From Matt Tibbitts

Alumnus/a '14
Matt Tibbitts's Father Pilarz memory

The University of Scranton community has experienced an immeasurable loss with the passing of University President, Father Scott Pilarz. He was a giant, with his deep, booming voice, yet approachable with his bespectacled, disarming features.

In his two stints as University President, he fostered the expansion of a truly unique culture; captivated by gleaning new campus buildings and an ever-expanding footprint of new students.

No words can truly encapsulate his light and his goodness, but I wanted to share with the community some thoughts I’ve been toiling over these last few days as I’ve grieved.

I had known Father Pilarz my entire life. He met my mother while he was a student at Georgetown, and they remained life-long friends. He married my parents and baptized myself and my two sisters.

As a young boy, years before life would take him to Scranton, I remember Father Pilarz coming to the house for lunch. The thing that stood out to me was his ability to put others at ease. It was intimidating to have a priest in the house and before he arrived the atmosphere felt rigid.

Soon after we sat down, he and my parents were laughing, and he was asking me and my sisters about our lives. The façade of best behavior reserved for esteemed guests evaporated.

My dad would often remark at Father Pilarz’s ability to deftly navigate any conversation. He was clearly brilliant. But what separates those among higher intelligence is their compassion. Father Pilarz could explain a complicated topic without condescension, offer a more educated response without demeaning another, and include all viewpoints without belittlement. Those are the signs of a great man.

My elder sister, Maggie, chose to attend the University of Scranton beginning in 2007. On our living room mantle is a photo of Father Pilarz and Maggie dancing at the celebration the night before senior graduation. With his scotch in hand, the photo is a precursor to the infamous Bruce Springsteen karaoke that would follow soon thereafter. 

When I tell friends from other universities that story, their disbelief is evident. When I talk about it to Scranton colleagues, we often have to discern which event we’re referring to. Father Pilarz was a ubiquitous figure at celebrations and ceremonies, simultaneously instilling the culture while also contributing to it. 

During those same visits to campus to see my sister, I remember being bewildered by the amount of construction. A new DeNaples Student Center and new Condron dormitories were just the beginning. Those would be followed by a state-of-the-art science building, Mulberry Street apartments, a physical and occupational therapy building, and much more. Father Pilarz was a builder, both of campus and community.

A few years after my sister, I also decided to attend Scranton. Although Father Pilarz was only President during my freshman year, his memory looms large over my class. He invited me to a dinner during that first year, instructing me to bring a few friends.

Having only recently developed a friend group, I was nervous to share with them this personal connection I had to the President. I told them many people would be there and perhaps we’d cross paths with him. What occurred instead was an intimate dinner with maybe 15 people around a long, rectangular table on 5th floor Condron.

The only formality of that meal was the grace that was said before dinner. The remaining time was spent sharing stories of campus social life, current pop-culture trends, and the occasional reference to academics. My friends still fondly recount this evening years later.

Father Pilarz would laugh and ask questions, never prodding too deep nor showing disinterest. But even amidst all of the time I witnessed his joviality, it was clear he was someone who could be counted on. I knew this. My sister knew this. The Scranton community knew this.

When Father Pilarz left for Marquette University, it invoked a melancholic reaction of sadness for his departure and admiration for his continued success. The Jesuits always heed the call to serve, wherever that may be.

Fortuitous circumstances brought him back to our community a few years later. He was never truly gone, nor will he ever be. But his physical presence invigorated campus. It was an opportunity to pick back up where he left off, a seamless continuation of an upward trajectory.

But sometimes God has other plans. I remember watching the announcement of his ALS diagnosis with tears in my eyes. Immediately questions about fairness and purpose flooded my thoughts. What was never questioned was that Father Pilarz would be a fighter. He fought the disease while continuing to fight for the University.

The Jesuits are a special group amongst the Catholics. Devoted to academics and service, they embody the true tenets of faith and morality. For Father Pilarz, the category seems almost limiting. He was so much more, yet his humility and grace would never allow him to be acknowledged for it.

I’ll finish with the quote that has been circling the last few days on social media:

“Stay that close, grow even closer. Dance at one another’s weddings, stand as godparents for each other’s kids. As a Jesuit friend of mine is fond of saying, ‘the conversation will get richer and the jokes will get funnier’. The conversation among Scranton friends will be a consolation for you down all the days ahead. Don’t waste love.”

Rest in Peace, Father Pilarz. You will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.

Father Pilarz w_Presidential Scholars

Pictured with The University of Scranton President Rev. Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., (seated, far left) are the Jesuit university’s 11 incoming students awarded full-tuition Presidential Scholarships, seated, from left: Mary Armstrong, Craig Fisher, and Theresa Iannuzzi. Standing, from left, are: Deanna Lindberg, Louis Porreca, Emily Johnson, Joseph Butacci, Matthew Tibbitts, Michelle D’Souza, Lauren Prinzing and Christian Burne.

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