Remembering George Frein
George Frein, retired professor of religion, died on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in his Fort Worth home at the age of 91. George was born in St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 2, 1932. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1958. He ministered in parishes, taught in Catholic high schools, and completed a master’s degree in European history in the St. Louis area before entering graduate school in theological studies at Catholic University.
He left the priesthood in 1968 and joined the Religion Department at the University of North Dakota, where he taught for 29 years. After retiring in 1997, he moved to Greenville, S.C. where he founded the Greenville Chautauqua Society in which he was active until moving to Fort Worth, Texas, in 2012. George continued to work with Humanities North Dakota on Chautauqua programming until his death.
George was a consummate teacher, with the rare distinction of receiving the university-wide teaching award in his second year on the UND faculty. He introduced his students to questions of ultimate meaning and purpose, not only through traditional expressions of the Christianity in which he was raised, but also in Greek mythology, Native American spiritual practices, the psychology of Carl Jung, and American Literature. Throughout his life, he continued to receive notes of appreciation from former students for his influence upon them.
In his later years, he became an advocate for humanities programs in the public square, especially through Chautauqua programs introducing audiences to prominent American thinkers and writers through historical dramatization. To participate in these programs, George immersed himself in the writings of and about Hermann Melville and Abraham Lincoln, among others. Though George insisted that Chautauquans should be scholars foremost, and not actors, he developed a flair for dramatic performance, as well as for nurturing thoughtful conversation with audiences about the characters he introduced. His best characterizations were of the American humorist Mark Twain. Though audiences may have come for Twain’s humor, George also challenged them with Twain’s critiques of American racism, colonialism, and religious hypocrisy. His final Chautauqua performance was a Mark Twain monologue before an overflow audience at a Greenville Theater in February 2023, where he was presented a key to the city of Greenville, S.C., for his work in public humanities.
George loved children. He also loved books. His children and grandchildren came to expect that the first present from him at birthdays and holidays would be a book. He also loved serving meals cooked from scratch, believing every home cooked dinner should be accompanied by candlelight, with family sharing stories from the day.
George was preceded in death by his parents, Harry and Margaret, and his brothers, Paul and Robert Frein. He is survived by his wife Shelly Matthews; his sister Denise Cole; his sister-in-law, Beverly Frein; his children, Mark Frein (Jessica), Nathan, and Alice Frein Matthews; and his grandchildren Kate, Fiona, and Alexa Frein.
A funeral service is scheduled at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, Texas, Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. Burial will be scheduled for the summer of 2024 at the cemetery of St. John’s Benedictine Abbey and University, Collegeville, Minn. In lieu of flowers, Donations in George’s memory may be directed to Humanities North Dakota, https://www.humanitiesnd.org/donate.