No place like ‘Nova for returning priest

Michael Lucarz

Despite spending over two decades away from Villanova, Rev. Joseph Calderone, O.S.A., did not forget much about the University when returned to campus this summer. In fact, his memory probably would not let him forget anything even if he tried.

It is funny how people’s faces can bring back memories you never would have remembered on your own, says Father Joe, as he is affectionately referred to by the Villanova community. It feels good to be back home. Perhaps it is perfectly fitting then, that a man who began his academic career as a Villanova undergrad nearly three decades ago now has the opportunity to give back to the same community that once offered him so much.

There is a tremendous amount of energy here, Father Joe reveals with an exuberant smile as he relaxes in his cozy office at Campus Ministry. “Oftentimes at several of the different schools I’ve been at, it was difficult to involve students. Here, students volunteer for nearly every program,” he said. And while student participation and volunteerism in extracurricular activities are aspects of the Villaova community Father Joe has already noticed, it certainly is not the only thing that has inspired the naval reservist since his return.

After spending eight years at Rollins College in Florida, five at the National Naval Medical Base in Bethesda, Md., and several more at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, Calderone realizes that the opportunities and challenges presented before him on campus will allow him to delve deep into his own experiences and help further the already-secure spiritual foundation of the Villanova community.

“With some 20 retreats offered this year, I want to make sure that I help develop the educational, spiritual and social missions of the school; I want to perpetuate some of the ideas that are most important to me as a teacher,” Father Joe said. And together with Father Hagen and fellow Campus Ministry staff member Kathy Overturf, Calderone hopes to achieve these goals by assisting in any manner possible.

But without question, it is Father Joe’s background as a long time Navy reservist and five-year tenure as civilian priest chaplain at Bethesda that allows Calderone to bring a different perspective to sensitive situations. The merging of his military experience and devotion to the church helps Father Joe assess current global religious conflicts with an unbiased and well-versed viewpoint, a seemingly rare ability especially in the context of modern-day controversy over war. “Today, many feel that religion is the sole cause of conflict,” Calderone said. “That is not the case. People are misinterpreting the religion and in turn instigating conflict.”

He recognizes his experience as a chaplain to be a valuable one, hoping to educate the Villanova community about the complex issues surrounding war. “Some people can be materialistic, some are more philosophical; as a chaplain and officer, I hope to bring balance to both types of people here at Villanova,” Calderone said. This seems to be a fitting self-assessment of a community figure whose work has only begun to be seen this semester. By merging the philosophical values that both aspects of his life encompass, and doing so with a contemporary wit and modern perspective, Father Calderone offers the University a valuable service in each project he participates.

And while his services will enrich the University in the future, he stresses the present as most critical. “Nothing in life is certain,” Father Joe said. “All I want to do here at Villanova is to help people become comfortable with the ambiguities and uncertainties of life.”