Memories of Fr. Calegari

CANFP founding President Therese Maes shares these insights into the man we honor each time we present the Calegari Award:

Fr. Calegari

Fr. Marc Calegari, SJ

I first met Fr. Marc Calegari through my  sister, in my home parish of St. Clare, in Santa Clara. A newly ordained Jesuit, he was summer “supply” in 1962, for vacationing priests. Soon after, he left for Rome where he was a “distinguished” simultaneous translator in French for Vatican II. He also served in that capacity for the 32nd and 33rd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus. All I knew at that point was that this new priest in our parish spoke French and here was an opportunity to polish my skills.

Armed with some of my favorite French books and whispering a few prayers, I walked that morning to St. Clare’s Rectory, totally unprepared for what would become a life-changing experience: my introduction to Natural Family Planning.

Although the pill had been introduced just a few years before, Fr. Calegari was convinced that its effect, both morally and physically, would be disastrous for marriage and especially for women. The French books he loaned me that day and the articles in French he gave me to read, educated me in an understanding I had never before explored. As a recent Catholic College graduate, the little we had learned about birth control in our theology and philosophy classes contained neither the depth or the breadth of church teaching these materials presented. I was hooked and these few meetings laid the foundation for a life-long friendship, lasting until his death in 1992 at the age of 62. And our friendship was not unique. His association with couples in the US, Canada, France, Italy, and England was legendary. Just here in California, he would drop in on or call the Hernings, Sheila and Les St. John, Dr. Suzanne and Tom Regul, the Luckettis, Evelyn Eaton, Margarita Mendoza, the Hamlons, Judy and Eric Wilmurt, Gloria Gillogley, Susie McConneloug. No doubt he touched the lives of many more whose names I do not recall. Wherever he went, whomever he met, he would open his capacious briefcase and bring out article after article, drawing ever more distinctly the connections between divorce and contraception, between contraception and abortion, between good marriages and great marriages.

Fr. Calegari became a storied NFP promoter, amassing a huge library of books, articles and tapes, some of which is housed in the library at Pope Paul VI Institute. His fame spread and soon he was a sought-after speaker whenever there was a national or international NFP Conference. Although he never wrote a book of his own (he taught for 24 years at Brophy College Prep in Phoenix and said he never had time to write) he worked for years on a translation of Humanae Vitae from the original Italian (his fourth language). He gave it a nuanced, more accessible approach that makes the document eminently more readable than the stilted versions translated from the Latin (CANFP published this translation and continues to offer the publication).

In all of his teaching, he was careful not to promote one method over another. Yet, even back in 1962, I saw clearly that temperature could only show post-ovulatory infertility and that just using temperature would make for a lot of abstinence. Letters back and forth to Rome did not answer my questions satisfactorily as he explained a complicated mathematical formula for determining the pre-ovulatory infertile phase. He constantly called my attention to what the French called “La Glaire” (mucus) but neither he nor I made the connection that the Billings were to introduce to America in 1972.

When I learned the Ovulation Method and began to teach it, we had many a long discussion as to which method was better. I could never convert him to “mucus-only” because, I think, he thought the multi-sign approach brought both the couple into the experience: the husband recording the temperature each day and the wife recording the mucus, “mittleshmerz”, and the cervical opening or closing. Nonetheless, he would never say one method was better than the other and always taught me to understand that people have different needs. Over the years, Fr. Calegari inspired me to write, to teach, to promote NFP, even to found CANFP as an organization designed to promote all methods. When I would get discouraged at the many obstacles to promoting NFP, he would always be there with an encouraging word and a joke (usually a very bad pun).

Years later, as Family Life Director for the Diocese of San Jose, I read Pope John Paul II’s words in Familiaris Consortio and I thought right away of Fr. Calegari. “The choice of the natural rhythms,” the Pope says, “involves accepting the cycle of the person, that is the woman, and thereby accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility, and self-control.” (#32) That evening I called Fr. Calegari and asked if he had given the Pope some articles to read or perhaps sent him a tape, “although, “I told him, “you say it somewhat better!” He laughed and told me how fortunate we were to be blessed with this Pope, “He really understands!” and immediately referred me to JPII’s Wednesday Audiences from1979 to 1984 on what is now called the Theology of the Body.

Fr. Calegari also understood the importance of teaching women to love and cherish their fertility because he knew that, ultimately, through women who know, love and understand their own fertility, marriages could be saved, marriages could be made stronger and abortion could be ended. Above all, in every set back and every disappointment, he never gave up teaching, promoting and challenging his students, his audiences and his friends to be better learners, better parents, better married couples, “all for the greater glory of God.”

His obituary in “The Jesuit” says it best, I think: “He was aware of the controversy this mission [NFP] would engender, but he spoke and acted the prophet and left himself open to the consequences.” Amen.