Rev. Philip A. Florio, S.J., assistant vice president of Mission and Ministry, began his homily during this year’s baccalaureate mass with a quote from the late poet Maya Angelou.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” he quoted before a large group of soon-to-be graduates and their families.
Whether they hear him preach in a packed University Church or just say hello to him in the McGinley Center’s Marketplace, many Fordham students will never forget how Fr. Florio made them feel.
But who is he, and why is he so popular?
Fordham Daily caught up with Fr. Florio this week, soon after he returned from visiting Fordham students studying in South Africa. He was effusive in his praise, saying that even in the face of overwhelming poverty, “Our kids do such great work here and abroad.”
Fr. Florio also had kind words for Fordham’s Bronx contingent, calling them “one of the best groups of students I’ve ever worked with.” And he has worked on a number of campuses in recent years.
Prior to arriving at Rose Hill in 2010, Fr. Florio held posts at the University of Scranton, Saint Joseph’s University and the University of Pennsylvania.
He started at Fordham as director of Campus Ministry, and then a year later was promoted to assistant vice president of Mission and Ministry. His current position allows him to oversee religious activities at the Rose Hill, Lincoln Center and Westchester campuses.
When asked for comment, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., Fordham’s president, commended Fr. Florio’s passion and commitment to the student body.
“His drive and enthusiasm has energized Campus Ministry, and his willingness to innovate has brought record numbers of students to celebrations of mass and to ministry events,” McShane said in a written statement.
“He is at once a leader, a friend and a counselor,” Fr. McShane says of Florio.
But Florio interacts with many different faith backgrounds kinds of students — not simply Catholics at mass. He said that no matter a student’s walk of life, his approach is always the same.
“It all depends on the context,” Fr. Florio said. “But there’s always a purpose to my interaction: to be present and ministering to the community I was sent to care for.”
Fr. Florio stays on top of what’s happening on campus through a number of different channels. One of these is through family connections; his nephew Tommy Florio is a rising senior.
His many social media accounts also help him stay in the know. Fr. Florio regularly posts content on his Facebook page, where many of his 2,480 friends are Fordham students. He also has 394 followers on Twitter.
As housemaster of the Manresa program in Martyrs’ Court, Fr. Florio keeps track of his charges by walking the floors and stopping in the lounges. He also has fun with his residents, as when he helped them build a fort during Hurricane Sandy. “It makes my work as a preacher and a teacher easier,” Fr. Florio said.
Finally, Fr. Florio keeps abreast of things on campus by ditching his clerical collar and walking around Edward’s Parade in lay clothes. Many of the people he encounters on these fact-finding missions make their way into his homilies at Sunday mass.
“It’s a means of being present to people and being where they are,” Fr. Florio said. “It’s better to go incognito, you can be a little more relaxed and get your finger on the pulse of things.”
Current and former students say that this approachability makes Fr. Florio an effective leader. Michael Prate, FCRH ’13, who was heavily involved in campus ministry when he was at Fordham, also credits the joy Fr. Florio takes in his work.
“The heart of his ministry is grounded in the love he has for the students he serves,” Prate says.
“He takes that very Ignatian model of servant leadership, and is willing to fight and push to take care of the spirit of all the people walking through those gates,” Prate added.
Even students who do not share Fr. Florio’s beliefs see the passion he brings to his work. Stephen Falzone, GSB ’15, identifies as agnostic, but still has great respect for the man he called “one of Fordham’s favorites.”
“Father Phil has always been a pleasure to talk to, ever since he came to my dorm in freshman year to learn the name of every student,” Falzone said. “He’s genuinely interested in students’ lives and tries to get to know everyone.”
When asked about a roadmap for Campus Ministry, Fr. Florio said the office would continue to work based on the needs of students. He pointed to PRISM, a recent retreat for Fordham’s LGBTQ community, as an example of Campus Ministry responding to calls from the students, who he called “searchers and seekers in the faith.”
Fr. Florio offered few specifics about Campus Ministry’s plans for the upcoming year, but he did say the office would start a campaign for students who are not confirmed. This program would be contained within the existing RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process.
Taking a sharp turn from Dr. Angelou, Fr. Florio ended his baccalaureate mass homily with the words of Sal, the owner of Pugsley’s Pizza, whose catchphrase is:
“Love is it.”
The fact that Fr. Florio can take wisdom from both an award-winning poet and a Bronx pizzeria owner shows the great capacity for learning that has endeared him to Fordham students for the past four years — and will hopefully continue to for years to come.
Connor Ryan contributed reporting.