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 J. Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco, Fr. 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,” Fr. 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 Fr. 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, Fr. 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.”
Upon joining the College at the start of the 2012-13 academic year, Fr. 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 1 the College hosted a barbeque dinner in Fr. Illo’s honor. On behalf of the College, Dean Brian T. Kelly presented the chaplain with a gift of St. Thomas’s Commentary on the Pauline Epistles. Fr. Illo then spoke a few words to those gathered. “Thomas Aquinas College is all about truth, but even more obviously for brief sojourners like me, the College manifests beauty,” he said, recalling, “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.” Following the dinner, Fr. Illo lead a procession to the Lourdes Grotto for a May crowning of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“I thank you for affording me a brief stay with you,” Fr. Illo concluded. “I ask your prayers for our fledgling oratory of priests in San Francisco, and assure you of ours.”
“We will certainly keep Fr. Illo and his oratory in our prayers,” says Thomas Aquinas College President Michael F. McLean. “We consider ourselves blessed for his two years of service here, and we are grateful to God and to his diocese for sharing him with us. We pray that the Oratory thrives, and we have no doubt that, under Fr. Illo’s guidance, it will.”