Reflection: Feliz Jubilación! to Madrid Professors Cathy Bingman, Kirk Tennant

Reflection: Feliz Jubilación! to Madrid Professors Cathy Bingman, Kirk Tennant

Brittany Williams, USD undergraduate English alumna and current PhD student in SOLES, did a semester study abroad in Madrid, Spain and later lived and worked there while earning a master’s degree in English from Saint Louis University — Madrid Campus. She is now USD’s International Study Abroad Coordinator for programs in the Czech Republic, Portugal and Spain. She recently wrote a reflection on two retiring professors — Cathy Bingman and Kirk Tennant — who have taught at USD’s Madrid Center facility and other study abroad classes at Madrid-based universities for nearly 22 years. Williams reflects on their retirement, supportive ways and she share some replies from USD alumni, friends and colleagues who wished them well.

As a University of San Diego alumna, it is not surprising that one of my fondest memories as an undergraduate student was my semester studying abroad. This experience and the people I met in Madrid, Spain impacted my life in so many ways. After graduation, I went to graduate school in Madrid, traveled extensively, and now work at USD's International Center.

But the memories and moments that made that semester abroad so special were enriched by people I met, especially two professors, Cathy Bingman in Theology and Religious Studies and Kirk Tennant in Ethics.


Their compassionate nature extended beyond the classroom and into the lives of their students. My own experiences include a brief hospitalization for tonsillitis and a kind invitation. Cathy arrived at the hospital with a care package of a hair brush, toothpaste and a book to read. Later, while in graduate school, I ran into Kirk on campus. He invited me to lunch with Cathy and their family. My experiences weren't unique. Cathy and Kirk touched the lives of hundreds of USD students over nearly 22 years of teaching with the university in Madrid.

Cathy studied abroad in Madrid as a student and fell in love with the slow paced, relationship-centered estilo de vida (lifestyle). Kirk is a renaissance man as he holds master's degrees in accounting, engineering, management, theology/ethics and English literature.

When they moved to Spain in 1998, they began teaching in multiple capacities full time. Kirk combined his many disciplines to teach courses in moral philosophy, ethics and business with course content to expose students to Spanish culture and media. As a student himself, he recognized that university professors shared his curiosity for knowledge. Teaching enabled him to spend time exploring different subjects and the interrelationship of knowledge at a philosophical level.

Cathy saw teaching as an extravagant labor of love: love for the student, love for the subject material, and the pure joy of imparting one's expertise to those willing to learn. She observed her mother, a lifelong elementary school teacher, engage with her community and students. Cathy soon recognized that shaping lives in the classroom came naturally to her. In more than 45 years of teaching at universities and churches, she made the decision to love every student who sat in her classroom or congregation. With Kirk’s analytical, yet open, nature and Cathy's love and warmth, the duo complemented each other marvelously. It's no surprise that students would remember them, even years after their study abroad experiences.

When preparing to write this retirement story, I sent a request for memories to past students, friends, and colleagues. I was quickly overwhelmed as nearly 50 people responded to my request in less than three days. We may have been in a COVID-19 pandemic and socially quarantined, but people showed up for Cathy and Kirk from all over the world. My inbox was flooded with emails, photos, and special memories students and colleagues had shared with them. The love that poured out of these responses was simply a testament, a manifestation of the many ways Cathy and Kirk impacted the lives of those around them over the years.

“We know Jacqueline really appreciated the guidance and care you showed her while she was in Madrid. Since she went to Madrid shortly after finishing cancer treatment, it was scary for us to have her so far away from home. Thank you for watching over her while she was there. It means the world to us. I just re-read the beautiful note you sent us after Jacqueline died. She was lucky to have you as her professor.”

— Joan and Allen Rush, parents of Jacqueline Rush, Madrid 2011

“Studying abroad in Madrid will always be an amazing experience for students at USD. However, a Madrid experience that I was lucky enough to involve Cathy and Kirk will forever be that much more special. Their mentorship and friendship truly impacted my experience there for the better, not only academically but also personally. Cathy swept through the building beaming joy and positivity each morning and Kirk's constant debates (even on the Metro if I happened to run into him on my way home!) really challenged me to think outside the box. There are lessons I learned in both Ethics and The Problem of God classes that I still at times think about and discuss to this day! I am so thankful for their contributions to my experience and wish them the very best in retirement. They deserve it!”

— Danielle Latimore, Madrid 2015

“I met Cathy when I observed her teaching in October 2019. I cannot believe that was eight months ago. It seems like a lifetime ago. I was so grateful for her openness to dialogue about theology and pedagogy, and I had been looking forward to future collaboration with her. The world has changed so much since then and we are dealing with unprecedented disruption in higher education. I am grateful for the wisdom she shared with theology students in Madrid, for accompanying them during their cultural immersion experiences, and for offering them challenging content to open their worldviews. I wish Cathy and Kirk good health, peace, and safety. Thank you for your vocation to teach.”

— Emily Reimer-Barry, Chair Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies at USD.

“I am so honored to have had the opportunity to learn from both Cathy and Kirk. They have both touched my heart as I think very often about what they both taught me in the classroom and by example. When I thought studying abroad would feel so unfamiliar, they successfully made Madrid feel like home. I remember the trip to La Catedral de Almudena and the sangria we shared afterwards with Cathy. I think about how Kirk played the best movies in class that helped me understand ethics better. I'm glad I also got to volunteer with them once and play with the children at church where Cathy was a Pastora. I appreciate that they had us write long papers about what we believed after taking their classes because through the process of doing both, I learned a lot about myself. I know I am just one of many, but they've made such a big impact on my life in just that one semester. I hope they are overwhelmed by the love and appreciation I know that their students have for them.”

— Julianna Almario, volunteering in Madrid 2018

I received many more messages just like these. Their love, compassion, and kindness were reflected in each response that arrived in my inbox. After nearly 22 years of working at USD in Madrid, Cathy and Kirk are retiring to spend more time with their grandkids in the United States. They still plan to keep their apartment in Madrid — Cathy loves how the trees change in the fall — but they are excited to have more time for family. While they will be dearly missed, I could not think of a more deserving couple than Cathy and Kirk.

Feliz jubilación! (Happy Retirement)

— Brittany Williams

Photos were provided by Brittany Williams

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Brittany Williams
(619) 260-4598

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