Augustinians return home, share stories



Thomas Celona

Students who regularly attend the 6 p.m. Mass each Sunday may have noticed a few new faces presiding over the ceremonies this year. This service brings together two of the University’s newest faculty members, as Rev. Christopher Drennen, O.S.A., and Rev. Joseph Farrell, O.S.A., now lead the Mass.

It seems appropriate that the Mass brings Drennen and Farrell together, as their stories mirror each other in many ways.

From local foundations to world travels to simultaneous returns to Villanova, they have followed similar paths but have unique stories to tell – tales covering celebrity friendships, championship memories and everything in between.

At the beginning of the academic year, Drennen joined Campus Ministry as the retreat coordinator, and Farrell joined the Office of Mission Effectiveness as the director of programming and outreach. However, they are certainly not new faces at the University.

Drennen grew up in the area and attended Villanova for his undergraduate studies. After being born in Manhasset, N.Y., Drennen moved to suburban Philadelphia with his family and later attended Malvern Preparatory School.

After visiting campus with a friend, Drennen abandoned his plans to attend a different college and entered Villanova’s seminary program in 1973.

“It was more of an inspiration than a choice,” Drennen said of his decision to enter the priesthood.

During his time at Villanova, Drennen lived with other seminary students in Moriarty Hall, Stone Hall and Geraghty Hall.

Drennen also swam both the butterfly and individual medley events for the University swim team, making him one of only two Augustinians to have participated in varsity athletics.

After graduating in 1978 with a Bachelor of Arts in honors, Drennen attended Washington Theological Union. He received his master’s degree in theology and was ordained in the Order of Saint Augustine in 1983.

Drennen spent the next 11 years in New York, serving at a variety of parishes across the state.

“I really got into the retreat movement at that point,” Drennen said, noting his involvement in organizing the Cursillo Retreat Movement, a program that provided training in Christian leadership.

In 1999, Drennen made a major change, moving across the country to attend the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.

He loved his time there so much that he decided to stay in California – a place he would call home for the next eight years.

Drennen attended Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles where he pursued a Master of Science in counseling psychology.

While there, Drennen lived right in the center of Hollywood by the Walk of Fame.

“I met a lot of interesting people there,” Drennen said.

A memento from two of those “interesting” people sits in Drennen’s office in Campus Ministry: an invitation to the wedding of Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rosdale.

“She’s a delight – the nicest, sweetest person,” Drennen said of Stefani. “She’s like the girl next door.”

And Stefani literally was the girl next door – almost; she lived up the hill from Drennen’s apartment in Hollywood and was a regular at his parish. So when Stefani wanted to have a Catholic marriage ceremony, she asked Drennen to do the honors.

On Sept. 21, 2002, Drennen married Stefani and Rosdale in Los Angeles.

The Rosdales have stayed in contact with Drennen, asking him to baptize their first-born son. On April 7, Drennen baptized Kingston Rosdale before Stefani set out on her worldwide “Sweet Escape Tour.”

But the Rosdales are not the only celebrities with whom Drennen has rubbed elbows.

His parish also counted Tim Allen and Martin Sheen as regulars, and Shelly Winters often went to the diner next to his apartment building.

However, this summer Drennen decided to leave Hollywood and come home.

On July 1, he moved to Villanova and now resides in Good Counsel Hall on a floor with male sophomore students – a living situation Drennen actually considers tame compared to his Hollywood apartment days.

Drennen has started in on the work of his new position with full force, developing ideas for a host of new retreat programs.

Aside from continuing successful retreats from years past, such as the social justice, Catholic identity and workout retreats, Drennen has been in talks with a variety of student groups to plan retreats, along with finding more exciting sites to help attract students.

Additionally, Drennen hopes to develop spiritual mission trips, which would visit religious sites overseas; separate retreats for men and women dealing with gender-specific issues; and a retreat focused on relationships, an idea which stems from his background in relational therapy.

“In this job, I’m not an administrator and more of a minister,” Drennen said, reflecting on how much he enjoys his new position.

Drennen’s return to Villanova has been a long time coming, and he says that he is extremely happy with his decision.

“Villanova is home for me,” Drennen said. “I’ve been away for many years.”

Farrell is celebrating a similar type of homecoming.

After growing up in Drexel Hill, Pa. and attending Monsignor Bonner High School there, Farrell attended Villanova and received a degree in business administration.

Farrell’s undergraduate years came to a close in a whirl of excitement, as Farrell is a member of the Class of ’85 and watched as Villanova captured the NCAA basketball championship that year.

“It was a night I’ll never forget,” Farrell said.

Following graduation, Farrell joined the Augustinian order – a path he only began to consider during his senior year of college while he was going through the process of applying for jobs.

He spent one additional year at Villanova taking philosophy courses, followed by one year at a novitiate in Wisconsin for a time of prayer and discernment.

Farrell also attended the Washington Theological Union and graduated in 1991, the same year he was ordained.

After years of working in various positions throughout the Northeast, Farrell moved to Rome on Sept. 1, 2003.

There, he pursued a doctorate in sacred theology from Gregorian University. Farrell graduated on June 13 of this year and soon after accepted his current position.

So far this year, Farrell has been responsible for organizing a trip to Italy which will highlight sites Saint Augustine visited during his time there.

Faculty and staff members will embark on the trip during spring break.

Additionally, Farrell teaches one section of the freshman Augustine and Culture Seminar, an activity which has helped him to transition back to life in the United States.

“The students are teaching me a lot about the American culture since I’ve been away for four years,” Farrell said.

As he takes in the changes in national culture, Farrell has also been amazed by the transformations Villanova has undergone.

“It’s a much different place than it was 22 years ago when I graduated,” Farrell said. “I have a lot to learn about it.”

Despite the changes at the University and in their own lives, Drennen and Farrell consider the overall character of Villanova to be the same as when they first arrived here, and both are happy they have finally returned home.