The firwsrt time I met Fr. Joseph Fessio was abut 1976.
There was a debate at USF on the pro-life issues. A Rabbi who worked with the students at SFStatre University and a Professor were arguing the anti=life position. During thre QandA part for the listreners A young Jesuiet I had seen around thre campus got up to make a statement. My heart sank because he was the perfect image of the rebellious youth of th post-conciliar period.
He never wore clericcccccals, but dressed in denim pants and workshirt. He had a cross hanging from his neck and a beard (?). The perreft hippie young Jesuit of the timer/
Tp ,y surrised delight, however, he gave a very rwell reasoned and exdpressed defense of thre Life issue. S a mattrr of fact it was so well reasoned that it won thr fday for the pro=life effort.
Afterwards I asked Dr. Dennehy, of thre P:hilosophy department, who the young Jesuit was. He told me his name and also said that we had to support him bcause he hadf great ppotential. He added that Fr. Fessio thought he could walk through walls — a gross understatement.
I found out that Fr. Fessio had received his doctorate in Theololgy at Regensburg under Professor Ratzinger. He had studied the theology of Urs Von Baltazar and had studied with some of the finest scholars of the time in France.
He also had a great time in his student years. Hiking around Europe to the various shrines and driving to thre Holy land with six others in a Volkswagern Bug.
The young Father soon saw the drift taking place among his fellow Jesuits and, in an effort of slow the disastrer down quickly became, externally, the most conservative Jesuit at USF. For example, when all the other Jesuits forsook the Cassock made famous be all the heroic Jesuits — Fr. Fessio began to wear the cssock and stubbornly kept it for may years. At one point he may have been the only Jesuit in the world , apparentl, who clung to the traditional garb. I remember years later when he was on a tour of the Holy Land how some young Jesuits immediately knew who he was bercause he was wearing the cassock.
He has a very important characteristic of great loyalty. When he starts along a path or project he is relentless in its pursuit. It is a very important feature of his work for the Church.
Fr. Fessio qickly became a bulwark and refuge for people who could see some of our religious ordrs careenenin wildly to destruction
The years around 1975 were very interesting at USF. The Jesuits were occupied in attempting to work with the new concepts of University President; Up to then the schools were simply a part of the work of the order and the superiors were appointed by the Jesuit Provincial and his advisors; and then for various reasons they were put in the hands of trustees who were both laypeople as well as Jesuits. They could determine the direction of the University. Many young Jesuits and lay faculty were hoping to form a University loyal to the Church and so excellent that it demanded respect in the Academic World.
Fr. Fessio has a gift of making friends. And a group of faculty had the custom of attending his Mass at noon. It usually was celebrated in the chapel of the old St. Ignatius high school on Stanyan Street. After Mass we would have lunch together and discuss various problems and plans. The general intention was to ask The Lord what He wanted from the Univesity. Eventually the group that included myself , Edward Buel, a Geologist, Doctor Dennehy and a few others, decided that we should develop a frankly Catholic community in the University Fr. Fessio was willing to begin simply and ask for a floor in the dorms where Catholic Students interested in the Faith cold come to gether.
Dr. Dennehy, however insisted that it be an academic grou[ that would strive for academic excellence. Finally a version of e Great Books Program was considered.
Father Fessio sat down and one weekend constructed a curriculum that allowed a student of any Major to be a part of this academic group ; all their other requirements would be satisfied by a seminar study. The first years was to concentrate on Latin and the teachings of the Latin Fathers. The second year on the Greek fathers; the third year on the renaissance period and the final year on the modern world.
We thought it a fascinating idea. At each level of our cultural heritage the student would learn by studying the actual works of the scholars of the period.
. We were enthusiastic. He discussed it with some of his academic friends then presented it to the Jesuit Officials. They were very much distracted by the new problems, but they gave him permission to go ahead.
As I remember, that is when Father’s genius as a salesman came to light. Just before Christmas Break he visited every Catholic High School in California and at each asked to speak to their best students who were graduating.
Fr. Fessio has the capacity to make everything a great adventure. It is apart of his nature. Thus he persuaded 60 students to become the first class of St. Ignatius Institute.
The firsrt class bregan September of 1976. GAil Filice wws the first Secreastary of te Institute.
The olrganizational meeting had Fr. Fessio present as well as Dr/ Genolio a brilliant physics teacher at USF; Dr. Quinn, Professor and chairman of the department UC Berkley; Father Maloney, who had been Provincial in charge of studies and a number of others.
The Academic year for the Institute began with a retreat in Los Gatos at a retreat center run by Presentation Sisters
To continue my notes about memories of Fr.Fessio: the St. Ignatius Institute proved to be a very wonderful addition teo USF and a great beacon for Catholic hgher education during difficul times..
The students were uniformly excellent and the staff was not only good but thr morale was high. Some of the people whose names I can remember who were involved: : John Galten, Gail Filice (now Aala), John Hamlin, Karen Summerhays ( now Clem). Some of the
uniformly superior teachers were Father Maloney once Provincial for Studies, Father Charles Dullea , who had been President of the University. and Provincial of the Jesuits; Professor Raymond Dennehy specialist in Scholastic Philosophy, Professor . Art Quinn Founding Chairman of the Department of Rhetoric at U.CF Berkley, Professor Raymond Genolio . world renowned in Quantum Mechnics , Professor . Summerhays in Organic Cemistry, Professor Erasmo Laeva. brilliant in Classical studies.
Fr. Fessio has that gift of making good friends. A really endearing feature is that if he becomes your friend you can do no wrong. He not only overlooks your mistakes but he will defend you. Thu the people who worked with him at the Instiutute were very loyal. They were also very finest scholars. For example: because of his relationship with his Professor Cardinal Ratzinger he was acquainted with the eminent scholars of the Church. Fr. Louis Bouyer, the French Oratorian, taught at te Insititu for many years.
As a result, the students had a very superior education
However Fr. Fessio had other dreams.
Having taken his doctorate in the work of Hans Urs von Baltasr, he was appalled that so few really important theological writings were available in English. It is logical that theological works do not attract a wider audience because of the intensity of the works; and the writings of Baltasar were no exception..
When he returned from his Europ[aen studies, Father Fessio had ther ambition of making the writings of von Baltasar available in English.
When ther Institute was underway and functioning well, Father turned his attention to publishing.
Professor Buel and I and a few other professors had formed a non-profit educational corporation with the intention of developing summer sessions for students abroad ,especially in the Holy Land. Today almost every US University has oversea study years, but then the idea was new. As it turned out the project did not bear fruit. Fr. Fessio took over the corporation to be the holding company for the press poject. He personally. having taken the vow of poverty, has no legal ties to the Guadalupe Associats, but the organization is the financial backer of his work.
Fr. Fessio is very astute and since he startd with no funds and wanted to publish books of small interest would ask a friend to underwite the publication of a particular work.When he had thre fundfs to put out a book he would publish it. as far as I know Fr. Fessio has never borrowed money but always pubished a book already paid for.
In this way he had von Baltasars works translated in to English and published. Father reads every book submitted to ther Press has become the premier Catholic Press in English and famous for publishing excellent religious works. Today the St. Ignatius Press not only publishes books but also news magazines and makes use of the Internet.
The staff of the Press has always remaind small and dedicated. Some of the names that I remember are: Carolyn Lemon, Eva Montean Roxanne Lum, Glen Dudro, Tony Ryan, Mr. Brumly.
Father himself worked out the computer system used by the press with the aid of Steve Canino, who was a real computer nerd (genius).
The various projects that have come fromhis work are too numerous to describe here. However I want to say that being assocviated with Father Ferssio has been one of the blessing of my life He is a Jesuit in the mould of the great Jesuits I have known like Father Stern,FaterLLorente and others too numerous to menion,