years, offers up this anecdote to illustrate what it means to join the Notre Dame community. “I learned early on that Notre Dame takes over your life, it’s not just a place where you work,” he says. “All of a sudden it becomes, in a sense, your identity. As soon as people hear you’re from Notre Dame, they want to give you their opinion or they want stories about Notre Dame. And I’ve learned to accept this and enjoy it for the most part.” 

Good thing. Because, as those four football fans might have sensed, Halloran is extremely approachable. In his 37 years, he has built a reputation for being the kind of person who will stop and chat in the hallway and never seems rushed. 

His patience and investment in others have served him and his students well, especially as Halloran became the person who introduced the complicated world of finance to master’s students by teaching the introductory finance class to all but the college’s three new graduate programs. With very few exceptions, he has taught every graduate student in the past decade, says Bill Nichols, associate dean for faculty and research at Mendoza.

“His classes lay the groundwork for all the elective courses and future finance courses,” Nichols says. “Therefore, it’s very important they understand the fundamentals, and that he transfers the excitement of wanting to take upper level courses. And he’s done a good job. It’s a difficult job because some of the students have degrees in education or nursing or other areas outside business. He brings them a level of comfort so they can succeed.”

Though records aren’t kept on the hours faculty spend teaching certain courses, Nichols believes Halloran may have logged more hours teaching executive education than any other Mendoza professor, in both degree and non-degree programs. His excellence in this area also reflects a delicate balance.

“You have to gain the respect of the audience by showing you are current in understanding the trends and challenges in a business environment,” Nichols says. “You have to show you’re anchored to what’s going on in business. John can take the theory of finance and bring it into a classroom or non-degreed experience in a way that it can be applied and add value to a businessperson’s career.”

But execs from IBM or Office Max or Lockheed Martin, companies for which Halloran was charged to form relationships, also benefited from his kind patience. “Some folks come in saying, ‘Oh, man, I just don’t know if I’m up for this 

quantitative material. I don’t know if I can do it,” Halloran says. “They can shut down on you. Coming across hard to those people is a sure way to turn them off. You have to find a way to meet them where they are.”

His students have appreciated this. “From time to time they email me with questions or they just want to talk about how they use something they encountered in class,” he says. “That’s probably the most gratifying email you can get as an instructor. A student says, ‘You know that topic we talked about? I’m actually using this stuff!’ It’s very nice.”

Even though Halloran is officially a professor emeritus, he’s still teaching a few finance classes for the Executive MBA and Master of Nonprofit Administration. And he’s happy for the opportunity to transition gradually into retirement. 

But Notre Dame will always be a presence in his life. An Irish Catholic who grew up following Irish football, Halloran feels especially blessed that all three of his children, Brian ’96, Brendan ’02 (who works as a technical and process analyst with Mendoza IT) and Mary Brigid ’10, are Domers. “This is rare in and of itself given how challenging it is to get into this university,” he says. “They all went through Arts and Letters—there are no business students in the bunch. But this was an opportunity my children never would have gotten otherwise.

“So I’m so thankful. The opportunity to work at this University has been challenging for me, it’s been intellectually stimulating and it has been rewarding to be in an environment where you’re not just treated like a number, but people care about you,” he says. “The experience has turned out to be more positive than what I could have hoped.”

As he shifts the balance of his life from career to retirement, Halloran is looking forward to traveling with his wife of 44 years, Suzy, especially to escape the cold Indiana winters.

And he’ll shift his patience from the classroom to his passion for landscape gardening in the Japanese style. The Hallorans’ home sits near a picturesque lake, the perfect backdrop for Halloran’s Zen garden and other natural features that he carefully cultivates. He also grows orchids and maintains bonsai trees, a hobby that summons forth all his patience.

“It is really hard to take when you have a bonsai tree that you worked on for a long time and, boy, it just goes belly up on you,” he says. “You just want to kick yourself.”

Still, gardening is a deep part of who he is. “I’ve been interested in gardening of one sort or another probably since I was 20,” he says. “I think it’s part of my Irish roots — I’ve always been interested in digging into the earth, even as a child.”

And just as with teaching, his patient care and determination with gardening yield beautiful results. 

“It’s an ongoing process I really enjoy,” he says. “I like being out there with nature—it’s very relaxing and stimulating at the same time. And it’s not really what you do, it’s the intensity of how you approach it and the care that you give it that are important.”