Father Drobin finds interwoven ministries in his vocation
By luke eggleston / SUN staff writer
A current in modern and contemporary thought often assumes an antagonistic relationship between faith and reason, religion and science.
The Catholic Church, in part, is responsible on occasion and has admitted as much. Galileo, the professed father of modern science, was imprisoned for publishing his observations regarding a stationary sun and a mobile earth. The church denounced “heliocentrism” as heretical. Finally, in 1992, Pope John Paul II exonerated the famed scientist.
But secular thinkers have also done much to attack the church. The most famous example is perhaps Friedrich Nietzsche’s sentence “God is dead,” which appears famously in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
The chaplain of the Newman Communities at both the SUNY Institute of Technology and Utica College, Father Paul Drobin, by contrast, finds faith and scholarship to be natural partners.
“Theology is faith seeking understanding,” Father Drobin said, paraphrasing St. Anselm, the 12th century Archbishop of Canterbury.
Over the past few weeks, the colleges Father Drobin serves have been busy preparing for the new school year. The period serves as a reminder for the chaplain of the pastoral duty he considers a “privilege.”
“We’re beginning the school year and being the Catholic presence on campus is very gratifying. It’s heartwarming to know that this campus and other college and university communities are welcoming to religious presence on campus,” Father Drobin said.
Father Drobin attended Theological College at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from 1962 to 1966 while the Second Vatican Council was convening in Rome. With Father Drobin’s natural predilection for scholarship, those years in Washington impacted him immensely.
“It had an inestimable influence on my life,” he said. “It was a very powerful experience.”
Father Drobin also holds a master’s degree in religious studies from the University of Detroit and has updated his education throughout his life by attending numerous workshops and seminars.
“I believe that religion — whatever tradition — should help people find meaning in their lives,” he said.
Before applying for the chaplaincy at the two Utica colleges, Father Drobin served as the pastor at St. John the Evangelist Church in New Hartford for 12 years. He is no stranger to serving in an academic environment, having been the chaplain at the Newman Centers at Kirkland and Hamilton Colleges from 1973 to 1980.
“I have a commitment to theology and spiritual formation and the campus environment is a natural locus for that,” Father Drobin said.
He noted that even when he was a youth attending now-closed St. John Kanty Preparatory School in Erie, Pa., his peers sought out his advice. At both SUNYIT Utica and Utica College, Father Drobin advises students in matters spiritual, scholastic and personal.
“I’m looked upon as someone who is a good listener,” he said.
That quality translated well into his vocation both as a pastor at St. John’s and as a chaplain.
“The ministry of the priesthood is a privilege to be involved with people’s lives and to help reveal the presence of God within them and around them,” he said.
But Father Drobin’s interest in serving at SUNYIT and Utica College isn’t limited to his interest in faith and scholarship or his inclination to provide young people with counsel. A Utica native, Father Drobin has a strong attachment to the area and when the previous chaplain, Father Jim Lauducci, retired, he applied for the position.
“I’m a Utica guy,” explained Father Drobin, who has spent the majority of his priesthood in the Mohawk Valley region. Father Drobin participates on a number of community boards and panels in Utica. He believes that it is important that people see Catholicism as part of their community. Father Drobin’s connection to the community is strong. One day he may be celebrating the Mass of Christian burial for a dear friend. One month he may find himself celebrating the marriage of the same friend’s son or daughter and, in a year or so, he might be presiding over their child’s baptism.
“Paths keep crossing over and over again and that is fortuitous, providential and gratifying,” Father Drobin said.
During the spring, Father Drobin had a unique opportunity to integrate faith, community and the college environment. In April, students stunned by the Virginia Tech massacre, which occurred earlier that month, approached Father Drobin because they hoped he would facilitate a candlelight vigil and prayer service. At the same time, another group had approached Father Drobin in an effort to have him lead a prayer service for one of their friends who had been diagnosed with cancer. Both services took place back-to-back at the Newman Center, indicative of a moving confluence of spiritualities and a comforting place for worship and prayer.
To this day, Father Drobin is inspired by the willingness people have to welcome him into their lives.
“When people trust you enough to invite into the sacred parts of their lives, it’s always personally gratifying and rewarding because those invitations emanate from trust,” he said.