Archbishop Joseph Marino ’75: The Call of a Lifetime

An archbishop is called upon to lead the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome, his other alma mater, only the second American to be assigned the post.

Archbishop Marino at St. Ignatius Church’s Parish Feast Day triduum, 2013, Malaysia.
Archbishop Marino at St. Ignatius Church’s Parish Feast Day triduum, 2013, Malaysia.

He’d gotten many calls during his career, several from the Vatican, that would change the course of his life. Still, this took him aback. Pope Francis was appointing him to the presidency of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome, which trains the Holy See’s diplomats. The Academy meant a lot to Archbishop Joseph Marino ’75, as it was where he was trained, and he would be only the second American ever assigned to this post.

“It was a real surprise,” he said soon after the announcement was made public on Oct. 11, 2019. “I wasn’t aware that this was going to be proposed and given. It’s going to be a completely new type of work for me.”

Modest and soft-spoken, Archbishop Marino recently expressed his excitement about the new position, which he began at the start of the new year, after six years as apostolic nuncio to Malaysia and East Timor and apostolic delegate to Brunei. Pope Benedict XVI had named him first nuncio to Malaysia in 2013.

The call meant he would be going back to Italy. Italian is his most fluent language, after English, and his grandparents emigrated from Sicily long ago. This was all a comfort as he prepared for his new role, but the transition wouldn’t be easy. Experience had taught him that.

From Birmingham to Scranton

After high school in Birmingham, Alabama, the devout Catholic was sent to the Diocese of Scranton’s St. Pius X Seminary in Dalton, which closed its doors nearly 30 years later due to low enrollment. At the time, though, there were more than a hundred seminarians, a couple dozen of whom attended The University of Scranton. He hadn’t known what to expect at Scranton when he had arrived in 1971.

“You get used to the cold weather. That’s one thing you have to get used to,” said Archbishop Marino, laughing. “When I saw it snow in May one year, I said ‘Oh! Where am I?’”

Although most of his time was spent with his friends from the seminary, he got to know the other Scranton students at lunch and between classes. The University was “well-disciplined,” he said, and had a “wonderful spirit.”

“Scranton gave me a wonderful foundation for all that was going to happen in my life,” he said. “I look back on that and really appreciate what the community gave, the University, the church there, the seminary. It was really outstanding.”

After graduating with degrees in philosophy and psychology, he went to Rome to study theology and biblical theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, a Jesuit University. He even had a stint volunteering for St. Teresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity.

He returned to Birmingham for several years as a newly ordained priest at St. Paul’s Cathedral and then went back to Rome in 1984 to obtain his doctorate in canon law and to prepare to become a Holy See diplomat at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. Admission to the Academy is a high honor. Currently, there are only few dozen priests from all over the world, chosen by the Secretariat of State, enrolled. Its alumni include five popes.

To the World

Once a Holy See diplomat, Archbishop Marino was under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome, or the pope. From there, he was assigned to posts all over the world. In 20 years, he served in countries on four continents.

“All the assignments I’ve been given have been very satisfying and fulfilling in every way, each one a little different,” he said. “Philippines, Uruguay, Nigeria, Rome, London, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Timor-leste (East Timor), each one brings a little challenge to adapt to the culture. But once you get over that, you discover that we all have the same goals and aspirations in life.”

Connecting to the people in each country to which he has been assigned, he said, was one of the joys of his job. Language is one barrier, he admitted, but he learns to adapt pretty quickly. Then, he said, it has been a big part of his job to listen.

“To be in dialogue with these different people in these different countries and representing the Vatican there, the Secretariat, the Apostolic Nunciature, and, in the last, as the nuncio himself, is incredible,” he said.

From 1997-2004, he served with the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in Rome. During this time, as an expert on the Balkans, he was sent by Pope John Paul II to Belgrade during the conflict in Kosovo to sit with Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. And, in March 2003, just one day before the Iraq War began, he accompanied Cardinal Pio Laghi on a mission of peace to Washington, D.C. to meet with President George W. Bush.

“The Cardinal was very clear about what the Holy Father wished: to avoid war,” he said. “In both cases, they were clearly missions of peace, which is what the Holy Father wanted.”

Marino tends to play down his role in these high-profile meetings, but, he admits, as he was taking notes at each meeting, he was aware of the enormity of it all.

“It felt like you were witnessing history: to see the dynamic and the dialogue, what each side said,” he recalled.

A Return to Rome

Archbishop Marino (right) with His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state, at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy on Jan. 16, 2020 on the vigil of the Feast of St. Anthony, Abate, Patron Saint of the Academy.
Archbishop Marino (right) with His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state, at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy on Jan. 16, 2020 on the vigil of the Feast of St. Anthony, Abate, Patron Saint of the Academy.

He was ordained archbishop in 2008 in Birmingham, which he considers his true home, and was appointed papal nuncio that year to serve in Bangladesh, a majority Muslim country. Later, as first nuncio to Malaysia, Archbishop Marino was in unchartered waters. He was tasked with setting up a new embassy.

“I worked closely with the government officials to secure the land and get the building done,” he said. “That was a big challenge, as I had to start from zero.”

The building was dedicated in 2017.

Archbishop Marino has “had an audience,” or a private meeting, with Pope Francis several times, including when he was nuncio in Malaysia.

“He’s always been very engaging and wanted to know, in this case, about the life of the church in Malaysia and Timor-leste. He’s always been encouraging,” he said. “I look forward to having an audience with him when I get to Rome, so he can get his ideas of what he expects for the future diplomats of the church. I’m sure he has ideas.”

He looks forward to training new diplomats in Rome.

“I will bring the experiences that I’ve had over the years — and I must say they’ve all been very positive — and share that with the students there,” he said.

Having recounted his story, the many countries in which he has served, the connections he has made with the world’s people, and the messages of peace and faith he has imparted, he said he is ready for what’s next.

“And now … a new page, a new chapter."

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