10 Things to Know About Rev. James Chichetto, C.S.C.
Get to Know the Priest, Professor and Poet.
At first glance, Rev. James Chichetto, C.S.C. '64 may not seem like the type of person who would ever listen to a song by Lil Wayne. In reality, he has probably spent more time than most ruminating over the rapper and his work.
The Holy Cross priest, who also serves as associate professor of communication at Stonehill College, teaches a course on music and metaphor. Fr. Chichetto’s students are responsible for introducing him to the entertainer behind songs like “Tha Block is Hot” and “My Homies Still.”
“I can thank one class for helping me to put together a paper on the value of idiom in the works of Lil Wayne and Shakespeare, which I delivered at the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics Conference at Princeton University,” he said.
Of course, Fr. Chichetto has not only composed works focused on hip hop artists. Here are 10 things to know about the prolific writer.
1. His poems are epic. Since the 1990s, Fr. Chichetto has been working on The Dream of Norumbega, a six-volume, 12,000-line poem examining United States history from the points of view of various cultural groups. So far, he has published the work’s first four volumes. He is currently editing the final two installments.
2. He enjoys immersing himself in history. Conceiving how historical figures would respond to events happening around them was Fr. Chichetto’s favorite part of writing The Dream of Norumbega. “The most challenging part of any imaginative work is always trying to make the characters as complex and as genuine as they can possibly be,” he said.
3. Writer’s block does not rattle him. While this condition frustrates most creatives, Fr. Chichetto maintains a unique perspective on the affliction. “In a way, writing is about probing one’s experiences, oneself, the silence and speechlessness we sometimes live through, then putting these things down to make sense of them,” he said. “Writer’s block can be helpful, at least in part, if it lays open a writer to a period of testing to get a fix on why he or she is writing in the first place.”
4. Many people have influenced his writing. Fr. Chichetto named William Shakespeare as one of his influences. He rereads the playwright’s works every summer. He also considers writings by Rev. Kevin Spicer, C.S.C., dean of the May School of Arts & Sciences, to be inspiring. “His work [on the Holocaust] has had a profound influence on how I view that catastrophic evil,” he said.
5. He is a self-described stickler for grammar. The poet notes he grades students heavily on correct grammar when reviewing their assignments. “Having no grammar is like repairing a building with no scaffolding,” he said.
6. He has advice for aspiring writers. “Read, read and read,” he said. “Try also to seek out the advice of published professors and writers, keep a journal (about anything), get the mechanics of writing down, learn grammar, but above all, have something to say. Often ‘having something to say’ comes after graduation, after working at a job. You have to feel rooted in the real world, as it were.”
7. His grandmother played a big role in his life. Mary McInnis, Fr. Chichetto’s maternal grandmother, set him on his path to the priesthood. “One Sunday in church, when I was very young, she pointed to the tabernacle and said, ‘God is right here. God is everywhere, but He is right here in a special way,’” he said. “That moment bonded me to Jesus and eventually led me to this life. I really believe that.”
8. He lived in Peru for four years. Fr. Chichetto's days were spent celebrating Mass, teaching religion at a high school and visiting the sick. “My work was the normal ministry of any priest anywhere, but it personally broadened me to the point that I could listen to anything or anyone without shock,” he said. “I also got to love the Peruvians with all their mirth, diversity and hope that seemed to put doubt to sleep.”
9. He makes good use of his free time. “There is never enough time in Holy Cross,” he said. “We are always on the go, but we also take time to relax from all the challenges in the distance.” When he can engage in a little R&R, Fr. Chichetto likes listening to music, reading, writing and meditating. He also enjoys walking, visiting loved ones, gardening and watching films and plays with his Holy Cross brothers.
10. He feels a deep connection with the community. Working at Stonehill has helped Fr. Chichetto embrace humanity in ways he did not before arriving on campus. “When I first came here, for example, I just prayed for myself and certain people,” he said. “Now I pray for everyone, whether they are pleased to be prayed for or not. I feel that I am connected to each person here. Learning to appreciate and celebrate this connectedness—respecting and valuing each person here—is one thing that has changed me since working at Stonehill College.”