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Memorial Tribute
Joseph A. Colombo

died: January 2, 2012

From post in Inside USD (see http://www.sandiego.edu/insideusd/?p=22277)

Ian Gibson ’12 won’t forget his first University of San Diego professor, Joseph Colombo.

“His commitment to USD, and to his students, ran deep,” said Gibson, a transfer student who, in Colombo, had a professor who inspired his intellectual curiosity. “His passion for teaching and learning, especially learning, is what I admired most. He’d nudge students toward the right answers. He always encouraged students to add their voice.”

Gibson noted, too, that Colombo’s commitment to learning didn’t end when class did; rather, it extended beyond the classroom.

“When I’d visit him during office hours, I’d ask a question about something from class and that took five minutes,” Gibson reflected. “From there the conversation turned into an opportunity to talk about life. The conversations I had with him, outside of class, are some of the most formative, impactful times I’ve had at USD.”

Gibson said these words inside USD’s French Parlor in Founders Hall on Feb. 10 during a packed memorial event for Colombo, who passed away suddenly on Jan. 2.

Colombo, at the time of his death, was in his 27th year as a Theology and Religious Studies (T&RS) professor at USD. He had been his department’s chair from 1998 to 2004 and a valued member of the University Senate and Committee on Rank, Reappointment and Tenure for the College of Arts and Sciences. He was active in the American Association of University Professors at the local, state and national levels. Colombo earned a University Professorship award in 1997, the highest honor available to a USD faculty member. He was also a 2006 recipient of the Clarence L. Steber Professorship.

“His abrupt passing leaves a very deep hole,” said International Relations Professor Patrick Drinan who was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences when Colombo was named department chair. “When I think of Joe, I think of three P’s: he was a man of principle, professionalism and pragmatism. … He was a great professor, mentor and friend.”

Colombo taught courses in philosophical theology and more, including Belief and Unbelief, The Problem of God, Jesus of Hollywood, Gay and Lesbian Voices, The English Reformation and Matthew and Mark. Colombo’s impact went far beyond his courses. He was an advocate for creating a welcoming and respectful campus environment for all students, including a strong commitment to gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered students. He helped establish LGBT organizations for undergraduates (SAESO, now PRIDE) and law students (BGLLSA, now PRIDE LAW) at USD.

“Joe was a man of common sense who worked for the common good with uncommon common decency,” said current T&RS Department Chair Father Ron Pachence, the current Theology and Religious Studies department chair. “He was a great mentor to both students and to his colleagues.”

Lance Nelson, another veteran T&RS professor and former department chair, echoed Pachence’s words. He marveled at Colombo’s efforts as a preceptor instructor, helping junior faculty work toward tenure and his department leadership capabilities.

“He was a passionate scholar, a very dedicated mentor and a real professional in our department. He was so organized and efficient as a department chair that he made it look easy,” Nelson said.

Greg Grassi, a 1999 USD graduate in Spanish and Psychology, said Colombo was his Honors Program preceptor. Grassi, assistant director for USD’s Office of International Students and Scholars, said Colombo was “what I imagined a college professor to be: quirky and an over-the-top intellectual. He was a really great professor. He challenged you to really think about what we were being taught in the class. Looking back now, he’s definitely one of the most memorable professors I had as a student.”

Colombo’s vast contributions to USD will be recognized for years to come.

Dean of College of Arts and Sciences, Mary Boyd, announced on Friday the establishment of the Dr. Joseph A. Colombo Memorial Award in Theology and Religious Studies. A monetary award will be given annually to a senior majoring in T&RS and pursuing graduate work in the field. Students must be dedicated to academic excellence, community service and leadership. The annual recipient’s name will be inscribed on a plaque to be displayed prominently in the T&RS department. For those wishing to make a tax-deductible gift for the Colombo Award, please contact Valerie Attisha, College of Arts and Sciences’ director of development via email, vattisha@sandiego.edu or phone, (619) 260-6890.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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