Paul Locatelli, SJ, a terrific Jesuit, a fine priest, a superb administrator, longtime president of Santa Clara University and a longtime friend to many editors here at America, died today at age 71, after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. Until recently he had been working in a high-level position in Jesuit education at the Curia of the Society of Jesus in Rome. The announcement from the California Province that Jesuits received today read: "Our beloved brother, Paul Locatelli, died this morning in Regis Infirmary at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos at the age of 72. Paul recently chose to enter hospice care in light of serious complications arising from pancreatic cancer. Funeral arrangements are pending."
The Rev. Paul Locatelli, a revered Jesuit priest whose impact on Santa Clara University spanned more than a half century, from his days as a student through his two-decade presidency, died this morning of pancreatic cancer. His friends as well as many in the greater Silicon Valley community had been praying for a miracle. If anyone deserved one, they said, he did.
"What Paul told you was always the truth. He didn't play games. You knew that what he said was what he believed," said CIA Director Leon Panetta, one of Locatelli's oldest friends who graduated from Santa Clara with him in 1960. "I don't think there is any question he will go down in history as one of the greatest presidents in Santa Clara history." Locatelli, 71, was surrounded by his family and Jesuit brothers when he died. Services are being planned.
Locatelli had been organizing festivities for his 50th class reunion in October — sending invitations to fellow 1960 alumni, including Panetta and former Oakland A's owner Stephen Schott — when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May.
He led the university during decades of dramatic change, from the construction or major renovation of 19 buildings and sports centers — affecting a full two-thirds of the campus — to the controversial eliminations of the football program in 1993 and the phasing out of fraternity and sorority houses.
Not only did many local Catholic families seek him out for spiritual guidance, but the greater Catholic community also looked to him in times of turmoil — people still talk about his sermon on Sept. 11, 2001. He also engaged the local business community and voiced his opinions on local political issues including bringing BART to the South Bay.
"Father Locatelli has been associated with the university at a time when it has really grown to become a part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem," said Dennis Cima, senior vice president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, where Locatelli was a board member. "There was a great synergy of Paul's knowledge of the valley and desire to grow leaders of character at the university."
Locatelli's commitment to educating students about poverty and injustice extended from the streets of east San Jose to the jungles of El Salvador to Rome, where he spent most of the last two years as Secretary for Jesuit Higher Education. He retired from the university in 2008, but held the title of chancellor. He had just returned to Santa Clara from a conference in Mexico City when he was diagnosed with the aggressive form of cancer.
On a personal note, Paul was for me a model Jesuit: prayerful, hardworking, kind, savvy, intelligent. During his frequent visits to the magazine, he was always generous with his advice and support. From the day I met him, I admired his unflappable approach to problems and his willingness to listen to all sides of an issue. (We admired him so much at the magazine that before Father General called him to Rome--and before we discovered Jan Attridge--we had hoped that he might become publisher.) He was universally admired and beloved in the Society.
May he rest in peace.
James Martin, SJ