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Column: Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Catching up with a former student who lives life well

“I am an adventurer looking for treasure,” Santiago expressed in Paul Coelho’s novel, “The Alchemist.” His contention is metaphoric, since finding one’s treasure is linked to one’s destiny.

In an era of superficiality when the likes of the Kardashians are granted a voice, it’s encouraging there are those who search for deeper connections with life. However, we’re not biologically predisposed to do so. Such a quest is a philosophical inclination initially expressed in Aristotelian ethics. Defined as “living life well,” Aristotle coined the term eudaimonia, a blueprint for fulfillment through personal development that includes one’s ability to appreciate art, beauty and nature. Thoreau provides a more contemporary analysis: “live deep.”

A former student of mine, Teresa Duff, lives such a life. Although she currently resides in Pittsburgh, Penn., Teresa was a resident of our foothills and attended Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and Crescenta Valley High School. She is an architectural conservator. She credits her mother, Suzy Duff, a former vice principal at Flintridge Sacred Heart and a Latin and history teacher, with infusing the magic of antiquity and the appreciation of ancient cultures.

I am fascinated by Teresa’s insightful understanding of those variables that the philosophers have painstakingly attempted to express such as the importance of sublime beauty. I found her keen awareness in understanding the transcendentalists’ contention that such is the “preservation of the world.”


I was curious as to how Teresa found her passion. “I was in art history class,” she told me, “when a slide came up depicting the Greek sculpture, Nike of Samothrace (“Winged Victory”). It was a pivotal moment, and I knew, I found it.”

“What’s the rationale?” I asked.

“It was just so beautiful,” she answered. “To think it was created so long ago. People with their hands and with primitive tools created this masterpiece with intellect and spirit and defined its meaning. It’s what they put into this massive stone: blood sweat and tears.”

What I appreciate about Teresa is that she is motivated by a force the great thinkers could hardly define. Regardless, whatever it is, it elevates humanity and is the summation of what Aristotle spoke of.


Teresa holds a master’s degree in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania and is a specialist in architectural research, art history, historic building materials, ethnographic objects and restoration. I appreciate her meticulous attention to the details of preservation and those philosophical implications that are incidental to each project she works on. She questions, “What experience do I hope the viewer receives? Do I restore the work or repair it? Do I recreate it or maintain its antiquity?”

Teresa was one of the conservators who restored the Maxo Vanka murals at Saint Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Pittsburgh. Vanka in 1937 began painting a one-of-a-kind masterpiece on the church’s interior walls, which he called his “gift to America.” The larger than life murals are representations of faith and family and depict the immigrant experience in America. Teresa was instrumental in bringing this priceless art back to life for future generations to enjoy.

“I always wanted to travel as a minimalist and seek transformative experiences,” Teresa said.

In 2001, six days before 9/11, she left on a two-year solo odyssey traveling through Australia, India, Nepal, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. In China, she learned to speak Mandarin and taught English.

I asked her what had been the most poignant moment of her travels.

“Every moment,” she replied. “However, volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal enabled me to feel I affected a corner of the world.”

Today, her adventure is raising her beautiful daughter, Fiona. Yet she remains a free spirit in search of intellectual and spiritual growth.

Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood.” Teresa Duff took one and she lives it deeply.


Joe Puglia is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at