Augustinians of Villanova: Father Arthur Purcaro


Courtesy of Olivia Sabalaskey

Fr. Art serves as the Assistant Vice President for Mission and Ministry.

Olivia Sabalaskey, Staff Writer

“As Augustinians, we try to build community,” Father Arthur Purcaro, O.S.A., said. “This world has become very individualistic. Every person is in it for themselves. Instead, we must be there for one another, particularly when another is sick or in need of company. We are called to build relationships in God’s name, particularly with those who may not like us or those who don’t have the advantages we have. That is true solidarity.” 

This week, Fr. Art offers Villanovans a glimpse into the Order of St. Augustine at Villanova University in the Augustinians of Villanova Column. 

From a very young age, Fr. Art felt that he was called to serve, not only God, but the larger community, as well. His father, a humble New York City policeman, was an inspirational figure throughout his life, particularly when Fr. Art was just nine years old. 

“One Christmas morning, my siblings and I came home from Mass, eager to eat my dad’s famous pancakes and open our gifts,” Fr. Art said. “To our surprise, my dad told us to get our coats, and that we were going to share our gifts with the local orphanage. He told us that, while we got gifts for Christmas, we had the opportunity to share what God had shared with us with others who didn’t have anyone to share with. I’ve never forgotten that.”

Determined to pursue God’s calling, Fr. Art attended a minor seminary and was ordained a priest later, after years of study and prayer. Novitiate, Chicago’s Province of the Augustinians, decided to open up a mission in Chulucanas, Peru. 

“They were looking for Augustinian volunteers,” Fr. Art said. “After my junior year here at Villanova, I volunteered. I knew nothing about Peru and I had never gone before, but I was so eager to go.”

In 1975, Fr. Art traveled to Northern Peru, where about 85% of the population was illiterate, due to the lack of schools. Fr. Art joined missionary priests and nuns from 13 different countries to train health and educational representatives among 85,000 Peruvians. While some missionaries worked primarily in the Andes Mountains, Fr. Art first worked in the larger desert region alongside his beloved friend and Servant of God, Father John McKniff, O.S.A. 

“Although it took over 30 years, we built a parish from scratch and got electricity for a hospital in the major town of the diocese,” Fr. Art said. “This region of Peru is an entirely different reality compared to the United States where people live at a subsistence level. However, rather than resent how we were more privileged than them, we were grateful and shared everything we could.”

Fr. Art, Fr. John and other missionaries’ primary concern was to help the Peruvians live a full life. Despite their religious focus, the missionaries also sought to enhance Northern Peru’s education and healthcare. For example, they taught one representative from each village how to treat and prevent disease. Also, the missionaries taught village representatives how to read and write so that every Sunday they could celebrate Mass and serve as catechetics for Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation and more. 

“When I left in 2015, there were 44 Diocesan Peruvian priests,” Fr. Art said. “We even started a seminary over there. Last I checked, there were about 25 Augustinian Peruvian priests.”

Fr. Art worked in Peru from 1975 until 2015, except from 1995 to 2007, during which he served as Assistant General in the central government of the Order of St Augustine in Rome. Despite having to travel frequently to Latin America, Asia, Africa and Northern America, Fr. Art continued to support the Augustinian mission in Peru from afar. 

The United Nations now reports that all village members are registered as literate, a true testament to the missionaries’ fifty years of hard work.  According to Fr. Art, helping one another and building community is the Augustinian way of life. 

“God is community built on relationships and harmony,” Fr. Art said. “Undeniably, everyone is different. However, it’s not about uniformity, it’s about unity. One of the topics I get into with students during class is Toxic Charity, or service we do for, not with. True Augustinian community is doing acts of service with others. By sharing with one another, we are all enriched.”

Fr. Art serves as the Assistant Vice President for Mission and Ministry, and is an adjunct professor in Theology and Religious Studies. Specifically, Fr. Art teaches THL: 4100-100 Justice & Sustainability and THL: 5003-001 Liberation Theology.  

In the classroom, Fr. Art’s passion for sustainability and building community is infectious. 

“Fr. Art is one of the most profound professors I have ever had at Villanova,” one of Fr. Art’s senior students said. “He brings much life experience and wisdom to the table, which he uses to facilitate meaningful dialogue between students. He doesn’t tell, he asks. He doesn’t declare, he questions. This creates an environment where students develop their own perspective and become more open to those of others.” 

Outside of the classroom, one can find Fr. Art in Corr Chapel, admiring the stained glass windows. Given his many years of close friendship with Fr. John and Servant of God Father Bill Atkinson, O.S.A., Fr. Art finds joy and solace sitting among the pews in prayer or during daily 12:05 mass.

“It feels good to be in Corr Chapel because I’m surrounded by my family,” Fr. Art said. “I’ve known both Fr. John and Fr. Bill deeply. Like them, every one of us is called to be a saint. Sainthood is truly caring for one another. As Augustinians, that is what we try to instill and live as much as possible here at Villanova.”