In Remembrance of Professor Joseph Colombo
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
I met Dr. Colombo in the spring of my sophomore year. I crept into his office holding a sheet of paper that bore his name and asked if he had a moment to chat with me as his new preceptorial assistant. “You must be Anne-Marie!” his enthusiasm was palpable. “Please, please have a seat.” That’s how he treated everyone. You were an expected guest. You were welcome.
Over the next two years, Colombo and I would develop a sort of partnership, ushering more than 20 new Toreros into their first year. He had an incredible knack for advising — he knew by heart the basic requirements of every major in the catalogue. I can only imagine the relief that knowledge must have brought our first-year students.
Even more impressive was his ability to mentor. I’ll never forget the moment I understood his depth of concern for freshmen. We were wrapping up the first preceptorial meeting, fielding questions about office hours, how to crash a course, and generally easing anxiety. Then, his tone shifted. He shared a rather personal story about his own undergraduate experience, the choices he’d made, and how the consequences had affected his life. “The choices you make now will greatly shape who you become,” he told us all. "Make sure you are becoming the person you want to be."
As the semester gained speed, we met frequently to discuss our plans for the class — food, outings, and study sessions. He was such an intriguing person to get to know. He loved to cook, though he never used a recipe. It was much more fun, he told me, to learn a new dish from a friend. He had a passion for opera, a fascination with pay-per-view wrestling, and a deep love for his family in New York. I wanted to continue the conversation. So, I signed up for his class the next semester, and agreed to be his PA once more.
I cherished the years I spent working with Dr. Colombo. His contagious sense of humor made lectures fascinating. And he was always willing to give more of his time to students — adding weekend office hours, or staying late to give copious feedback on a draft. I had the chance to speak with Rev. Jack E. Lindquist shortly after Colombo’s passing. I was not surprised to hear yet another story of warm generosity.
"Many years ago," Lindquist said, "when I was preparing to teach a course entitled The Reformation Era: 1450-1650, I was struck by a huge, magnificent map of Reformation Europe on a wall in Joe’s office. 'Joe,' I said, 'I’ve got to get that map,' and I planned to order it. Joe said, 'Yes! That map would be fantastic in your class!' Within days I found that map neatly folded in my mailbox with a one-word note, 'Enjoy!'"
Dr. Colombo held an annual dinner party for our preceptorial students. It was such fun to taste his home-cooked meals and recall the events of the semester. His home was filled with unique treasures — fine art, great books, and an incredible music collection. Each item in his home had a story, which he would tell with great enthusiasm. Of course, the best moments were around the table. I’ll never forget his dinnertime prayer, "Lord, let us thank you for the many gifts you have given, and let us share them with others when we get the chance." I remember smiling to myself. That’s how he lived, as a gift to others.