“It is not death, it is dying that alarms me.” Most of us can sympathize with those words of the philosopher Montaigne, but they were foreign to Paul Locatelli. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in mid-May, he spent the remaining two months of his life aware of his impending demise and he accepted it. On more than one occasion, he quietly repeated to those keeping watch around his hospital bed Jesus’ words to his disciples at the Last Supper: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
“I am at peace,” Paul Locatelli assured us in the midst of struggle, “and I am not afraid of dying.”
What, I ask myself, accounts for such serenity as life moves toward its end? If anyone typified the socalled Type A personality, it was Paul Locatelli, S.J. I recall sitting next to him during the ’60s when, as Jesuit seminarians, we studied philosophy together. Piqued by a professor’s hohum performance, he not infrequently passed hastily scribbled notes to me in the midst of a lecture on Kant or Camus that proclaimed, in effect, “This is boring. Let’s get out of here!” Decades later, when, as president of Santa Clara, he found himself in charge, no one was more eager than he to cut discussion short at a meeting and push for a speedy resolution. The impulse to take charge manifested itself even in the last month of his life when, from his hospital bed, Paul issued directives about his funeral.
If commitment to a venture greater than oneself makes for a happy life, Paul found his cause in Santa Clara University. He spent 40 of his 71 years at the place, arriving as a student in 1956, returning as a Jesuit and professor of accounting in 1974, and then quickly moving up the administrative ladder as assistant dean of the business school, academic vice president, president, and chancellor. His competitive spirit impelled him to raise the national profile of his alma mater by pushing to lift academic performance and to finding ways to establish Santa Clara’s uniqueness in American higher education. The University’s three centers of distinction, for example, testify to that effort. A highly effective fundraiser, he channeled revenues to increasing the University’s endowment, and he resolved early on in his presidency not to erect buildings until they could be paid for. Santa Clara was fortunate, it has often occurred to me, to have had a president with a doctorate in accounting, especially during a time of economic recession.
But Paul’s world stretched far beyond the Mission gardens. As a post-Vatican II Catholic, he eagerly embraced the Church’s call to action on behalf of the world’s have-nots. When the Society of Jesus challenged members of the Ignatian family to demonstrate their religious faith by caring for the marginalized, Paul joined the charge. Justice and solidarity became his passions. “We cannot be an ivory tower,” he insisted. Thus the institution became known for its commitment to the three C’s (competence, conscience, and compassion), concepts adapted from a talk given by the Jesuit superior general, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, that became the driving force of his presidency and a significant expansion of Santa Clara’s educational mission.
When Paul Locatelli prepared to resign the presidency of the University, the Board of Trustees appointed a committee to search for a successor. We spent hours talking to folks from the various constituencies of the University about what they sought in a new president. While many of the desired qualities were predictable, one surprised me: People sought not merely an able administrator but a good pastor. I had not fully realized the extent of Paul’s ministerial engagement as president—witnessing marriages, baptizing babies, visiting the sick, counseling people in difficulty. “I am president,” he used to say, “but I’m a priest first.” That may explain a comment by a local journalist two days before Paul died. “You couldn’t measure the support Locatelli has provided the entire Silicon Valley region over the years,” Sal Pizarro wrote, “and you probably couldn’t count the number of people pulling for him now.”
As his illness advanced, Paul found he could no longer accommodate the host of visitors who sought to see him. But he took great consolation in the hundreds of messages that poured in from friends around the world. When he no longer had the energy to examine the cards and letters, he asked me to read them to him. “People are so great,” he would whisper in gratitude. Indeed they are. When a memorial Mass was celebrated in the Mission on the morning of his death, the church was thronged with folks come to pray for him. And on the evening of July 16, the Mission gardens overflowed with people come to his funeral Mass. If his example taught me anything it was that the capacity to be enriched by loving others is a trait that trumps all others in creating a successful and contented life.
Reconciliation with God and with one’s fellows does not guarantee a happy death, but it helps. One of the more difficult decisions Paul and the trustees had to make during his presidency was to terminate football. I was working in Washington, D.C., in early 1993, when he came to town for a meeting and mentioned that he would announce the end of the sport when he returned to California a few days later. He realized the decision would not be well-received in all quarters, but he did not anticipate the personal pain it would cause him in the years ahead. And yet, as he lay dying, he received notes from some of those who had opposed the decision. One evening, when he was too weak to peruse his mail, I read him a card from an alumnus who warmly thanked him for all he had done for the University. When I looked up, Paul’s eyes were brimming with tears. The note had been penned by an alumnus who had opposed the football decision and now signed himself, “your brother in Christ.” Even as he exited life, Paul Locatelli was carried along on a river of love.
Ultimately, a life finished peacefully is a divine gift. A wise Jesuit once told me, belief is not belief until you exercise reliance upon God—until, like Peter, you walk on water and do what you cannot do. In the end, Paul learned to walk on water by courageously handing himself over to his Creator in total trust. Although puzzled that his life was ending so soon, he never complained. Instead, he said softly toward the end, “It’s all a gift.” He had done his best, he was sorry if he had hurt anyone, and he looked forward to what lay mysteriously ahead. He was a believer, and as a trusting Christian, he found comfort in St. Paul’s words: “Eye has not seen, ear not heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Gerald McKevitt, S.J., is the Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J. University Professor of History.
Remembering Fess Parker
By William Rewak, S.J.
|His legendary role: Fess Parker, right, as Davy Crockett, with Fr. Walter Schmidt
Photo: SCU Archives
Under a bright blue Santa Barbara sky on a March afternoon, with soft ocean waves rolling in on the beach, actor Fess Parker was memorialized in a wide, colorful rotunda in his signature hotel, The Fess Parker Doubletree Resort. Movie stars, real estate agents, city council members, winemakers, friends, and a handful of nuns joined the family in remembering and honoring a man who was obviously loved and respected. He had died just a week before, on March 18.
One city councilman recalled their frequent, loud, and public disagreements about land development but said they always remained good friends because, along with being stubborn, Fess was deeply honest and wanted the best for the community.
Everyone spoke of his generosity. He was a benefactor for many causes, but his philanthropy was distinguished by his personal commitment of time. He paid attention to people, he gave them his own days, he shared with them who he was.
Sometime in the 1980s, we were searching for a place in Santa Barbara to hold a Santa Clara alumni reunion and fundraiser. Fess had offered to host an event if ever we needed it; when asked, Fess agreed without hesitation to a Sunday afternoon at his home overlooking the ocean. Of course, a host of invitees showed up! Fess stayed around for the entire afternoon, greeting guests and showing an interest in everyone. After the event was over, his beautiful wife, Marcie, presented the Santa Clara contingent with a meal that, for me, has hardly been surpassed.
They were a loving couple and always traveled together to the Golden Circle. For so many years, Fess was an incomparable master of ceremonies: He knew how to play to the audience. On one occasion, especially, he had to ad lib quickly. Telling a joke, he held the microphone away from his mouth as he laughed and dropped it; he bent over to pick it up and there was an audible rip. He stood up, red-faced, and indicated that the seat of his trousers needed an adjustment. He then walked backward off the stage—to the delighted applause of the audience.
The Fess Parker Studio Theatre stands as a testament to Fess’ commitment to Santa Clara. The Board of Fellows, of which Fess was a member, had early on decided that the proceeds from the Golden Circle Theatre Party would go toward the building of a new theatre, and every year that event contributed a sizable amount of money to the project. Ray Rosendin on SCU’s Board of Fellows, along with Walter Schmidt, S.J., who served as SCU’s vice president for University Relations, encouraged Fess to take a visible role in the annual production. It was largely because of Fess’ commitment that the event became as successful as it was.
The theatre project, which received a large grant from the Mayer Foundation, was named after Louis B. Mayer; in recognition of the signal work of the Board of Fellows, and of Fess’ personal contribution of time and talent, the small experimental theatre was named after Fess. The theatre opened in 1975 to gratifying acclaim.
Fess’ loyalty was always obvious, but that loyalty was not simply to an institution; he had enjoyed the companionship of the Fellows, he was fond of the then-president, Thomas Terry, S.J., and he had cherished his friendship with Fr. Schmidt. When Fr. Schmidt died, Fess was there in the front row in the Mission Church for the funeral. Fess Parker was a gentleman who honored his commitments.
William Rewak, S.J., served as president of Santa Clara University 1976–1988.
|The Valley Now and Then: the iconic mural by Gerald Sullivan, S.J.
Gerald P. Sullivan, S.J., died on Saturday, May 15, after a long illness. Born in Sacramento in 1931, Gerry entered the Society of Jesus in 1949; he was a Jesuit for 60 years, a priest for 41. He lectured in SCU’s Department of Religious Studies 1967–68 and, after receiving his MFA, returned to Santa Clara University as a member of the art and art history department. He served as department chair, 1974–80, and retired as senior lecturer in 2009. Gerry worked in a variety of media, including oil, acrylic, and watercolor. He exhibited his work in a number of individual and group shows at the de Saisset Museum, the Triton Museum, and other venues. Among his work is the 8-by-24-foot acrylic on canvas mural, The Valley Now and Then, depicting the history of the Santa Clara Valley. Commissioned by the Irvine Foundation in 1996, it now hangs in the University library. He also designed and executed the ceramic decorations for the St. Clare Chapel and Mausoleum at Santa Clara Mission Cemetery.
Abby Sobrato ’83 died on May 27 after an eight-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 49 years old. The president of the Walden West Foundation, which supports the Walden West Science Center, she was actively involved in philanthropy and served as a member of the SCU Board of Regents and on the Alumni National Board, as well as on advisory boards for the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, and the de Saisset Museum. She was the wife of John M. Sobrato ’83, mother of John A. Sobrato ’10 and Jeff M. Sobrato ’11, and daughter-in-law of John M. Sobrato ’60.