Jubilarian Profile: Ken Paulli

HNP Communications Friar News

This is the third in a series of jubilarian profiles. Last issue featured Joseph Kotula, OFM.

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — Growing up in Westchester County, N.Y., the home of IBM headquarters, Kenneth Paulli, OFM, always imagined he would have a business career at the corporate giant.

Then he attended Siena College in Upstate New York as an undergraduate and realized that perhaps God had other plans — a journey that would take him back to his alma mater years later as a friar, teacher and administrator.

“I didn’t understand it at the time, but the experience at Siena was life-transforming,” said Ken, who since 2007 has been chief of staff to Siena president Kevin Mullen, OFM. “I didn’t come to Siena as a student because of the friars, I came as a liberal arts/business major, but I met friars like Jerome Massimino, OFM, and John Frambes, OFM, and it was all very exciting and interesting to me.”

Having grown up in a diocesan parish in nearby Ridgefield, Conn., Ken knew right away that there was something different about the Franciscans.

Ken, who celebrates the 25th anniversary of his profession this year, has ministered at Siena since 1997, recruited to the academic staff by former president Kevin Mackin, OFM.

He has had a very diverse and rich ministry, one that includes parish work, significant academic studies, and teaching and administrative roles at Siena College. He is also among those friars who have earned a doctorate. 

The Early Years
After graduation from Siena in 1982, Ken taught high school for a year, and then felt called to the Franciscan life. He entered the postulancy program and was assigned to St. Joseph Friary in Winsted, Conn. “I loved it,” he said, recalling ministry with pastor Daniel Kenna, OFM. The rest is history.

He entered the novitiate in 1984, which was then based in Brookline, Mass., and was fortunate enough to see Assisi firsthand that year when his family toured Italy.

He fondly remembers his first assignment in youth ministry with Angelus Gambatese, OFM, Francis Gunn, OFM, and Michael Harlan, OFM, at St. Mary Church, Pompton Lakes, N.J. “It was a very active parish, a good house, a good ministry.”

From there, he was among the first group of men who moved to the new Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., to begin his studies at Washington Theological Union.

While at Holy Name College, summers were spent in New York, Boston and Fair Lawn in ministry at St. Stephen of Hungary Church in Manhattan, St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, and St. Anne’s in Fair Lawn, N.J.

“That summer of 1986 in the Big Apple was a phenomenal experience,” he said. “I never thought I’d like living in New York City, but the Yorkville section, of the upper East side, was fantastic. We had a great house — with friars like Michael Carnevale, OFM, Anthony Carrozzo, OFM, David McBriar, OFM, Ronald Stark, OFM, and Xavier Seubert, OFM — there were 10 friars who were all strong people. Dinner was always incredibly lively and thought-provoking.” He also enjoyed his ministry in a soup kitchen in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem.

While spending a summer at St. Anthony Shrine, he studied language at Harvard University, and helped with the shrine’s many lectures. “It was an academic summer,” he said.

After the third year at Holy Name College, the summer of 1988 was spent in an internship at St. Ann’s Parish in Fair Lawn where he ministered to the youth, working with pastor and guardian Reginald Redlon, OFM. “If you’re a young friar, you’re often assigned to youth ministry. You make it work,” he laughed.

The next year, the General Minister of the Order, John Vaughn, OFM, attended the Province’s Chapter of Mats, and so, this group of simply-professed took its solemn vows before Fr. Vaughn. “It was a really great experience to do that with the successor to St. Francis,” said Ken.

After profession, Ken ironically found himself back in Connecticut for his first full-time assignment at St. Joseph’s Church in Winsted, from which the Province has since withdrawn. “I did my affiliate year there, and showed up seven years later to serve as a priest. It was a neat thing,” he said. James O’Connell, OFM, was the pastor, and Ken ministered with Leon Ristuccia, OFM, on adult formation.

While Ken savored this ministry, he was asked to move to Holy Angels Parish in Little Falls, N.J. This was an “amazing experience,” he said, with Thomas Gallagher, OFM, as pastor and guardian, Michael Carnevale as associate pastor, and others. “I was the youth minister and got to build the program from the ground up. I learned a lot from Tom Gallagher, about what it means to minister to people.” Ken served here from 1992 to 1997.

Back to Education
While he liked parish ministry, Ken yearned for the academic experience. “I thought, in the back of my mind, that someday I’d like to return to Siena, and do for other students what the friars had done for me. I thought maybe I’d teach liturgical studies,” a subject in which he earned a master’s degree from WTU.

After grad school, Ken applied to the Ivy League Columbia University in New York, where he earned a doctorate in religion and education. He continued to live at Holy Angels in Little Falls and attended an academic program that was fairly unconventional.

“Classes were up to me,” he said, “the only required course was a doctoral seminar. I worked with the profs in areas that were interesting, or that I thought I needed.”

Ken said he first became interested in Roman liturgical rituals while an associate pastor in Connecticut and New Jersey. “It became clear to me that rituals themselves are teachers. I began to think that what I really wanted to do was a ritual studies type of program, with an eye toward education.”

He worked with Harvard professor Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist best known for the theory of multiple intelligences, and wrote a dissertation on “And They Also Teach: A Gardnerian Analysis of Roman Liturgical Ritual.”

Armed with an impressive academic portfolio, Ken returned to Siena in 1997 to teach students to become secondary education teachers, later chairing the department of education. It was during his tenure that the college applied for — and received — its first accreditation from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, a credential that put Siena on the map as having one of the best teacher preparation programs in New York State.

“It was a team effort, and a heck of a lot of work, but the day the letter came, I was very proud.” Professionally, he said, this was a big achievement.

Chief of Staff
In 2007, when Kevin Mullen became president, he recruited Ken as his right-hand friar, a role that Ken had no hesitation accepting. He was a good fit for the job.

He said: “I still had faculty status, Kevin knew what I had done with the education department, and he was looking for a friar whom he could trust. Trust is really important at that level of leadership, and the president’s chief of staff needs to be competent. And because I came from the ranks of faculty, I had credibility.
Plus, I’m detail-focused.”

As a big supporter of Franciscan education and Catholic ministry, he makes sure that the missions are connected. “It’s not just rhetoric here — it’s what is distinctive about Siena. There are a lot of private liberal arts colleges, so that distinction is an important differentiator.”

While working in the president’s office has limited his time for teaching, Ken still manages to be in the classroom for one course a semester. “It makes my life more busy, but I enjoy it very much.”

He also has enjoyed being part of Holy Name Province. “It’s not our size that makes us special,” he said. “We are a good sized Province, but I’ve always found Holy Name to have a lot of opportunities. There is a richness in our ministerial opportunities,” he said, a richness that he knows firsthand.

“I came through a wonderful educational system that is part of our Province. It is near and dear to my heart, and an excellent example of who we are. No other U.S. Province of Franciscans has more than one college and a graduate school of theology, and we have that.”

Ken is equally proud to live with his brothers at St. Bernardine of Siena Friary and be a part of HNP’s educational ministry.

In addition to an already busy schedule, he gives parish missions throughout the country, serves at nearby St. Pius X Parish on weekends, and is often called upon to be the Catholic chaplain on cruises.

kp-rUpcoming Plans
Ken said he had considered going to go on a LaVerna pilgrimage with F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, to celebrate his anniversary this year, but will be deferring that trip to 2011. Instead, this year he will accompany the Siena Board of Trustees and senior leadership to Assisi. However, he plans to mix a business trip with some pleasure this summer in southern California, and looks forward to a celebration on campus with a Mass and reception this fall. In addition to 25 years as a friar, he marks his 50th birthday and 20th anniversary as a priest.

His family, including an older and younger sister, and parents who are in relative good health, all reside in Tennessee, near Chattanooga, so he will undoubtedly see them during this big celebratory year.

He also hopes to carve out time this summer for golf, a game that he says would occupy all his time if he didn’t have to work.

When asked how he would like to be remembered, Ken answered: “As someone whose life really witnessed to Gospel values. I hope people would say that they found in me mercy, compassion, forgiveness and love.”

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today. The next jubilarian to be featured in this newsletter is Francis Pompei, OFM, of Buffalo, N.Y.