Everybody Loves Joe

Celebrating 30 Years of Chaplain Joseph Modica’s Flourishing Ministry to Eastern University

Across from the prayer chapel in Walton Hall, you’ll notice a tall, unassuming pair of wooden doors that lead the way to one of Eastern’s best-kept treasures.

If you open these doors and step inside, you’ll find yourself greeted by piles of well-loved books, photos, and tokens of special moments and relationships collected throughout the years.

As you move past the well-worn blue couch, you’ll notice a desk and chair silhouetted by a bright wall of windows. Behind that desk, you’re greeted by the wide and welcoming grin of beloved Chaplain Joe Modica. His arms extend in hospitality (one gripping a coffee mug) and a robust “Welcome!” follows as he calls you by name in his hearty Brooklyn accent.

If you’re like me, an alum of Eastern within the last three decades, my guess is that you’re nodding your head and smiling as you recall this imagery, since this experience isn’t unique to me – this expression of love from Chaplain Modica is as connected to the Eastern experience as is reciting our motto of Faith, Reason, and Justice.

This year, we are honored to celebrate thirty wonderful years of this love, mentorship, faith development, tutelage, service, friendship, impact, and flourishing under the leadership of Chaplain Joseph B. Modica.

Born in Brooklyn, NY and raised a Queens native, Joe was exposed to the brokenness of human life early on. Joe’s family, education, and religious upbringing instilled in him an attitude of service toward others in spite of this brokenness – a posture which drew him deep into the field of human services, and ultimately, Christian ministry.

Joe’s resume is just as long as it is diverse. From time spent serving as a foster care social worker, pastor, housing specialist at the American Red Cross, phlebotomist, and EMT driving the streets of Queens, Joe’s desire to help others continued to grow.

Along the way, Joe also collected a handful of degrees: a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Queens College (“The same alma mater as Jerry Seinfeld and my wife,” he is sure to note), a Master of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary, and later both an MPhil and PhD in New Testament and Early Christianity from Drew University. It was during his time at Drew that Joe met his longtime colleague and friend, Dr. Chris Hall.

“Joe and I shared an office together as doctoral students for about two years,” shares Dr. Chris Hall. “Joe was the classic ‘people person’: warm, outgoing, funny, the classic extrovert, and genuinely concerned about others. This classic extrovert, though, had a profound faith, was Biblically based, theologically astute, eager to explore important questions, and was always open to others' perspectives and ideas.”

In 1991, Dr. Hall accepted a position at Eastern College as Director of Academic and Spiritual Formation. When the college chaplain position opened up two years later, he was quick to reach out to his friend Joe.

“I was hesitant, but Chris persuaded me to apply – one day I couldn't spell 'chaplain,' and then the next day I became one!” Joe laughs.

“I thought Joe was the perfect fit for Eastern. And indeed, that has turned out to be the case. He's one of the best hires the University has ever made.”

Dr. Chris Hall

Joe is grateful for Dr. Chris Hall, the late Dr. Ted Chamberlain, and Dr. Bettie Ann Brigham ’74 for seeing potential in him that he couldn’t see in Himself.

While many know that Dr. Modica oversees EU’s weekly Chapel services and spiritual formation programming in his chaplaincy role, there are many other passion projects that he is involved in as well.

Joe oversees the Chamberlain Interfaith Fellowship exchange (an immersive Jewish-Christian interfaith experience), teaches several courses within the Biblical Studies department, PhD in Organizational Leadership program, a first-year INST150 course, and somehow finds time to sit and meet with each and every student desiring his presence.

“Joe’s office was a safe place to gather,” explains Dr. Hall. “Students knew he would keep their confidence. They knew he would listen and not condemn. They knew he would offer good advice. They knew he cared. And they knew he loved them enough to honestly address issues head on.”

Former Student Chaplain Rev. Wesley Allen ’96 shares, “Joe is a deep and caring soul. His ability to enter in, to not take himself so seriously in a culture marked by perceived ‘piousness,’ and to love others well has shaped much of my pastoral ministry.”

This intentional practice is what Joe calls “the ministry of presence.” “It is critical for student care,” he explains. “Simply put, it means intentionally showing up and inserting myself anywhere students are, in or out of my office. I want to demonstrate my care and learn up close how to pray for our students and to plan for their needs.”

This posture resonates with former Student Chaplain Jaclyn Favaroso ’20. “Joe is one of those rare people who actually listens, cares, and remembers what you've told him years later. He is one of those special people who remembers everything and does so with intentionality.”

This care extends to Joe's colleagues as well. When faced with a family tragedy in 2016, I personally experienced this intentionality from Joe. He was one of the first to reach out, and exactly one year later, I received a handwritten letter from him with the opening line: “I seem to remember that today is a really hard day for you...”

The unparalleled intentionality and care that comprises Joe’s ministry has left a profound impact on our Eastern community and is integral to our community’s flourishing.

“Without hesitation, it's been a joy and honor to serve the Eastern community,” Joe beams. “I hope the seeds of faith, reason, and justice that are intentionally scattered while students are here will germinate well and grow deep and lasting roots.”

Joe is also sure to acknowledge the loving support his family has given him throughout his ministry. His wife Marianne, children Benjamin, Meredith, Matthew, and Christopher (two of whom have received degrees from Eastern), and three grandchildren Olivia, Joseph, and Emmett have been a constant source of joy in his life.

His brother Steven Modica, Esq. and sister Dr. Maria Fichera, an Eastern Professor of Biology for 25 years who serves as Chair of the Biology department, have also encouraged him to love well and serve authentically in his ministry.

Our Eastern community has been so blessed by Joe and the Christ-like example he leads with.

Happy 30 years, Joe!

This article was originally featured in the Spring 2023 Edition of Eastern Magazine. View the full magazine here.