Msgr. Steven Otellini: A Global Trek to Nativity
While Msgr. Steven Otellini's familiarity with Nativity goes back many years, his path to the pastorate was by no means a straight one. As a local seminarian Msgr. Otellini had a warm relationship with Fr. Ford and with Tom, Irene and Jim Kearney, and was involved with installing the present organ at Nativity. But he says "I never thought that I would ever be pastor here. It's a delightful surprise." In fact, Msgr. Otellini's "coming home" to Nativity was by quite a meandering path – a trek that took him to Rome for studies and to Africa and Greece for diplomatic assignments.
Msgr. Otellini was born and raised in San Francisco and became interested in the priesthood through the influence of the priests at Holy Name Parish in the City. He was educated at St. Joseph Minor Seminary, at St. Patrick's, and at the North American College in Rome, where he was ordained in 1978 by Cardinal James Knox. His first assignment was at St. Catherine's in Burlingame. After completing a degree in theology from Gregorian University in Rome, he returned to the Bay Area for an assignment at Marin Catholic High School. The assignment turned out to be brief, because a letter came from the Vatican Secretary of State inviting Msgr. Otellini to return to Rome to prepare for an assignment with the Vatican Diplomatic Corps. Thus, in 1986, after a four-year program in canon law and diplomacy, Msgr. Otellini became assistant to the Vatican nuncio to the Central African Republic, Chad and the Congo.
It was a "very different" experience, Monsignor says, and it gave him the opportunity to see the funds from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith actually put into use, such as at the northern Capuchin mission that not only trained catechists but also taught farming. One project included the building of a bridge, and Msgr. Otellini was asked to officially dedicate it. "That was probably the first and last time I'll ever dedicate a bridge," he says.
After three years in Africa, he was sent to Greece, an assignment which he enjoyed because -- at that time at least -- the relationship between the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches was warming up.
Back in the Bay Area in 1991, he spent six years at St. Cecilia's, then another six at Marin Catholic High School where he was most recently president.
"All of the skills I've learned over the years can come into play in a parish like Nativity," says Msgr. Otellini. "The years at the school were very helpful. We had a huge capital campaign in which we basically had to rebuild the school. It was very successful. We also finished changing the curriculum from general education to college prep."
Monsignor is aware of the challenge ahead to renew the sanctuary while preserving the historic significance of Nativity, one of the oldest continually occupied churches in the Bay Area, a distinction which he values highly. He assures that "what was good before will be even better" after the renewal. As we embark on implementing phase one of our Parish Master Plan, beginning with the new multi-purpose building and kindergarten at the school, he is grateful to the wonderful generosity of the parishioners who have brought us to this point.
On a personal front, Msgr. Otellini treasures the writings of Cardinal Newman, upon whom he wrote his thesis, and loves opera, particularly Puccini. Food? "Anything Italian," he declares.
He particularly treasures his annual pilgrimages to Lourdes with the Knights of Malta. "It's always an intense experience," he says. "We take 40 to 60 people with us. The needs of the sick people, the deep Marian spirituality that you find there -- I always feel very inspired by it."
For the people of Nativity, Msgr. Otellini repeats the focal point of his first homily here: "The most important thing is growth in faith," he says. "All else -- the organizations, the projects, the school -- these are important, but secondary to our growth in faith." Since he has been here with us for more than three years, he has had the opportunity to host many priest classmates and guests. “Inevitably, they all comment on what a beautiful place Nativity is, both physically and spiritually. I don’t hesitate to tell them: ‘I am the luckiest priest in the country’. And I do mean it.”