WSU's Gythiel has become a top theological scholar
There are many words used to describe Anthony Gythiel: scholar, teacher, mentor. And by all accounts, it seems Gythiel has earned each title.
Gythiel is a professor of history at Wichita State, where he has taught since 1971. He started in the English department, but was courted by the history department in 1992, in part because of his background in medieval studies and theology.
Gythiel’s knack for history also had a bit to do with his own past. Growing up in Belgium during World War II, Gythiel saw and experienced things few people he knows today have dealt with.
In 1940, his mother was killed during the Nazi bombardment of Belgium. One of six children, and only 10 years old, Gythiel was left to help pick up the pieces and start over.
“We helped each other and survived,” he said.
After the war, Gythiel stayed in Belgium and eventually went to college. He received a bachelor’s in philosophy in 1953 and master’s in theology in 1958. It was then that Gythiel decided to become a Catholic priest, and he was subsequently sent to work as a missionary in Zaire.
In 1963, Gythiel decided to leave Zaire, which was in the middle of a revolution. After losing everything he had there, Gythiel once again found himself starting over.
Although Gythiel went through many hardships in his young life, he said they helped make him what he is today.
“They made me more intimately aware of evil in the world,” he said.
That, he said, is something he hopes he won’t see repeated again in his lifetime.
After Zaire, Gythiel came to America, where he had received a scholarship to attend the University of Detroit. From 1966-1971, he earned a master’s in English and a Ph.D. in medieval studies.
He then landed in Wichita, a city he said slowly grew on him, and became an assistant professor at WSU. During his early years at Wichita State, Gythiel worked with what he calls great teachers who inspired him to be better.
“I said to myself, ‘I want to imitate them and be a good teacher,’ ” he said.
Gythiel has since won three teaching awards, including the John R. Barrier Distinguished Teaching Award from the Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1993. He was the first person to win the award.
Aside from teaching, Gythiel has dedicated his career to translating historical theology works by world-renowned scholars. So far he has translated 10 works and is in the middle of his eleventh.
For his efforts, Gythiel was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree by the trustees and faculty of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, NY, in May.
Keith Pickus, associate provost and vice president for academic affairs and research at WSU, said the painstakingly detailed work involved in the translations requires phenomenal linguistic skills and an immense knowledge of history.
He calls Gythiel’s work a great contribution to the English-speaking Orthodox world and says he has established himself as a pre-eminent theological scholar.
“I discovered (years ago) that God had given me the great gift of language, but I had never used it,” said Gythiel, who is fluent in five languages and has studied 13, including some that are no longer spoken.
“So I decided to do that in his honor.”
At 77, Gythiel is in phased retirement at WSU and plans to stay another two years. He still teaches half-time and said he’ll continue to translate works for as long as he can.
Once retired, Gythiel plans to relax with his wife, Dana, and stay in Wichita.
Pickus said he has been blessed to be friends and colleagues with Gythiel and is constantly impressed with his contributions to Wichita State.
“He is a wonderful human being and a highly accomplished scholar,” Pickus said. “He is a real Renaissance man – a true scholar’s scholar.”