Fr. Archimede Fornasari (Fr. Archie to most of us) often joked that his was a really big name for a small person. Diminutive in body, Fr. Archie will be remembered as a giant among the Comboni Missionaries because of his superior intellect and his gentle, simple soul.
Fr. Archie was born near in Pianello Val Tidone near Piacenza, Italy in a poor laborers family of five children, three boys and two girls. One of his brothers became a diocesan priest. “I can say that my parents and grandparents were at the origin of my vocation,” he wrote later in life. “And from them I learned that poverty is nothing to be ashamed of, but makes us discover the joy of sharing. And something else: always choose what is genuine.” Genuine he was, to a fault.
At age 11 he entered the diocesan seminary where, in the course of time, he discovered and nurtured his missionary vocation. In 1945, he entered the Comboni novitiate of Florence. In 1948 Fr. Archie was sent to Cincinnati, Ohio to complete his theology studies. Priestly ordination followed on March 25, 1950.
For the next 18 years, Fr. Archie kept busy in the North American Province teaching alternatively at Sacred Heart High School Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio and at our Junior College location in Monroe, Mich. At the same time, he was also busy in mission promotion and priestly ministry. His quick and inquisitive mind also opened for him many paths of knowledge, because during those same years he managed to earn three degrees. First came a bachelor degree from Xavier University in Cincinnati and, two years later, a Master Degree from the same institution. Then followed a Ph. D. in Philosophy from the Catholic University of America located in Washington, D.C.
Fr. Archie’s total giving of himself did not go unnoticed and in 1969 he was elected to the post of Assistant General for a six year stint. These were historic years in the life of the Institute. For one thing, on the heel of Vatican II, religious congregations were being asked to rediscover their original charisma and rewrite their Rule of Life accordingly. The keen mind of Fr. Archie was greatly appreciated in fulfilling this mandate. Secondly, we, as Comboni Missionaries, were embarking on the long path to reunion of the two branches of the congregation. The best minds and most loyal hearts from both sides were working together to bring about the miracle of unification. Naturally Fr. Archie was a natural choice.
At the end of his mandate in Rome, new horizons, partly due to his inspiration, were opening up for the Comboni Missionaries as they joined the inter-congregational school of mission theology known as the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois. The international scholasticate was opened there in 1976 and Fr. Archie was one of the educators. It was the beginning of a close relationship between the Comboni Missionaries, represented mainly by Fr. Archie and Fr. Charles Walter, and the school. Fr. Gil Ostdiek, OFM one of the early educators sent us his recollection of those 25 years or so that help us understand the depth and the breadth of Fr. Archie’s contribution to higher education in mission:
“At the end of that year (1976), Fr. Archie, as he was known at CTU, was also hired to teach a course for the next two years in a specialty and deep interest of his: dialogue between Marxism and Catholic social thought. That appointment soon developed into a full-time position as associate professor in Catholic ethics, especially in areas such as social ethics, global economic justice, world poverty and liberation, politics and Christian conscience. His constant concern was regeneration of Christian ethical language born from an ecumenical reading of the signs of the times. In addition to his teaching and writing, Fr. Fornasari provided weekend service in local parishes. On his retirement from full-time teaching in 1997, CTU appointed Fr. Fornasari to the position of Senior Research Fellow. He continued to offer occasional seminars and spent countless hours in the library continuing to do his research. He never lost his enthusiasm and love for learning. During his years at CTU, Fr. Fornasari also served as Director of the Center of Theology and Ministry in a Global Perspective (1977-1979) of the ecumenical cluster of theological schools; as a member of the Steering Committee for the Chicago Area Conference for Christian-Muslim Improved Relations (1988); and as Chairperson of the Midwest Fellowship of Professors in Mission (1990-1991); as well as visiting professor at the Catholic University of East Africa in Nairobi. Failing health brought his teaching career at CTU to an end in December, 2009. Fr. Archie is fondly remembered at CTU for his passion for learning, his gentle spirit, and the unpretentiousness that marked his keen intellect.”
Fr. Archie’s contribution to formation is here mentioned in passing, but we have the witness of those who saw him at work in Kenya as passed on to us by Fr. Raphael Wokorach: “Fr. Archie came to Nairobi on the invitation of Fr. Fernando Colombo to help a Consolata priest to found the post-graduate Philosophy department at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). He was integrated in the faculty as visiting professor every summer in 1991 -1996.
Fr. Archie was known for his forgetfulness and endearing anecdotes abound. Notwithstanding his forgetfulness, the one thing Fr. Archie would never forget was his academic program – timetable, colloquy, faculty meetings… Teaching was his lifeline. He loved it and carried teaching ministry with great dedication. He supervised the work of many students in social philosophy. Some of his former students, now in teaching posts in the same university or nearby seminaries, remember the support he gave them to secure books and his personal interest in their projects. He enriched the library. Every summer he brought with him one or two suitcases of required philosophy books and journals.”
Fr. Archie continued his service also in parishes entrusted to the Comboni Missionaries in the Archdiocese of Chicago, especially in St. Donatus in Blue Island, Illinois until, due to his age and his failing health, he chose to retire in his native Italy. There he continued to brighten everyone’s day with his cheerful, simple, dedicated presence. The Lord called him to the reward promised to the Faithful Servant on June 21, 2018.