March 14, 2017
By Jocelyn Cano
The year was 1967. Chicago was trapped under 23 inches of snow, U.S. troops began the largest offensive combat of the Vietnam War and the USSR performed a nuclear test in Eastern Kazakhstan. History was being made throughout the nation. But, what many didn’t know is that Dominican, then Rosary College, was making its own little slice of history. In 1967, Richard Calabrese taught his first class in Rosary College, after deciding to turn down offers from other institutions such as Loyola University.
Fifty years later, Calabrese still sits in his office chair in the Fine Arts Building with his knee crossed and hands folded on his lap. His office doesn’t look the same as it once did. It’s almost bare, as if it has been stripped of its identity in the past couple of years.
After giving Dominican 50 years of service, Calabrese will lead the graduation procession in his faded purple robe for one last time.
“I announced two years ago that I was retiring,” Calabrese said. “I purposely did that because I knew it was going to take me a long time to grieve and to get used to that.”
Having taught Interpersonal Communication for years, Calabrese has guided students on how to deal with emotions and stressful circumstances. Now, he must take a lesson from his own teachings on being able to let go.
Calabrese said: “When I would leave my classroom, I would turn off the light. I would walk down the hall and pretend it was my last day, just to get used to the idea that eventually, I’m going to be turning off the lights for the last time. I guess I’m over dramatic about it, but this is a big, big, deal to me.”
File cabinets sit empty, barred from the multitude of papers and files Calabrese has accumulated the past five decades.
“I had lectures in there that I have done… talks, lectures, seminars, and speeches that I have been giving for years,” Calabrese said. “To drop it into the basket was like a mini death. The end of a period of your life.”
But his years as a part of the Dominican community have not gone in vain. Calabrese has witnessed the plethora of changes that have occurred within the institution and sees them as something to be excited about.
“The Dominican population from 1967 to 2017 has been changing dramatically,” Calabrese said. “ It was pretty much an all-white, only girls school when it started and then after the Vietnam War men started coming in. Then we had more students of color and we started getting a lot of Latino students…that has made teaching so much more exciting because there’s diversity in the classroom. There are students from different backgrounds and different cultures and they present different ideas.”
His last day will be senior graduation, where he will wear that faded purple robe he received when he finished his doctorate: a stamp of accomplishment and the end of a chapter. “It’s taken me two years, but I do think, now, I’m ready for it,” Calabrese said.
Calabrese plans on spending his life after Dominican doing service work and traveling. One of the activities he’s most ecstatic about doing is lending his time and efforts to supporting refugee families in Aurora. When asked about his interest in the project, Calabrese recalled previous encounters with refugees through Dominican. He taught a class titled Globalization and Social Justice, and through this class his students and himself prepared baskets of necessities for families. “It can just be an overwhelming anxiety for a family.” Calabrese said. “I’d like to ease some of that anxiety and help them.”
As for travelling, there is not much he hasn’t seen, but Calabrese is planning on visiting the Middle East, Egypt and Israel in the coming years. Yet, there remains a bit of sorrow about his departure from Dominican.
“This has been my life,” Calabrese said. “There is a lot of unknowns of how I will adjust to my life without Dominican.”
Regardless of how fast his final semester at Dominican is going, Calabrese remains in his office chair with a smile on his face that so many members of the Dominican community have grown to love.
“(Dominican) It’s really a family,” Calabrese said. “I have been a part of a community for the past 50 years. So much of that culture of a community came from the sisters. This caritas…this Dominican hospitality, is making people feel welcomed and included. And I think I have some of that and I’ve gotten it from the philosophy of Dominican.”