Warm yourself by the fire
In 2010, Father Eugene Contadino, S.M. ’62, rode off campus into the sunset on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle gifted to him by UD friends and colleagues as a thank-you gift for his 26 years of service at the University.
It was a short ride to his next assignment at St. Francis deSales, an inner-city Cincinnati parish where he was the pastor and oversaw the parish, as well as the pre-K through eighth grade school.
Curious as to why the Marianist leadership didn’t send someone younger than the then 70-year-old Contadino, he asked. He said their response was, “We don’t have anyone younger.” In true Marianist fashion he obediently answered the call to serve and spent 10 years ministering in a vibrant and dedicated parish.
“The parish experience was different,” Contadino said. “As pastor, the buck stopped at my desk. I was used to being part of a team. Being the leader who made final decisions took some getting used to.”
His tenure was successful, the school was thriving and his weekly live-streamed Masses had gained quite a following. When it was time to move on from deSales in 2020, the parishioners suggested he find a way to stay connected to his online audience.
After a brief rest assignment with the community of brothers who minister at Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller High School, Contadino returned to Dayton in January 2021 to step in as spiritual director of the Marianist Mission after the recent retirement of Father Pat Tonry, S.M. ’55. Remembering the admonition from his deSales parishioners to maintain an online presence, he asked Linda Hayes ’84, director of the Marianist Mission, if there was a way for him to deliver short, timely reflections on the Gospel using a digital format.
“My answer was a resounding yes,” Hayes said. “The Marianist Provincial Council had asked us to increase our outreach through social media platforms, so the idea to allow Father Gene to launch this new communication vehicle seemed like a natural fit,” she said.
In summer 2021, a dynamic production firm based in Minster, Ohio, got involved and began producing a video series called FatherSide Chats. Topics are selected to address everyday issues of faith life and include titles like “What is a Prayer Life?”, “Walk by Faith,” “Hope in Tomorrow,” “Laughter,” “Social Media” and “What it Means to be a Marianist.”
Contadino and the team chose the topics, but he is responsible for the scripts. The crew from Midnet Media selects a venue and prepares for production. Past videos have taken them to serene spots in nature including the woods, by a pond, outside the beautiful chapel at Bergamo near UD’s campus, and even a small independent brewery owned by relatives of the Midnet crew. With more than 20 videos posted, the response has been positive, and the number of views grows daily.
“Donors now expect videos, chats, emails, social media posts, podcasts and webinars,” said Hayes. “With the Catholic population aging, we see a natural attrition of supporters as they pass away. It is important to replace them with younger donors. The pandemic showed us that shifting to digital communications can be successful and is preferred by younger constituents.”
“I want to inspire others to let them know they can do it, too, whatever ‘it’ may be.”
The Marianist Mission has followers not only in the U.S. but also worldwide, so this new web-based show keeps those both near and far connected. And it keeps Father Gene, now 81, engaged and productive.
“When we started out, I wasn’t sure where our venture would go,” he said, “but it’s been well-received, so we have to keep it going.”
While others his age might be contemplating retirement, Contadino considers himself fortunate to be in good health and capable of trying new things. “It’s a challenge, but it’s also a gift,” he said of preparing and producing a presentation every week. “I want to inspire others to let them know they can do it, too, whatever ‘it’ may be.”
Contadino looks forward to getting back on his Harley when warmer weather arrives, but for now, that next ride into the sunset of retirement will just have to wait.
Visit fathersidechats.com to view episodes of Father Gene’s wit and wisdom.