Canisius to lose two beloved Jesuits at year’s end as Fathers Tom and Tunney say goodbye

By Justin Smith
Assistant News Editor

For 22 years, Canisius has been the home to Fr. Michael Tunney, S.J.. At the end of this semester, Tunney will be leaving the College to become the Rector of the Fairfield Jesuit Community at Fairfield University in Connecticut. The Father-General in Rome, under the recommendation of the local provincial and his consultors, recommended Tunney for new apostolic work as part of an annual conversation most Jesuits have regarding their work.

“I’m just one example of Jesuits who typically make ourselves available for new works from time to time,” said Tunney.

Beginning in September, Tunney started conversation with the provincial and was alerted that there was a chance he would be moving on from Canisius at the end of the academic year.  On Jan. 27, the provincial officially notified Tunney that he would be moving out to continue his work in Fairfield starting July 1.

Paraphrasing the provincial, Tunney said this, “will help in the larger view of the Jesuit province and our needs.”

Tunney began working at Canisius in 1994 after finishing his graduate studies at Pratt University with a MFA in Painting, and an MS in Art History. He began by teaching one art history course per semester and eventually started up the Studio Art Program in what is now Lyons Hall. When the Music, Art History, and Studio Art Programs merged into the Fine Arts Department, Tunney became the chair. He retained that position into the early 2000s, but continued on as Chair of the Studio Art Program. This semester, Tunney teaches Figure Drawing and a new seminar style course for faculty and students called Canisius Colleagues Program.

“It’s a great gift and certainly a blessing,” said Tunney in reference to the new Colleagues Program. “To be able to bring all of these Jesuit values and ideals out of the mission office and out of my own experience and share them with these people who have their own values, ideals, and experiences from their own human experience, from their own faith lives, whether they’re Catholic or otherwise. That makes for a very rich and enjoyable dialogue.”

Tunney doesn’t only use his artistic talents for teaching courses, he also has been helping out with the school’s literary magazine, the Quadrangle, for a number of years, after Dr. Mick Cochrane invited him to give an annual lecture to the English Department’s Literary Publishing course.

“[Fr. Tunney] has always been a special friend to Quadrangle,” said Dr. Cochrane. “Inspiring the staff year after year, supporting their efforts, and celebrating their success. The spiritual power of the human imagination is central to Jesuit teaching, and Fr. Tunney in countless ways embodies the potent force of that imaginative spirit.”

Reflecting on his time here at Canisius, Tunney discussed some of his favorite memories.

“I’ve gotta give a big shoutout to the students. Teaching the students.”  Tunney went on to elaborate that, “It’s our connection with students that come along that are the most memorable. It’s why we’re all here in the first place.”

Tunney said that he has a second favorite memory as well.

“Working with colleagues especially in the studio program and in the Fine Arts Department. They are wonderful people and have been all these years and decades.”

Tunney also spoke on how he saw his role at the College, breaking it down into three components: Professor, Priest, and Pupil.

“As a professor,” said Tunney, “I come in as a wisdom figure of sorts. Someone who has something to offer our students in terms of their own personal development, their own academic development. As a priest I bring all the sacramental pastoral skills and capacities that I learned and experienced myself. There’s also just the piece of me learning alongside people. To have to stand up in front of a group of students or peers and present on something and then to be open to their responses and see what they do. It’s a great way to learn.”

On the subject of how Canisius will look after his departure, Tunney, S.J. spoke humbly.

“Institutions live on far beyond an individual and Canisius College will live on and flourish long after I’m gone. There will be other Jesuits who come along who can provide similar experiences of teaching, similar experiences of tending pastorally and sacramentally to the students and the faculty and the staff here.”

While Canisius will certainly survive without Tunney, he is wrong about one thing.  Canisius isn’t just an institution, but rather a community, and any community will certainly notice the loss of a 22 year pillar. Next year’s students will almost certainly notice a lack of a particular personality and presence.

Some of Tunney’s colleagues spoke to his content of character in e-mails to The Griffin.

“Michael has been a light to Canisius in his many years here,” said Luanne Firestone, “offering sensitive pastoral ministry to our campus as a Jesuit, invigorating classes in the Fine Arts Department and most recently helping our campus elevate and celebrate our mission and identity as a Jesuit institution. His gifts are numerous and he will truly be missed.”

Another colleague, Sarah Signorino, added, “His Renaissance Man-style has allowed him to develop and usher forward growth in the Fine Arts Department, Mission & Identity, and the new Canisius Colleagues Program. He has mentored teams on 13 Always Our Children retreats for the LGBTQ+ members of our community and allies. His many gifts and flowing-prose reflections have inspired and challenged Canisius to grow deeper in love and justice.”

However, Tunney isn’t done with his time at Canisius quite yet.  He still has “good and important” things to do here. Last semester he was a part of the College’s search for a Dean of Arts and Sciences. This semester, Tunney is working on, among other projects, a photography-based, student-centered version of the You Can Campaign. Tunney, with the help of several students, is working to put up these College campaign photos around the school and potentially on-line either as part of the official You Can campaign, or as mission feature on Canisius’ homepage.

Tunney says that if he has any regret, it’s not being more confident and ambitious. He wishes he had started the Canisius Colleagues Program sooner. He wishes the same for the Figure Drawing course which has run intermittently for the last five years.

“I will miss this place,” said Tunney. “Fairfield University, I’m sure is going to be a great place to be for a number of years, but I can tell you right know it won’t be Canisius College. There is only one Canisius College and it is a marvelous place to be a part of and to live at and work in. Because it’s the people. The people here are really genuine, supportive people. They have been from day one.”

Tunney anticipates and hopes to be able to continue working as both an artists and a priest figure at Fairfield, but his main focus will be for caring for the Jesuits there in a similar situation as Loyola Hall here.

* * *

For 10 years, Thomas Colgan, S.J., affectionately referred to as Father Tom, has lived and served in Buffalo. Before that, he was working with Native Americans in the Northwest.  However, one retreat would change his trajectory to land him at Canisius.

During a retreat, I came to the conclusion God was calling me to work with college students,” said Colgan. “After communicating with Jesuits working in our colleges I ended up here at Canisius.”

However, come May, Canisius will say goodbye to Colgan.  His superiors will be sending him to Vancouver, B.C.

“They said they wanted me to discern,” said Colgan, “to pray about this and get back to them with my response. I did this, and we all came to the same conclusion: yes, accept a new mission in Vancouver.”

Colgan, has spent his time here at Canisius promoting the religious aspects of Canisius’ Jesuit ideals.

“Tom started in Campus Ministry the same semester that I did,” said Campus Ministry’s Sarah Signorino. “Tom’s love of the Exercises, his quirkiness and his humor have opened up the world of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises to me and many others on campus. Tom has introduced more than 100 members of our community to the Exercises and has helped many more on their journey toward a deeper relationship with God.”

Colgan saw his role at Canisius as a spiritual one. He loves connecting with students, faculty, and staff around the issues of God and spirituality.

“It’s hard to share how good it feels to connect with Something bigger than all of us,” said Colgan, “what we call our God, who is love, goodness and joy itself.”

Colgan’s colleagues also appreciated connecting to him as well.

“Tom is such a fun Jesuit,” said Luanne Firestone of Campus Ministry. “His gift is that he meets people where they are at and engages conversations about God and spirituality there.  He walks with everyone and makes everyone feel included and worthy of God’s time and love.”

In Colgan’s remaining time, he hopes to continue spreading spirituality. Colgan talked about sharing his love as being a major part of what he wants to accomplish with his time left.  He also wants to work with administration at Canisius before his departure.

“Before I leave,” said Colgan, “I hope to encourage the leaders at Canisius to continue guaranteeing that the Spiritual Exercises and the Mission and Identity positions here at Canisius are financially secure.” Colgan added that, “Ideals without funding get reduced to rhetoric.”

Colgan feels confident that his work at Canisius will be able to continue after he is gone.  He said it is important “to make the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius available” to everyone on campus.

“Doing the Spiritual Exercises is the main work Pope Francis,” said Colgan, “and Jesuit Leaders worldwide have called the Jesuits [to do it], in all or our diverse services to the world.”

Colgan says the most difficult thing about leaving will be saying goodbye to the people.  He described the campus as “a gift of community.” However, Colgan hopes that his farewells won’t be permanent. He hopes to come back in person, but is also willing to accept that his au revoirs might be adieus.

“I won’t terminate relationships,” said Colgan, “I’ll just hope I get chances to visit in the future. It may be in heaven that we will meet again, in case I can’t get back here.”

Colgan said his main regret is that he wasn’t able, locally, to work more closely with immigrants and those in poverty.

Colgan’s move to Vancouver will move him closer to his home of Washington and closer to friends and family.

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