By Callie Ewing, BA '03 MH '22
For more than 15 years, Monsignor Thomas Fucinaro has served as chaplain on the University of Dallas’ Eugene Constantin Campus (affectionately known as Due Santi) just outside of Rome, Italy. However, in May, Pope Francis reassigned him to his home diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, beginning on Feb. 2, 2022, as pastor of the Cathedral of the Risen Christ.
“There is an eloquence and a providential symmetry to my departure at this moment in time, for just as I began my service to the Holy See and initial assistance to UD in my 33rd year, I now leave Rome and UD in my 33rd year of priesthood,” said Fucinaro. “Ad majorem Dei gloriam!”
Ben Gibbs, BA ’15, recent director of student affairs on the Rome campus, said Monsignor Fucinaro has been a “timeless presence” for the UD Rome Program in his tenure as chaplain. “It is hard to imagine the Rome Program without him,” continued Gibbs, who will be taking on a new role in Irving as special assistant to the president. “As chaplain, Monsignor Fucinaro led a central pillar of the Rome campus, the spiritual formation and transformation of students within UD Rome's religious life program, but even beyond that he was a relentless supporter of UD students in every possible way.”
As chaplain, Fucinaro supervised everything from daily Mass and confession to mission trips and walking tours.
“Beyond this, he has a special affinity for working directly with UD students. He is quick to notice a student in need, and even quicker to provide support and assistance,” said Gibbs. “He remembers and speaks fondly of past students years after their time in Rome, and he is never one to forget a face. He also spends an enormous amount of his personal time building community with UD students.”
The students coveted invitations to dinner off campus with Fucinaro, as well as his sommelier expertise for everything from wine tastings to Christmas gifts for their mothers.
Fucinaro serves as UD Rome's chaplain while also holding two other prominent positions in service to the Vatican.
“On November 1, 2007, I took on a new role as director of the Villa Stritch, which is home for diocesan priests from the USA in service to the Holy See in Rome,” he explained. Until February, he plans “to wrap up affairs at the Holy See and at Villa Stritch and, of course, at UD … hopefully ensuring a smooth transition for those succeeding me in these Roman responsibilities.”
Fucinaro first went to Rome to pursue advanced studies in the Canon Law of the Church in 1994. Having completed his licentiate studies, he was called back to service in the Diocese of Lincoln in the summer of 1996.
“Little did I know that I would be sent back to Rome less than six months later, on Jan. 2, 1997, to begin service to the Holy See at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in my 33rd year of life, where I have remained until the present,” he said.
Also in 1997, his assistance at UD’s Due Santi campus began. His dear friend — now Bishop — His Excellency James Conley had newly been appointed chaplain of the campus that spring semester, with Fucinaro gladly assisting him when he could.
Several years later, after Conley and then his successor, Father Mark Bryne, SOLT, had both departed, Bob Galecke, then vice president of the university, called upon Fucinaro to consider prayerfully (“and resolutely”) accepting responsibilities as chaplain.
“In short, I found myself compelled to say ‘yes,’ and hence, I accepted this offer from UD, beginning my duties formally in spring 2006,” recalled Fucinaro. “From this decision, I have never looked back, nor had so much as a second thought, for the goodness and wisdom of this decision was obvious: UD and me, a match made truly in heaven!”
Bob Galecke, retired executive vice president, agrees with the goodness of this match.
“Even with his two — yes, two — full-time jobs at the Vatican, his work as chaplain at Due Santi was never-ending, and he was always there when we needed him,” said Galecke. “His enthusiastic support of the students, faculty and staff was 5-star. His ability to obtain and get access to various religious activities, events in and around the Vatican, for our Romers was amazing. He always did it with a smile and such enthusiasm.”
Galecke and Vice President, Dean and Director of the Rome Campus Peter Hatlie, Ph.D., both noted that Fucinaro always attends graduation in Irving every year.
“He’ll be surrounded by Romers wanting their parents and families to meet Monsignor. He takes all the time necessary with each and every family,” said Galecke. “He has this amazing knack for remembering everybody's names even after they have left UD and started families. He has officiated at so many weddings and baptisms here in the U.S. for UD alums, and never complained about the travels from Rome to be present for these special events.”
Associate Professor of English Andrew Moran, Ph.D., also noted Fucinaro’s dedication to being present for his former Romers: “Approximately two decades of UD Romers can speak about Monsignor Fucinaro's generosity — all the time he's spent in the confessional, all the care he's put into the beauty of the liturgy at Due Santi, all the restaurants he's taken students to after they've served the poor at the soup kitchen of the Missionaries of Charity, all the weddings he's flown to during his vacations back home and said for alumni,” he said. “When he's flown back to the U.S. every May to attend graduation I've always been struck by how he remembers pretty much everyone and by how he keeps up with so many of the thousands of students he's met in Rome. I think he was given a special grace which he has then made the most of. It's already something special to be a dutiful priest who gives of himself so readily to those put in his spiritual care. But Monsignor also seems inspired by pleasure in the company of students and alumni, by delight in them as persons. People sense that and are grateful, and it makes him all the more effective in serving Our Lord.”
Chief of Staff and former assistant dean of the Rome campus Ryan Reedy, BA ’05 MH ’10, agreed: “Monsignor Fucinaro has encouraged hundreds of students to live their faith more deeply and challenged them to put that faith into action. His overwhelming generosity toward students, faculty, and staff will certainly be missed.” The Reedys’ son was baptized by Fucinaro at St. Peter’s in Rome during the seven years the family lived there.
“When I was a Rome student, Monsignor deeply affected my faith, and he did even more so when I came back as an RA,” said former Rome Assistant Vallery (Bergez) Hrbacek, BA ’14. “He is such a good example of how to take our Catholic faith seriously and challenge ourselves daily to grow closer to God, while also remaining joyful and lighthearted when times call for that. Not many priests can give a beautiful and challenging homily AND then be the best wedding guest, but that’s absolutely how Monsignor is. He’ll be missed tremendously by Rome, but Lincoln is ever so lucky!”
Clearly, Fucinaro has also had a profound impact on the faculty and staff with whom he served on the Rome campus.
“It is hard to overestimate his steady, cheerful influence in the Holy City on our students during the semester so many consider a pilgrimage,” said Professor of English Scott Crider, Ph.D. “All the while working at the Vatican, he gave himself to the faculty, staff and student body of Due Santi unflaggingly, defining the spiritual life there. His signature has been a devout yet leavening presence at campus festivities. The man knows how to throw a party — always a communal feast. The Wine and Cheese Party will never be the same! In our time with him, Mrs. Crider and I have deeply appreciated his intelligence, hospitality and generosity. We wish him every luck in Lincoln, Nebraska. UD's loss is their gain.”
Hatlie concurred with Crider: “Monsignor Fucinaro’s gifts are many, including bringing together in one person deep reserves of faith and personal discipline, a model work ethic, and an almost boundless concern for the welfare of those put under his care.
“No one who has met Monsignor Fucinaro during the 16 years in which he has served the UD Rome community will come away unimpressed with his particular form of genius,” he added. “He has faithfully served thousands of people over the years with an almost unique combination of commitment, generosity, exuberance and gusto. His welcoming, ever-shining countenance will also stand out in most people’s memories as a trademark of the very fine and transformative years he passed here.”
Fucinaro likewise cherishes gratitude and appreciation for those with whom he worked.
“I would be at quite at a loss to put together any sort of suitable list of those, even to whom I am principally indebted, but I would be altogether remiss not to call out for their singular support, Mr. Bob Galecke, whom I have already referenced, Dr. Wayne Ambler, founding director of the Rome Due Santi campus, and then, of course, Dr. Peter Hatlie, with whom I have had the most amazing collaboration, extending from the beginning in the spring of 2006, and through to the present, and without whom the spiritual life on campus could never have been so richly sustained and advanced,” he said.
“I could sing the glories of the students and faculty of UD practically without end, and one of my most enjoyable pastimes has been and will be for the rest of my life, looking back with such fond memories at the photos and picture books of now thousands of students who have made their way to Rome and to Due Santi seeking truth and justice,” he concluded. “Without a doubt, this commitment of the entire UD family to this semester abroad has amply proven itself, and continues to show forth its profound goodness again and again!”