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An Interview with Father Joe Rodrigues SDS

Father Joe: Before we start this interview, I would like to establish a context. I grew up desiring and searching to become a type of renaissance man with a meaningful life. Essentially, “a jack of all trades and master of none.” I did not know where it would lead and so the quest began…

Gordon: When did you attend Boston College and what did you study?


Father Joe: I began at Boston College in 1974. My plan was to become a lawyer. I chose to first major in Business Administration and Marketing and upon graduation, I would then apply to enter directly into Boston College Law School. After my first year, I was invited into the Business Honors program. I was flattered, but I started to realize that this was not the path for me. I made quite a dramatic switch to study English Literature and Communications in my second year. It seemed more stimulating to me.  I then applied for their exchange program with the University of San Francisco. Both are Jesuit institutions who collaborate together. It was only supposed to be for one semester, but it was such an impactful experience, I chose to remain for the next two years and graduate with a B.A. in Communications. I felt fortunate to have had two years of study on the East coast and two years on the West coast. Two very distinct environments with opportunities that proved to be very enriching and meaningful for me.


Gordon:  When did you attend Theological Union Berkeley California and what is one of your favorite memories when you were there? Any favorite professors?


Father Joe: I need to give you a little background information first. I was gainfully employed as an Advertising Executive in California for a few years and had participated in a lot of volunteer work ranging from assisting the homeless in the city, the Big Brother Association, Religious Education for Developmentally Disabled (SPRED), Campus ministry, and fundraising, to name a few. As my career and life developed nicely, I also had some very profound spiritual experiences that became transforming, particularly regarding my life’s purpose. The meaning question continued to become foremost in my mind and heart.  I had never seen myself as a professed religious and priest, but the pull became so strong that I was compelled to at least try it and see. Is this what I was truly called to be and do. I was already 32 years old and decided to give myself a year to see. That year unfolded into 37 years, so far. It has been truly meaningful, to say the least.


As part of my formation in the Society of the Divine Savior, Salvatorians, I was sent for studies in 1989 to the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California to receive a Master of Divinity degree (MDiv). It turned out to be an extraordinary adventure on all levels. It was not your typical seminary experience. One of the aspects I most appreciated was not just learning from the excellent professors from the various schools on the hill, but from the students participating in the various classes. The diversity of faith, the thinking, the questions, and the perspective of men and women, religious and laity together in this context was challenging, stimulating, and eye-opening. It profoundly impacted my understanding of pastoral ministry. There were so many inspiring professors that I could list, but I will give a shout out to the late Fr. Kenan Osborne OFM. What a mind, heart, and soul! I will always be grateful for his poignant theological and pastoral insights.


Gordon: When did you serve at the Diocese of Tucson, what was your position, and what were you primary responsibilities?


Father Joe: From 2004 to 2009, I was asked to be a member of our, Salvatorian Family sponsored apostolate, the Jordan Ministry Team, who work in collaboration with the Diocese of Tucson. Our team consisted of a priest, sister, and lay persons. There were numerous services provided by the Team, but the focus was on Spiritual and Educational Formation. We would travel throughout the Diocese of Tucson, (about 43,000 square miles) and provided workshops, presentations, mission talks, retreats, and religious education classes for various groups of all ages. We also helped to develop and implement the Diocesan-wide Diaconate and Lay Ecclesial Leadership formation program. In addition, I initiated a music ministry, that also assisted in fundraisers for parishes and organizations. Also, as a spiritual director for individuals and organizations, I was able to help develop and encourage lay leadership in new outreach ministries, i.e. for grieving parents and for young adults in recovery.


Throughout this time, I was assisting at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Tucson with various sacramental and parish responsibilities, as an unofficial associate. Needless to say, I am grateful I had the energy to manage all my various ministries in Tucson. It was a desert experience that flourished beautifully for me. And yes, brought profound meaning and purpose to my life and hopefully to others.


Gordon: When and where did you serve as Vocation Director and what were you primary responsibilities?


Father Joe: Around 2009, I  was asked to become the Vocation Director for our USA province that is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Regarding vocations, it was not an easy time especially for lesser known religious communities like ours, but within a few years we had 20 men in formation. Other vocation directors sought our advice because of it. Grace happens and yet we needed to do our part. We developed new approaches and we also chose to have a married layman be my associate director. The combination and chemistry was very effective. It also represented our Salvatorian value of collaboration and cultivation of lay leadership.


It was a privilege to accompany younger and older men who were discerning their call. My approach was that we were to assist men to discern as to where God was calling them. We were not there to convince them to become a Salvatorian, but to help them discern God’s will, be it with us or elsewhere. I believe my own spiritual journey helped me to better understand the challenge and process these men were dealing with, given our times.


Gordon: Please tell us about the CD music recordings that you made.


Father Joe: Yes, grace happens. When I was ministering in Milwaukee, a neighbor approached me and said, “Someone told me that you sing.” And I said, “Well, I enjoy singing.” “Is it okay for a Catholic priest to sing in a Lutheran Church? She asked.  I smiled, “If they are invited.” She said, “Well?” I was taken aback and we spoke at length. She was the music director of a neighboring Lutheran Church. I ultimately said yes and I sang at one of their services.


During the sermon, the pastor stopped and said, “I am sorry, but I am so distracted. I need to say, that I never imagined that a Catholic priest would ever sing at one of my services, let alone get applause from my congregation.” They all laughed and applauded some more.

When it came time for the annual ecumenical service in Milwaukee, he happened to be the host. I was invited to be the soloist with the various choirs gathered together. It was an honor. After the service, a woman came up to me and said, “Father, where can I buy your album?” I laughed. “I am flattered, but I do not have an album.” The music director turned to me and asked, “Well? Are you ready to record?” I was taken aback. “Uh, uh, if the proceeds can go to our missions, I would be happy to do it.”  We recorded an album in their Church. I thought it was my first and last one. I never imagined it would lead to an international music ministry that also provided funding for our missions. I have now recorded five albums in the meantime. Yup, grace happens.


Gordon: When were you appointed General Consultor Society of the Divine Savior-The Salvatorians? What are your primary responsibilities, and what do you enjoy most about your service?


Father Joe: I was elected Provincial of the USA province in 2012 for 6 years and when my term was over, I went to our International General Chapter and was then elected as First Consultor of International Generalate for 6 years. This election brought me to Rome to live and work at our Motherhouse – the international center of the Society of the Divine Savior, Salvatorians. This role involves various responsibilities related to governance, admimistration, and consultation, yet it is also very pastoral, synodal, and formative on an international level. Since our members are ministering in 45 countries in 6 continents, it requires a significant amount of travel and visitations to observe, assess and evaluate the needs and progress of our Salvatorian apostolates and missions in the world. We also work in collaboration with our Salvatorian Family who consist of priests, brothers, sisters, and lay persons internationally. This role requires openness and listening skills for dialogue and understanding given the diverse cultures, mindsets, and languages.


Gordon: Please share with our readers an overview of The Salvatorians and there mission.


Father Joe: Our mission is to make the Divine Savior’s love known to all people, everywhere. We are to proclaim the Gospel in a contemporary manner in dialogue with each culture using all ways and means inspired by the love of the Savior. Our founder believed that all baptized are called to be apostles and we are to evangelize together through whatever vocation we are called to live, be it as religious or lay, men and women alike. Our Salvatorian Family strives together to help carry out this apostolic mission.


Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.

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