Eulogy by Br. Luke Salm:
It was a summer day in 1917 when James Barry came into the world, the son of Michael Barry and Veronica Kopaskie, predestined thenceforth to carry forward the Irish heritage of subtle humor with the Polish heritage of determination and strength of will. The rural ambience of his early years provided him with an appreciation of the earth and the creatures with which God endowed it; the global economic depression of his teenage years stamped his character with a lifelong frugality. He could not endure to see anything wasted and remained forever incapable of throwing anything away.
After graduating from St. Patrick's parish school in 1929 and two years into the Newburgh Free Academy, the boy James followed his older brother Mike to St. Joseph's Juniorate in Barrytown. In 1932, Mike became Brother Bertin Raymund; on September 7, 1933 in New York Jim became Brother Benjamin Austin as a member of the novitiate Group of Christ the King.
After the novitiate, Brother Austin went to Washington where he received his BA degree from Catholic University in 1937. After a short training period during that summer in the old NY Protectory, Brother Austin was assigned to the Ascension School in New York City where he taught in successive years the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. This experience left an indelible impression on him n the form of unrelenting insistence on precision in spelling and grammar, pronunciation and punctuation, and a penchant for outrageous puns.
In the 1940s, the Brothers at Manhattan College were grooming talented young Brothers to qualify for appointment to the faculty. Accordingly, Austing was sent to live at Hillside in Troy and to pursue at RPI the degree of Bachelor of Civil Engineering which he received in 1942. In 1947 he was licensed as Professional Engineer in New Jersey and in 1949 was awarded his Master's degree from NYU. While pursuing advanced studies, Austin taught at St. Peter's High School on Staten Island and then in the Manhattan College extension there, finally arriving at the Riverdale Campus in 1943 where he would remain for the next 58 years.
At the college, Austin soon became a major presence in the Civil Engineering Department, rising through the academic ranks to become Full Professor in 1970, and serving as department Chair from 1962 to 1971. His specialty was surveying, a course that went from being required of all engineering students when he began, to becoming a mere oddity by the time he retired. One of his last memos to the department is a plea that surveying not be dropped from the cirriculum. In the glory days, from 1950 to 1964, Austin presided over the legendary summer camp for engineers, introducing them to surveying within the rigors of country life at a kind of Stallag 17, early rising to the blare of trumpet, bell, and recordings of South Pacific alternating with bagpipes. The end effect was to form the student engineers into a well-knit community that survived beyond their college years.
Brother Austin's professional career was nothing short of spectacular. He served as consultant for drainage problems at Barrytown, construction of Hayden Hall and Christian Brothers Center at Manhattan College, computers for surveying at Lockheed, the I-95 bridge over Baltimore Harbor, and training programs for surveyors for the Republic of South Africa. He is author or co-author of several books or parts of books, notably his "Engineering Measurements" and his "Construction Measurements" published by Wiley and Sons. Between 1955 and 1980 he delivered more than 40 papers at professional meetings, many of them published. In the American Society of Civil Engineers he held offices in the Metropolitan Section, including President and membership in the National Board. He also held offices, including the presidency in the Northeast Region of the American Society of Photogrammetry, the American Society for Engineering Education and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, which presented him in 1990 with the Dix award for dedication to the profession.
All this professional activity turned Austin into a world traveler. For example, a U.S. representative of the ACSM to the International Federation of Surveyors, he went to Bern in 1961, to Vienna in 1962, Rome in 1965, Belgrade in 1966, Ottawa in 1967, London in 1968, Copenhagen in 1969, Budapest in 1970, Weisbaden in 1971, and Tel Aviv in 1972.Most of the time he would slip away for these trips after class on Friday and be back home on Monday before anybody knew he was missing. On Occasion, however, he would make a detour to visit his brother Mike, Brother Raymund, who was serving as a missionary in Africa. When he could not visit his brother he kept up an extensive correspondence. He did not only save all of Raymund's letters but duplicated them several times over. The collection now in the District Archives is an impressive record of the daily life of a devoted Lasallian missionary.
Like his brother, a true disciple of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, Brother Austin over his long life exemplified the spirit of faith and zeal. His faith shone forth in his fidelity to the community prayers and exercises. Even after he was no longer assigned to teach formal courses in religion, he continued to begin his classes with prayer and was not beyond reminding his young engineers of their religious duties and their moral obligations. His strong moral sense showed itself in a political conservatism that seemed to be religiously motivated. He was charitable to a fault, always ready to lend his talens and sources to aid persons in desperate circumstances. His personal faith was profound, but sometimes critical in its expression, especially in his later years as he began to break though his fundamentalist background in Scripture, wondering, for example, how God could have had anything to do with some of the slaughter described in the Old Testament. He had a long list of questions that he intended to ask God when he got to heaven. Presumably by now the Almighty has supplied the answers.
Austin continued teaching part-time long after he achieved emeritus status. Once had had to retire altogether from the classroom and daily contact with students, something fundamental was missing in his life. He entered into a period of gradual decline, both physical and mental, until finally the Lord called his noble soul unto himself. May that same Lord crown his fidelity and service with unsurveyable horizons of eternal joy.
- Luke Salm, FSC.