By Rev. Joseph Illo
Note: Fr. Illo delivered the following remarks at a going-away barbecue held in his honor on May 4, 2014.
Thank you for coming to say goodbye to someone who was with you only briefly. It’s a good reason to have a barbecue — many thanks to the cooks!
Briefly indeed — I hardly got to know you, but what I did get to know has been with a Tolkienesque affection and reverence. I feel like Bilbo at his eleventy-first birthday speech, but I won’t repeat his cryptically ambivalent modalism on that occasion (something about not knowing half of you half as much as I’d want). It’s been brief — I had intended to be at TAC for three years, but Archbishop Cordileone asked if we could get moving on the San Francisco Oratory this year. “Are you bound by contract with TAC?” he asked me last year. “Just bound by fraternal charity,” I told him, “and there’s lots of that here in Santa Paula.”
In fact, I discovered “love” right away at TAC. I had interviewed with several other Catholic colleges, all of whom offered me chaplaincies, but only TAC offered me a job with these words: “We love you father, and we hope you will take this position.” So devastatingly disarming — you might guess that our esteemed Dean uttered those words, so characteristic of our beloved Dr. Kelly.
My Dad was a college professor, and I’ve always wanted to be a college professor. I was on my way to becoming one when I sensed a call to the priesthood, so I switched from literature to theology. But these two years have been a kind of dreamy sabbatical between parish assignments, at least living with college professors and strolling through breezy quadrangles between classes.
Thomas Aquinas College is all about truth, but even more obviously for brief sojourners like me, the College manifests beauty. The afternoon sun on Santa Paula Ridge, for example; the morning sun that first touches the Topatopa bluffs; young voices ringing out the glory of God in a perfectly proportioned chapel; students sprawled under spreading oak trees with Plato and Aquinas, or playing soccer on broad green swards; spirited Shakespeare plays and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas somehow rehearsed to near-perfection alongside ambitious academic loads.
I hope the San Francisco Oratory will be counted among TAC’s many friends and supporters for years to come. I hope we can send students to you, and you can send an occasional “discerning young man” to us (if he can escape the titanic forces emanating from TAC’s lovely females). Much good work has already been accomplished at the future Oratory parish in San Francisco: a healthy elementary school and the Latin Mass every day. It is close to a few universities, and Archbishop Cordileone has indicated we put particular energy into youth and young adults, as is consistent with the charism of St. Philip Neri. I thank you for affording me a brief stay with you; I ask your prayers for our fledgling Oratory of priests in San Francisco, and assure you of ours.