Economics professor battled stomach cancer for 10 months
This week, the Notre Dame community mourns the loss of a wonderful professor, mentor, and friend. After a long, courageous battle against an aggressive stomach cancer, economics professor Timothy Fuerst passed away in his home on Tuesday, February 21.
Professor Fuerst was one of America’s most prominent monetary economists. Having graduated at the top of his class from Ohio Northern University and earning his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, he went on to spend twenty years teaching at Bowling Green University outside of Toledo, Ohio. Fuerst also served as a senior research advisor to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland for many years. In 2012, he moved to Notre Dame to work as the William and Dorothy O’Neill Professor of Economics. Many students at Notre Dame have had the opportunity to take his Principles of Macroeconomics class as well as his upper level courses in asset pricing and monetary theory.
In April, Professor Fuerst was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer and given six months to live. And this is potentially where the most remarkable phase of Fuerst’s life began. Despite the conventional wisdom to retire from work and enjoy one’s final days leisurely, Fuerst only threw himself more wholeheartedly into his vocation. He continued teaching monetary policy courses both semesters this year; in the fall semester, he only missed one class meeting. Professor Fuerst’s world had changed, but his attitude on teaching and life remained unchanged. The unbridled optimism, cheery jokes, and memorable catch phrases that characterized his classes in previous years remained totally intact.
But maintaining the status quo wasn’t even enough. Fuerst took up the motto of the Congregation of Holy Cross—Ave Crux, Spes Unica, which means “Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope”—as his own personal mantra. His suffering became an opportunity to love God and neighbor more than ever, and his gratitude for life, family, and his students only increased. In fact, he did something that almost no one would think to do in his situation: he published a list titled “The 10 Best Things about Having Stage 4 Cancer.” The list contained much of his usual jocularity, with some funny lines such as “no more bad hair days” and “blood counts are more exciting than the sports page.” But his attitude of acceptance toward the cross he carried was reflected in his maxims: “You see how very, very close God is to each one of us,” and “You realize how blessed your life is.”
The life of Timothy Fuerst, one who retained his incredible gifts of joy, generosity, and gratitude to the very end, reminds us of the great paradox of Christianity: when we decrease, God increases. In suffering and hardship, Fuerst found God to be more active in his life than he had ever realized. We would all do well to remember the example of Professor Fuerst in times of difficulty and trust that God can indeed bring good out of anything. The good that came from Professor Fuerst’s final days? A model of extraordinary evangelical zeal to everyone he encountered, one which we will never forget.
Perhaps it is best to let Professor Fuerst have the final word, which he wrote on the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi this year:
“For this is just the message of the cross: Jesus accepts suffering and a horrible death with absolute confidence that His Father will bring forth great good. Now my family and I are not saints. We have good days filled with hope, and bad days when we give way to despair. But we try to remember that the Lord can bring forth great good from suffering, even if we do not see it in this life. Our suffering then becomes a prayer, a prayer that brings forth hope and courage.”
Henry Dickman is a senior studying Accounting and Economics. Contact him at email@example.com.