Welcome Fr. Don


Tyler Pizzico

New Head of School Fr. Don Reilly O.S.A looks forward to interacting with students, acting as both a teacher and a student, and talking about his favorite movie: “The Godfather.”

Seriously, make sure to see that movie. He takes personal offense if you never have.

Reilly certainly fits his name. In Spanish, “Don” translates to gift or a gift from God. As Malvern’s next Head of School, Reilly is looking to hopefully make his presence a gift to us here on campus.

Malvern is a close-knit community that’s essence stems from the idea of Truth, Unity, and Love. Having a Head of School who has grown up and embraced those core values his entire life is reassuring.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was truly destined for [priesthood]. I’m lad I chose the life I did. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been more fulfilling than anything I could think of.”[/perfectpullquote]

“I’m from the area and I feel my whole life has been in the presence of the Augustinian mission. I went to Grammar School at St. Philomena’s in Lansdowne, then I went to Monsignor Bonner high school which of course is also an Augustinian school,” Reilly said. “After that I went on to join the order, getting a dual degree in philosophy and sociology at Villanova University. Then I moved on to Washington to pursue, as all Augustinians must, my masters in Theology. Must I say more about my involvement with the Augustinian message?”

Being constantly surrounded by religious people and institutions certainly instilled in him a strong faith. However, two specific things helped Reilly realize his true vocation which was to join the priesthood.

The first was a combination between his upbringing and parents.

“My parents were certainly my role models growing up. They were lay people who were able to integrate their faith into making a difference in the human experience – in particular in my life,” Reilly said. “They were mission driven people because they knew what they had to do for their eight children. Seeing how hard my parents worked, my siblings and I realized we had to make them proud and bring honor to the family. I saw God in my parents each day; this is when I first recognized I had a vocation for religious life.”

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“When I come to a meeting, I try to hide my agenda and let other direct the course of the meeting. I keep my opinions at bay until I can learn from others.”[/perfectpullquote]

The second was his experience with the Church during his time in primary and secondary school.

“It was a different age, but I clearly remember in the seventh grade I was going to try and get to Mass everyday for Lent. It was a bit ambitious considering I had to walk there but I ended up doing it,” Reilly said.

It wasn’t always easy, but Reilly ended up seeing God’s call through his persistence and dedication.

“It was hard to relate and truly dive deep into these masses; they were usually in remembrance of someone who had passed away, the priest always had his back to me, and to top it off the whole thing was in Latin,” Reilly said. “So a couple days in I decided to get there early to see the Sisters come in. I loved that they stepped into a space that brought me to another reality. It got me in touch with my aspirational side and, at this young age, I began to ask myself who I wanted to be in life.”

This question stuck with Reilly all the way to high school.

“Junior year a priest came up to me and said he thought I’d make a great Augustinian. I told him it wasn’t for me,” Reilly said. “I didn’t want to be that exposed.”

However, Reilly knew he was lying to this priest. He knew he was lying to himself. He didn’t yet know God was calling him.

“I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was truly destined for [priesthood]. I’m glad I chose the life I did. It hasn’t always been easy but it’s been more fulfilling than anything I could think of,” Reilly said.

Senior year, he decided to join the order and went to Villanova University to indulge in the extensive educational experience mentioned above. He was ordained in 1974 and his first assignment was in Jamaica, New York in the UN village.

“This was fabulous for me because I was a local yokel. Then I was in a parish where 61 countries were represented,” Reilly said. “When I had off days I would go to Manhattan to see all the shows, it was just wonderful.”

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Very few people like change. However, like my change from St. Augustine’s to Malvern, I embrace and accept it. It’s better to make the most of the opportunity rather than complain about it.”[/perfectpullquote]

Just as Fr. Reilly realized his true calling for the priesthood after some internal questioning, he realized his true calling for education shortly after.

“When I was done my masters I said to myself ‘I’m glad I’m leaving; I’m done with education.’ Boy was I wrong,” Fr. Reilly said. “As you can tell, I love to study, otherwise I wouldn’t have devoted my life to it. After my stay in the village, I started a doctoral ministry program at New York Theological.”

The difference between a [Doctor of Ministry] and a regular PhD is an assumption that God is active in your life. “It enables me to be a qualified spiritual counselor and director,” Reilly said.

With such knowledge and experience under his belt, he was elected Provincial. With this brought much opportunity.

“As provincial, I was on many Boards of Trustees. I was on the Board at Merrimack College, Villanova University, Malvern Prep, and St. Augustine’s where I was chair,” Fr. Reilly said. “I was pastor of my parish and I was co-founder of Siloam Ministries which [Malvern] helps benefit with the C.A.R.E.S walk.”

When St. Augustine’s needed a change of pace, his position as chair on their board put him at the top of the list for the new Head of School.

“I came to St. Augustine’s frankly when they were in a state of crisis. I used my education and experience with the place being on the Board there to not immediately institute change, but to listen to what others thought,” he said. “I take this practice from St. Augustine very seriously. When I come to a meeting I try to hide my agenda and let others direct the course of the meeting. I keep my opinions at bay until I can learn from others.”

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Though I am a well-practiced educator, I haven’t forgotten how I got here – being a student.”[/perfectpullquote]

To Fr. Reilly, teachers being students doesn’t detract from learning experiences in their class. It actually enhances those experiences and makes those individuals more thoughtful educators.

“Though I am a well-practiced educator, I haven’t forgotten how I got here – being a student,” Fr. Reilly said. “If teachers aren’t willing to adapt to the new style of learning and upgrade their teaching techniques, students won’t buy into the idea either.”

Fr. Reilly sees a bit of a disconnect between the culture at Malvern and what the educational style at the school is transitioning to.

“I think the culture supports the education, but you can’t build a culture on education. It must rest on something,” Fr. Reilly said. “So when I hear students say ‘that’s not how we do things here, I hear something else. I hear ‘we aren’t used to this; how are we going to incorporate this into our school?’”

Fr. Reilly hopes to change the attitude towards the changes to Malvern.

“Very few people like change. However, like my change from St. Augustine’s to Malvern, I embrace and accept it,” Fr. Reilly said. “It’s better to make the most of the opportunity rather than complaining about it. We can’t change what happens but we can offer our insight to make the student experience the best it can be.”

Fr. Reilly realizes that it may sometimes be intimidating for a student to recommend change to an administrator so he has proposed an idea.

“At [St. Augustine’s] I have blocks of time I leave open for students to come in and talk to me,” Fr. Reilly said. “It can be about anything. A lot of times I find they tell me things that they wouldn’t say in a group setting. Many of times I used that information to better the school for the students.”

Fr. Reilly also agreed to have a town hall with seniors so he can learn about the school and what might need change. “I’d be willing to do it with just me or any other teacher that you guys wanted to be there. Whatever you think would be most productive,” Fr. Reilly said. “I want it to be completely student-planned though.”

He has full trust in the student body.

“Student-centered learning has become very important to me. Students have never failed me or the institution yet. Sometimes the institution may fail the students by not affording them this level of independence,” Fr. Reilly said. “For example, everyday at lunch a student gets up and says grace. During Mass, I stop and let students react to what they’ve heard.”

Once students are exposed to this type of involvement in the school, Fr. Reilly sees that they mature and gain confidence.

“It leads to students and teachers getting much more out of their experiences at the school,” Fr. Reilly said.

Fr. Reilly also believes that under the spectrum of student-centered learning, teachers, according to the Augustinian message, must coach students to become better people as well as better students.

“My experience with teaching seniors is that they always want to get their career path going. ‘Let me get out there and get some money, only teach me what I need to know and let’s see what happens,’” Fr. Reilly said. “It’s what kind of person you are as you pursue what it is you are going to do that defines you, not necessarily the thing you become.”

From what Fr. Reilly’s seen, we have a great school here. The worst thing a student can do is not take advantage of all the opportunities he is afforded. Four years is not a long time.

“My first piece of advice is to be who you say you are. Don’t let fear stand in the way,” Fr. Reilly said. “Every time I’ve talked to a Malvern student, they’re beaming about how much they love to come here. Don’t take what you have for granted; you have a great amount of opportunities at your fingertips.”

His second piece of advice: watch “The Godfather.”

“I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse,” Reilly said, referencing Don Vito Corleone. “Get to know the movie and you’ll start off on the right foot with me. You think it’s a coincidence we’re both the ‘Don?’”

Malvern Prep is publishing updates on the Head of School transition here.

Read our editorial “Fr. Reilly, This is Malvern” here.

Tommy Pero ’17 contributed to reporting on this story.