Obituary for Vernon Faillettaz
Vernon Pierre Faillettaz, Professor Emeritus of Religion at St. Olaf College, died Sunday, January 19, 2020 at age 91 of natural causes. He was at home, surrounded by his family. Vern Faillettaz was born on June 28, 1928 in Fresno, California, the only child of Pierre Henri Samuel Faillettaz and Lelah Josephine Larson. The family soon moved to San Francisco, a city he loved long after he became a naturalized Minnesotan. He often told the story of walking across the Golden Gate Bridge when it opened. He graduated from Mission Dolores High School and, in 1950, the University of California […]
Vernon Pierre Faillettaz, Professor Emeritus of Religion at St. Olaf College, died Sunday,
January 19, 2020 at age 91 of natural causes. He was at home, surrounded by his family.
Vern Faillettaz was born on June 28, 1928 in Fresno, California, the only child of Pierre Henri Samuel Faillettaz and Lelah Josephine Larson. The family soon moved to San Francisco, a city he loved long after he became a naturalized Minnesotan. He often told the story of walking across the Golden Gate Bridge when it opened. He graduated from Mission Dolores High School and, in 1950, the University of California Berkeley. At Berkeley he became involved in Lutheran student life.
He went on to earn his MDiv from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. There he started to embrace the Midwest and loved discovering the seasons. He married Beulah (Billi) Mae Stromseth on May 22, 1954, a graduate of Fairview nursing school. They were one of many Luther Seminary pastor and Fairview nurse couples. Before he got ordained he traveled in Switzerland, his father’s home, and Germany with the goal of meeting his first cousins. There he made family connections to last his lifetime. In 1954 he was called to serve Bethel Lutheran Church in Chicago, where he had done his internship year. Both he and Billi loved the city life. After 4 years Vern entered the University of Chicago, where he earned a PhD in Divinity. Their three children were born during the years in Chicago.
In 1962 Vern joined the religion department at St. Olaf College. He was an undogmatic, curious and innovative thinker. Early on he spoke about the need for the identity of a church college to be open to questions, new perspectives and change, urging that “theology is always in dialog with culture.” He advised students for the Fund for Theological Education. He was a tutor in the Paracollege for eight years and became the Paracollege’s second Senior Tutor. He is remembered as being influential in shaping the academic structure of the Paracollege.
His interest in inter-faith dialog and multiple points of view continued in the classes he taught, including Liberation Theology, and Comparative Monotheism, and seminars in which he participated. He was an early supporter of gay rights and concerns. After a sabbatical at Harvard’s Center for World Religions in 1970, Vern initiated St. Olaf’s first course on Islam. He continued to advocate to develop courses in specific world religions, and broaden hiring to include teachers within that religion. Together with Billi, Vern led a semester abroad in
Jerusalem, as well as interims abroad. After he retired he and Billi led several elder learning trips. Vern taught for and directed the Northfield Elder Collegium for several years.
Vern loved teaching, rewrote his class syllabi every summer, and often had to be called to come home for supper. His colleagues knew him as a creative and challenging teacher. He was dramatic at times, using arm gestures and raised voice to make a point. He had a gift for talking with and listening to students. He loved first-year Bible classes where he would help students start to look at the Bible from a new perspective . He helped turn many students toward seminary, and some away from that path. After retirement he was still having conversations with students, and often brought them to church.
Vern was a man of strong faith, unchanged by his practice of thinking critically about faith. In his last months when he didn’t go anywhere else, he always wanted to go to church. He was happy to retreat to the secluded life of summers with the family on an island in Lake Vermilion for 64 years. He developed an interest in gardening and at one point had a yard full of hybrid daylilies. He was a wide reader beyond his field, enjoying mysteries, cultural history, and novels. He attended music and drama performances regularly and enthusiastically.
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, son Pierre Faillettaz of Minneapolis, daughter Lise Faillettaz of Northfield, son Marc Faillettaz of Minneapolis and grandson James Faillettaz of Minneapolis. He is preceded in death by his parents and his son-in-law Kurt Peters.
The family greatly appreciates the staff of Northfield Hospice, Home Instead and the Benedictine Living Community for all their care and kindness.
Services will be held at 2:00PM, Friday, January 31, 2020, at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 500 W. 3rd St., Northfield. Visitation will be one hour prior to the service. A reception will follow.
Memorial contributions can be made to The Vern and Billi Faillettaz Endowed Scholarship Fund, St. Olaf College (for a St. Olaf College student with an interest in service or international studies), or St. John’s Lutheran Church, Northfield.
Arrangements are with the Benson & Langehough Funeral Home. www.northfieldfuneral.com