By Allison Follbaum

Friendly. Passionate. Faithful. Influential. Funny. Engaging. Excited. Charismatic. Understanding.

These words describe three of Madonna University’s faculty in the Religious Studies department, who look to retire at the end of the semester.  These faculty members are Fr. Ron DesRosiers, Fr. John Sajdak, and Fr. Frank Grispino, all professors in the Religious Studies or Philosophy departments.

48 years teaching, 23 here at Madonna

Fr. Ron DesRosiers, professor of Religious Studies and Philosophy, started at Madonna in September of 1990 after teaching at Notre Dame High School in Harper Woods.

“Fr. Sajdak, who was teaching here at Madonna, saw an opening, when the fellow who was supposed to teach philosophy had to withdraw,” said Fr. Ron. “He contacted me and said ‘How’d you like to teach at Madonna?’”

Fr. Ron said the requirements shocked him a little bit, when he found out that three philosophy classes and two business ethics classes needed to be taught weekly and that each class lasted for three hours.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to exhaust me,’” said Fr. Ron. “Remember, my high school classes were 45 minutes. Now, I consider 45 minutes warming up! But I said yes, and I never looked back with regret. Never.”

Sr. Rose Marie Kujawa, President of Madonna University, said the University appreciated the application of his scholarly knowledge over the past 23 years.

“Fr. Ron has brought a deep understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of religion, in particular, of the Catholic faith,” said Sr. Rose Marie.

“[H]e is a teacher in the best sense of the word, full of enthusiasm for his teaching material as well as a burning love for his students whom he teaches with unmitigated energy.”

“I’ve always been in education.”

Fr. John Sajdak, Chairperson of Religious Studies, Pastoral Ministry and Philosophy, said he has seen Madonna evolve in the past 18 years he has taught here.

“The student body here, especially when I first started, was all adults. There were hardly any traditional-aged students,” said Fr. Sajdak.

Fr. Sajdak said these adults were people who wanted to finish their degree without taking time for the “college experience.” He told a story about how once, in the midst of a philosophy class during which he was trying to emphasize the practice of taking time to critically about concepts, one gentleman told him, “Father, I don’t have time to think.” Fr. Sajdak chuckled while relating the story.

Fr. Sajdak started at Madonna in 1987, taught for 11 years and then left to serve as principal of Notre Dame High School in Harper Woods for several years. He then returned about seven years later to take over the position of chairperson from Sr. Ann Stamm. 

“I like the challenge of the variety,” said Fr. Sajdak. “I’m somebody that needs a lot of variety in my life and every class is different.”

Dr. Kathleen O’Dowd, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities said Fr. Sajdak filled the post as chairperson “admirably.”

“He’s been something of a pioneer in online teaching at Madonna,” said O’Dowd. “[He teaches] courses to students in Dubai and Haiti as well as in metro Detroit, and [is] taking steps to make it possible to earn a Pastoral Ministry or RST degree completely online.”

“Fr. Jack has mastered distance learning, making available the teachings of the Catholic faith available through the ‘wires,’” said Sr. Rose Marie.

“The third member of the merry trio”

Fr. Frank Grispino has a shorter tenure at Madonna than his collared colleagues, but his dedication and quiet strength make him nonetheless memorable.  

“He too is a treasure of the RST department,” said O’Dowd.

“[He teaches] part-time only, and [offers] a variety of very popular ‘generic’ courses on the Bible (Old Testament, The Psalms, Praying the Scriptures) as well as shorter 1-2 credit hour classes on topics of particular appeal to Catholic students.”

“Fr. Frank also has a deep understanding of the teachings of the Church and imparts them with quiet calm,” said Sr. Rose Marie. “He is not disturbed by challenging questions, and never allows himself to deviate from the truth.” 

Susan Gentner, a 2012 graduate who studied Pastoral Ministry, said she appreciated how Fr. Frank shared his knowledge of the Old Testament during the classes she took.

“Fr. Grispino created questions about the Old Testament that required the student to actually read it,” said Gentner.  “A struggling student could count on Father to develop a way to bring up the grade and was a wealth of knowledge when something was not quite understood.”

Not just teachers, but leaders of liturgy

As Catholic priests, all three men participate in the Madonna University community in a special way. Daily Mass attendees recognize, Fr. Frank, Fr. Sajdak and Fr. Ron as celebrants in the University Chapel every Monday, Thursday and Friday, respectively. At each Mass, they have a chance to impart more wisdom during their homilies.

“I’m going to miss, not just the classroom, but the liturgy here on campus,” said Fr. Ron.

Being a Catholic community, ample opportunities arise throughout the year, such as the annual Blue and Gold or Deo Gratias Masses, for all three priests to participate in special liturgies.

“Father Ron is a deeply spiritual person who inspires all those who come to his liturgies,” said Sr. Rose Marie. “He is often sought out as the celebrant of various Masses here at Madonna, because he is so inspiring.”

All with different preaching and teaching styles, they left their mark in different ways.

“[Fr. Grispino’s] liturgies are always marked by deep piety and a pervasive sense of contemplation,” said Sr. Rose Marie.

“[A]ll three have made themselves available as counselors to Madonna students, here to offer advice or comfort, encouragement or just a sympathetic ear to anyone needing it,” said O’Dowd.

Legacies and the “end of an era”

In talking to Madonna University community members, it becomes obvious that Fr. Ron, Fr. Frank and Fr. Sajdak made an impact during their time here. As the final semester of teaching at Madonna winds down for the three priests, students and faculty share the best stories and memories.

Countless students feel they benefited from the priests’ guidance and example in class.

Jacob Pike, a senior studying Graphic Design said that his classes with Fr. Ron and Fr. Sajdak kept him engaged.

“[Fr. Sajdak] gets you to read one perspective of a teaching and shows the other along with incorporating their beliefs into a modern day society,” said Pike. “And [Fr. Ron] really gets into his work and you can see that he cares and believes in what he teaches instead of [just] going through the motions.”

Katherine Luber, a senior studying Spanish and Communication Studies heard stories of Fr. Ron before she ever took his class.

“Someone told me that during one lecture in their course, he stood on the table while he was lecturing in order to make some point,” said Luber. “That's stuck with me forever because I think that it's pretty funny and also kind of representative of his distinctive teaching style.”

And whether online, or on-campus, students received a quality education. Kate Dekoski, a senior studying Pastoral Ministry and Hospice and Palliative Care, took classes from both Fr. Ron and Fr. Sajdak.

I took a couple of online classes with [Fr. Sajdak] and the amount of knowledge I gained was astonishing. I hate to say this but his classes were very easy, but because it was easy I learned a lot and maybe they were easy because they covered things I was interested in.”

Madonna alumni remember their experiences as well.

“My favorite moment with Fr. Ron occurred at the height of a heated discussion in philosophy class,” said Merry Herdell, 2005 graduate from the Journalism program. “I had been ranting vehemently when he stopped me in mid-sentence by saying, ‘Silence, woman.’ I immediately replied, ‘Yes, man.’”

Rachael Kethe graduated in 2011 from the College of Education, majoring in English, and reminisced about the impression left on her even after the class with Fr. Ron was over.

“I remember walking the halls a few years after I took his class and overhearing the same lesson I sat through my first day in his class. He was standing by the window with his arms spread wide, and he spoke softly, ‘What’s it all about?’ This is how he always starts this class, and I loved feeling like walking in and sitting through the lesson all over again.”

O’Dowd says even from a faculty perspective, their departure will leave a hole in the community.

“I don’t know if the Marists only admit priest candidates with a deeply humorous outlook on life or if we just got lucky,” said O’Dowd. 

“An Arts & Humanities faculty party without the Three Merry Marists would be unthinkably dull.  In fact it’s painful to anticipate future celebrations without them. Their departure will definitely mark the end of an era.”

Final blessings and good wishes

“We will miss Father Ron for many years to come, and wish him all God’s blessings.”  

        -Sr. Rose Marie Kujawa

“I wish them the best and hope they continue to lead long, meaningful, and influential lives where ever they may be.”

        -Jacob Pike, senior, Graphic Design

“Thanks [Fr. Ron] for an interesting and thought-provoking class that I still remember fondly more than five semesters later.”

        -Katherine Luber, senior, Spanish and Communication Studies

“[Fr. Frank,] We wish you all the graces you seek for this new chapter in your life.”

        -Sr. Rose Marie, President of Madonna University

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and as graduate of Madonna University and a current educator, I can only hope that Fr. Ron knows that I pray to have the patience, demeanor, and infectious engagement in my own classroom as I felt as a student in his.”

        -Rachael Kethe, Class of 2011, College of Education, English major

“I believe both men know how much I appreciate all they've taught me. I will miss them very much but I will always keep them in my heart and prayers.”

        -Merry Herdell, Class of 2005, Journalism

“We are deeply grateful for the services of Father Jack and realize it will be very difficult to find another who is as knowledgeable and self-giving as he has been during his tenure here at Madonna University.  God’s blessings be with you, Fr. Jack.”

        -Sr. Rose Marie Kujawa, President of Madonna University


Three beloved professors leave Madonna to follow God’s plan