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Seattle University

All Things Jesuit

Catching up with Joe Orlando

September 13, 2011

Assistant Vice President for Mission and Ministry Joe Orlando is back at SU, recharged, ready to go and even more convinced that Jesuit education is at its best when it’s global. Orlando, his wife Carla and twin 12-year-old daughters spent last year in Italy, where Joe and Carla did campus ministry work for Gonzaga University’s study abroad program in Florence. The opportunity was presented by Pat Burke, dean of the program who previously worked with the Orlandos at SU. Father Burke wanted to create a more pastoral presence for the Florence program which enrolls about 150 students. With SU’s blessing, Joe took a leave of absence from the university, and he and Carla provided retreats and service experiences, coordinated liturgy planning, did music ministry and collaborated with Jesuit who traveled from Rome to say Mass on Sundays.  At the request of The Commons, Joe recently sat down to explain why he went to Florence, what he got out of the experience and what it was like to relocate his family for the year. 

The Commons: So, why did you do this? 

Joe Orlando: After 20 years working here, it was really a good time to take a leave from SU. I needed to refresh myself professionally and personally and then come back with renewed creative energy. That was my aspiration going into it. I’m very grateful Peter Ely (vice president for Mission and Ministry) and Father Sundborg (president) and Jen Tilghman-Havens and my colleagues in Mission and Ministry who stepped up and said, “We can support you in this unique moment.” 

The Commons: And were your aspirations realized? 

   
Carla and Joe Orlando, with their daughters (left to right) Sophia and Josephine, as they make their way back home after a yearlong adventure in Florence, Italy. 

Joe Orlando: Yes. I feel excited to be back. I feel like I’ve learned a great deal. It was very important culturally for me to connect with my heritage—I’m half Italian. I had studied in Florence as an undergraduate and that was a very significant point in my academic career, so it actually meant a lot to be working with students at the exact point in their career that I now look back and say, “That was a pivot point for me in looking a the world in a different way—thinking about language, culture and the global community.” Now (in Florence), I was able to work with students as a campus minister in such a way that I could accompany them on their own journeys. It was really a beautiful full circle. 

It also strengthened my passion for the global dimension of Jesuit higher education. I met with the interim secretary for Jesuit higher education who is located in Rome and had the chance to learn more about what’s going on globally for Jesuit institutions in all the different countries around the world. I also did some research around that topic and became more interested in that. So at a time when SU is making a stronger commitment to global engagement, I have become even more energized and invested in that aspect of our trajectory as an institution.   

The Commons: You originally came to SU as a campus minister, and over time your work has put you more in contact with faculty and staff. In working with students in the Florence program, it seems you were getting back to your roots, in a sense. 

Joe Orlando: Yes. I really enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with students in an important way. I love working with faculty and staff, but this was a way to have a lot of contact with students at an important time in their lives and that was renewing, too. 

The Commons: What was it like for your family to spend a year in a different country? 

Joe Orlando: It was a really special experience for me, my wife Carla and our twin 12-year-old daughters. I feel like it gave us a chance to become closer as a family and to share in having our lives enriched. We saw a great deal of art and architecture and sculpture and heard a lot of music and really got a sense of the tastes of Italy. We were all in this little adventure together, which was unifying. Here (in Seattle) our circles are expanded—which is healthy—but for this year in Italy it was special to get a chance to walk in and see something significant together.  

The Commons: You didn’t get sick of each other? 

Joe Orlando: Well…we came close. (Laughs) Let’s just say the girls are really looking forward to being back with their peers. We home-schooled them (in Italy) so they’re happy to back at school with their friends. 

The Commons:  After spending a year in Florence and, as you said, connecting with your Italian heritage, do you find that you’re now talking with your hands a lot more? 

Joe Orlando:(Laughs—and throws up his hands) Totally!