The following comes from a May 13 release issued by Thomas Aquinas College.

After an all-too-brief tenure as Thomas Aquinas College’s Head Chaplain, Rev. Joseph Illo will be departing this summer, with plans to establish a new oratory in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

At the invitation of His Excellency Salvatore Cordileone, archbishop of San Francisco, Father Illo will become one of two priests at the city’s St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Church. “We will pastor a parish, of course, and support its school, and work on other pastoral initiatives as the Archbishop directs us,” Father Illo explains. “But none of our work will be effective if we don’t first ‘devote ourselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers’ (Acts 2).” To that end, the Oratory will “provide secular priests with a community in which to live fraternal charity, in order that they might render authentic priestly service.” As Father Illo observes, “Charity begins at home, but most priests don’t have a home.”

The priestly communal life that he intends to foster in San Francisco, Father Illo says, is modeled after the sort that he experienced over the last two years as a chaplain at the College. “Every day here, the three of us priests, with some students and teachers, pray the morning office together. I can’t describe the joy and energy with which these prayers fill me,” he says. “Never do I love my brothers more than when I am praying with them from the heart. This is what we hope for in the Oratory: a common life of prayer, familiar discourse on the Word of God, and the continual exercise of fraternal charity.”

fr-illo-farewell-07Upon joining the College at the start of the 2012-13 academic year, Father Illo embraced every aspect of campus life. For the last two years he has led hikes in the Los Padres National Forest, accompanied the students on their annual pilgrimage to the Walk for Life West Coast, organized vocations talks on campus, hosted receptions for students, and established a Chaplains’ Newsletter. More important, he has been tireless in promoting the spiritual life of the College, offering Mass at least once a day, spending countless hours in the confessional, and providing spiritual direction to all who request it.

On May 4 the College hosted a barbecue dinner in Father Illo’s honor. On behalf of the College, Dean Brian Kelly presented the chaplain with a gift of St. Thomas’s Commentary on the Pauline Epistles. Father Illo then spoke a few words to those gathered. [See below] Following the dinner, Father Illo lead a procession to the Lourdes Grotto for a May crowning of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


Father Illo’s remarks at the going-away barbecue:

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!

fr-illo-farewell-04Briefly 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.

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