Asking the Eternal Questions: Albert Matricciani (AGI21)
July 25, 2022 | By Eve Tolpa
The path to law school is a well-traveled one for many graduates of St. John's, but sometimes the dynamic works in reverse. Case in point: Albert Matricciani (AG21), who devoted himself to studying the Great Books after a long and successful legal career.
Matricciani started out as a legal aid attorney in 1974 and ultimately spent nearly twenty years as a judge; that portion of his career culminated in an at-large position at the Maryland Court of Special Appeal. After leaving the bench, he returned to his old firm and continued to practice law for four more years before enrolling in the St. John’s Graduate Institute.
“I wish that I had the St. John's experience earlier in my legal career,” says Matricciani, who lives in Baltimore. “I think it added a dimension to the way that I look at things at texts and had conversations.” As a judge, he adds, “I was doing a lot of writing and studying texts very carefully, because I had to interpret them. The St. John's discipline would have been quite helpful.”
Matricciani was always fascinated with literature, and he earned a bachelor's in English from Villanova, a JD from the University of Maryland, and then a master's in liberal arts from Johns Hopkins. St. John’s, he says, had been on his radar for a long time. “Throughout the years, I had often gotten invitations to do these in-town seminars, and I became aware that [tutor] David Townsend was offering a course on Bob Dylan's poetry one fall.”
Through that seminar and others like it, he became familiar with the college's Program and approach to pedagogy. Still, he found that being a full-time GI student required him to recalibrate his analytical skills. He contrasts “the way St. John's approaches the texts, where you are limited severely to what is right before you,” to what's required of a judge, where standard procedure involves establishing context and cross-referencing precedents. “It's different,” he says.
Matricciani was unfazed by the fact that he was often the oldest person in his GI classes. “When I was a judge, I had law clerks every year who were all right out of law school. I also taught as an adjunct at the law school for many years, so I like working with young people.” He characterizes St. John’s students as “very bright, especially adept at defending their points of view.”
While Matricciani especially savored the Program's poetry, literature, and history texts, he was less taken with philosophy. “I find philosophers to be terrible writers. They are not clear about anything, they don't define terms,” he says. “If I wrote a [legal] opinion where I didn't define anything, and I just picked terms that no one else had ever heard of and used them, no one would ever understand what I was writing about.”
Still, he adds, “I got some insights from it that I would never have had. A lot of [philosophers] are quite brilliant. I enjoy Plato's dialogues, and Socrates is a fascinating character.”
Other texts continue to pique his interest in unexpected ways. “I fell in love with Homer,” he says, “and I've since discovered all these wonderful female writers who take us through The Iliad and Odyssey from that perspective. Homer is pretty masculine in his approach, so that was a really pleasant surprise.”
He cites, among others, Madeline Miller’s books Circe and The Song of Achilles, which he calls “fascinating,” and “beautifully written,” explaining that the book, “takes us through the Achilles-Patroclus relationship from a homoerotic standpoint.”
A year since graduating from the GI, Matricciani says he misses the community he cultivated at St. John's and hopes to bring some of the value he gained back to Baltimore. “I am on the board of my high school, and I've talked with people there about perhaps trying to get some of the senior students to read something with me,” he says.
The Johnnie orientation toward questioning also endures in his day-to-day life. “I'm at an age where you question what you're doing all the time,” Matricciani says. “I keep losing friends and colleagues every week, and it just changes the way you look at things.”
In the continuing exploration of the Great Books, he finds “an escape from that reality. And these are also eternal questions.”