Rev. Dennis Recio, S.J., teaches rules of etiquette to students at USF
Fr. Recio, who learned the rules of polite society from his parents, finds that students at USF are eager to sign up for his Manners and Etiquette class.
Rev. Dennis Recio, S.J. ’89, grew up in a traditional Filipino family that taught him the right way to behave.
Now Fr. Recio is helping new generations of students at USF learn how to behave correctly – not by way of Filipino traditions but according to Emily Post and similar scholars of etiquette.
Fr. Recio, who serves as an English lecturer at USF’s Ignatius Institute and the English department, teaches etiquette to students both because he saw a need for it as well as a hunger in students to learn the rules of civilized behavior.
“I have memories of sitting through liturgies with my family, who expected me to behave appropriately and who punished me if I misbehaved,” he said. “My parents didn’t have a big bag of Cheerios to placate my siblings or me if we grew bored.”
Fr. Recio’s course in Manners and Etiquette happened “not so much as a criticism of young people. More and more, young college students have told me that they wanted to know how to be in the world – how to engage in business transactions, to behave at formal gatherings such as weddings and conduct themselves during interviews. Their parents weren’t teaching them not to wear flip flops to job interviews.”
Students also never learned simple body-language tips, such as how to shake hands firmly or make eye contact during a conversation. “Young people also believe that conversation simply means waiting your turn to speak rather than asking follow-up questions or showing real interest in what the other person has to say. Students don’t mean ill; they just don’t know how to proceed.”
When he was a young boy, Fr. Recio recalls learning one rule – to surrender your chair to an elderly person. “Once, when an elderly relative needed a chair, I didn’t get up immediately to offer her mine. My mother had to signal me to stand for the person. She didn’t chastise me publicly but explained when I got home to give up my chair to an elderly person always.”
Fr. Recio also grew up with the traditional Catholic Filipino traditions such as circulating among various families a statue of baby Jesus – Santo Niño – to aid devotion. “I was fortunate to grow up in a tradition where faith was unquestioned, and that proved important later in life, even though I found the rosary boring as a child and never thought my local parish was the greatest.”
His experience of religion changed at SI thanks to Friday Morning Liturgies and Sunday Evening Liturgies “where I heard homilies that spoke to me and where worship was age-appropriate and sensitive to the needs of adolescent boys. I also experienced a deepening of the Catholic tradition, one that was sensitive to Sacred Scripture and morality and that came with an incredible intellectual tradition passed on by priests and by wonderful lay teachers such as Michael Shaughnessy, Nick Sablinsky, Barbara Talavan and Lucie Rosa Stagi. I felt blessed having those experiences with learned, intelligent, thoughtful teachers, who trained us to be Catholic gentlemen. They gave us a wide swath of culture from which we could draw out our identities.”
One particular Jesuit influenced him deeply: Rev. John Murphy, S.J. ’59, who served as his spiritual director during his senior retreat. “That retreat was a pivotal moment for me in terms of vocation. He invited me to consider how much Jesus Christ loved me and challenged me to pray in order to believe that. That invitation has born so much good fruit. I felt God invite me to consider religious life, something I wasn’t expecting. I thought I was the last person who would ever become a priest. Fr. Murphy also helped me discern that I needed to grow up a little first and subsequently I decided to attend a public, liberal university to see if I truly had a vocation.”
Fr. Recio earned his bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Cruz, where he specialized in 19th century Victorian literature. He was also exposed to a variety of philosophies and ideas “from Marxism to feminism and queer theory. I survived that experience with my vocation intact in part because I observed that my more liberal colleagues always felt confused as they explored religion and had little commitment to any one specific belief system. They would be Hindu one week and Buddhist the next. That drew me closer to my own faith and, through spiritual direction, I moved deeper into the mystery of who Jesus was for me and who I could be for Christ.”
After entering the Society of Jesus in 1993, soon after graduation, Fr. Recio served in a variety of ministries before coming to USF in 2004. He worked as a chaplain at a convalescent home for women in Culver City, near the Jesuit novitiate, and at Covenant House in Hollywood for runaways. He spent time in Guaymas, Mexico, delivering food to poor families and teaching English. He worked in campus ministry at the University of Hawaii and later taught English to freshmen at Bellarmine in San Jose.
Following his studies in philosophy at Loyola University in Chicago, he returned as a scholastic to SI, where he taught English and worked in campus ministry for two years. Later posts took him to Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles and the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., before his 2004 ordination and a stint as a parish priest at Most Holy Trinity in San Jose.
At USF, he has taught classes in Asian-American Literature, Filipino-American Literature, English Women in the Novel, the Philosophy of Friendship and Horror Films of the Imagination as well as his Manners and Etiquette class, which included lab work as well as reading. “We study the rise of civility, as students need to learn that these sorts of rules and practices are culturally shaped. We have rules not to be snobbish and make others uncomfortable but to be well mannered and to show respect in order to make others feel as comfortable as possible. Too often people confuse manners and etiquette as old-fashioned and having to do with class distinctions. Emily Post made these rules available to everyone to help us all treat one another with due respect.”
Fr. Recio also hopes that his role as priest at a Jesuit university inspires others to consider a vocation to religious life. “If you’re a young man struggling with vocation, listen to what Jesus has to say to you in your prayer life. Let that be the center of discernment. Lead a sacramental life and reflect on where God is leading you.”
All priests and religious face challenges to religious life, he added. “The vow of obedience can be difficult and living in community poses its own challenges. It’s not easy sharing resources, such as cars and money, but one learns to do so. Despite these struggles, religious life is a joyful life and no life is worth living if it has little struggle. It isn’t about liking everyone but about accepting that one’s brother is part of one’s spiritual growth. When someone rubs me the wrong way, that’s God showing me that I have something to work on personally. There’s an element of purgation happening here. If one is open to giving oneself over to letting go, of emptying himself in a kenotic sense, then one can move to a greater freedom of life in Jesus Christ. This final lesson might be the best reason to abide by manners and etiquette. By paying attention to one’s behavior and acting graciously, one expresses love for one’s neighbor and finally, God.”
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