Inside WPI

Father Knows Best

Father Knows Best

photo by Tony Rinaldo

In 1961, a young priest was charged by the Worcester Diocese with establishing a Catholic ministry on the campuses of the area’s colleges. The Rev. Peter J. Scanlon—known to all as “Father Pete”—became WPI’s full-time chaplain in 1969. For 45 years he watched over thousands of college students of all faiths. He welcomed them at Orientation with a hearty handshake, and sent them into the world four years later with his benediction at Commencement. In between, he helped students discover themselves.

On July 1, 2006, Scanlon officially retired from active ministry. (He continues in a part-time position as Diocesan Vicar for Colleges and Universities.) In his own words, “It’s time to put the old car in the garage and step into a newer, smaller model. My old bones tell me it’s time to slow down.”

Transformations asked WPI alumni to share their memories of Fr. Scanlon. The sentiments were universal: “He was a friend, mentor, and counselor to all students—not just the Catholic ones.” “He talked directly to us and not above us.” “For an old priest, he still knew what it was like to be a young person out on his own for the first time.”

Scanlon was a friend to the pioneering women in WPI’s early years of coeducation. They recall how he would sweep through their dorm on a Friday night, gather up all the lonely souls he could find, and escort them to a fraternity party. Then he would tactfully disappear, after making sure they had a safe way to get home. He helped WPI students find dates; he married them; and when their children reached college age, he watched over them, too.

Below is just a sampling of the recollections from alumni. Read the full text of of all tributes. Share your own Fr. Scanlon stories on the Message Board of the AlumniConnect community (login required).

He was a huge presence (literally!) who encouraged me to think about the intertwined topics of academics, community awareness, and religious beliefs. His voice boomed in the basement of Alden Memorial, echoing off the marble walls, making us all pay strict attention.
-Mark Cioffi ’78
As chaplain for the Worcester Fire Department, he showed such concern and strength of character in guiding his flock through the horrific time after the 1999 Worcester Cold Storage fire. I remember him being honored to wear his white priest robes at the nationally televised memorial service. In the midst of death and mourning, he was a beaming symbol of hope.
-Jennifer Forsythe ’01
One story still stands out: After giving me a penance, he sent me out of the confessional and whispered for me to meet him at the altar rail on the way out. A few minutes later, he came out, tapped me on the shoulder, and took me to the back of the church, where a young lady was waiting. After making the introductions, Father Pete told her, “He is going to call you and you are to tell your mother that I said it is all right.” Father Pete was always one to give us assistance in all matters of life!
-Tom Benoit ’66
I was tasked with teaching him how to email. Now, 10 years later, I still get his weekly meditations. He mastered the medium and realized the potential to reach out to even more students.
-Cyndi Fusco ’96
He was a resource for our daughters, who attended WPI and Holy Cross. They are both graduated now, but believe me, I slept better knowing that he was watching over them. And it’s true what he says: What happens in Worcester stays in Worcester. We never heard a word from him about their less-thanexemplary actions—if there were any.
-Anne McPartland Dodd ’75
At WPI, I began to discover myself and my religion. Father Scanlon would send out a weekly email that revolved around his Sunday morning readings and homilies. Never has one email message had such an impact on a person as that. He related everything to life at WPI and in turn gave it a new meaning, every week.
-Christopher O’Malley ’03
Father Pete joined some of us to form the first Greek Alumni Council, back in the ’70s. The fact is, Father Pete was and is always there when he is needed. The good that he has done will be a lasting monument to his devotion and dedication.
-R. M. Hooker, Advisor and Regional President Emeritus, Sigma Alpha Epsilon
Fr. Scanlon married me and my husband (Kevin Duprey ’91). I have kept copies of his weekly meditation emails. I plan on printing them and creating a booklet for each of our children, which I will give them when they enter college. In that way, Fr. Scanlon will help guide them the same way he guided Kevin and me in our college years.
-Teresa Cordeiro Duprey ’92
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