Happy Birthday, Joe Modica!

Eastern College Student Chaplains... long agoWhen I was at Eastern College 1 I didn’t have teachers. I had mentors.

Oh, they taught classes, assigned reading, held office hours, and graded papers. That’s what college faculty do, after all. But they also made time for unexpected drop-ins, spent time chatting with us in the coffee shop, or sitting with us in the dining hall during meals.

Teaching, office hours, and the like were expected from college professors. That other stuff? Not so much.

Perhaps none of my Eastern mentors demonstrated what made the school so special as the University Chaplain, Joe Modica. I was a Student Chaplain under Joe’s guidance for three years, and learned much about being a pastor through his lessons and stories. But I learned even more through the conversations I had with him over the years. He was always interested in what I was reading, how I was feeling, and the rabbit trails on which my thoughts were taking me. He poked good-natured fun at me when I couldn’t grasp a devotional reading he’d assigned 2, and encouraged me to keep my interests broad. Perhaps most important Joe taught me ministry means walking with people in their dark valleys, but also encouraged me to make room for fun as part of the discipleship process. It was from Joe I learned to take the Gospel seriously, but myself not so much. It’s a lesson I’ve strived to live out in my own pastoral calling.

To this day when I meet Joe on campus there is no simple handshake and a “nice to see you.” I am ushered into his office, offered a seat, and regaled with stories and prodded to share my own 3. When I look around his office I still see relics from the eras of chaplains past, including some from my own time 4. These aren’t museum pieces. Rather, they seem to be reminders for Joe of all the lives he’s touched throughout his years serving Jesus at Eastern. Each relic is a display of how much he values the stories with which they are associated.

And so, on this day which marks Joe’s 60th trip around the Sun my wife and I wish him the happiest of birthdays. Our lives, and ministries, are better because you have been our friend.

  1. Now “University.” 
  2. I was not wise enough to comprehend Howard Thurman as a Junior in College. I got better. 
  3. And Joe is far from the only Eastern University professor who makes this time on the occasions I visit. 
  4. And several in my wife’s handwriting.