As It Were

We say that the style is the man. Style as the soul of wit and wisdom is the person. The aphorism points to this memoir’s author, Joseph Roccasalvo: refined, astute and ironic. Readers will envision him moving at a slight angle to family and friends, exuding his intelligence to wide benefit. He is at once scholar and believer. Although the events of his life may enlarge on his attainments, we value him best for his faith and hope. Like his namesake, Joseph, he’s accounted a blessing. He avoids being confessional by his cool, robust, somewhat distant stance. If he’s a practitioner of perfect prose, he’s also practitioner of the perfect pose: linguist and novelist; orientalist and playwright. He alarms us with the library he carries in his head. He’s the recorder of the secrets and longings, not only of his friends, but also of himself. This is the triumph of Roccasalvo’s memoir told with singular purpose. It’s a story of divine providence; of grace doled out during infancy which brings all things mysteriously to completion.

  • We say the style is the man. Style as the soul of wit and wisdom is the very person. The aphorism points to this memoir’s author, Joseph Roccasalvo: refined, astute and ironic.  Readers will envision him moving at a slight angle to family and friends, exuding his intelligence to wide benefit.
    Daniel Berrigan, S.J.
  • Joseph, This book is nothing like the draft you sent me. It is a masterpiece. It is friendly and readable as well. You weave in thought, therapy, religion, family. Oh the walk with your dad, and then the idea you might be guilty from it. I always feel emotionally that my mother kept me from my dad. So you see, this is a book where one thinks about oneself as well as adoring reading about you... we orphans, especially. Too emotional when I got to the part about Octavian, Smith and Schimmel. Joseph, I think this is one of the best memoirs ever written. Congratulations!
    Jane Merrill Author of eight books and several articles
  • Dear Joseph, Just a note to say I read and enjoyed your memoir, especially the SJ parts—Nathan, Michael and Tolin whom I did not know— and the wonderful pictures. Thank you again for the book.
    Raymond Schroth, S.J. Associate editor, America magazine
  • Dear Joseph, What a splendid surprise! Not a wholly unexpected one, as you had forewarned me last summer. But it is a very impressive work. Congratulations! The photos of Michael and Tolin were very touching, and the early shots of Joan were simply amazing. Were it not for classes I must conduct, I would simply lay into it until there was nothing more to read. But that will come. Molte grazie.
    Richard Woods, O.P. University professor and prolific writer
  • Dear Joseph, During intervals of leisure on my retreat, I have been reading AS IT WERE. I’m not sure at which angle I ever had the pleasure of reading your verse. But here my life has been scrutinized from every angle with nothing left under a stone. Transparency with my Jesuit director has been like solar light so that all the shadows of the past and present are neutralized by a love passed in the delight of solitude. In that spirit I am grateful for your sharing with us your life with family and friends. It is a privilege to know so many stories yet untold—those secrets we shared on holy ground. You and I can cry and laugh and celebrate our perseverance in the wars of doubt and faith. Though you write your life at a slight angle to the universe, the memoir leaves me on a straight plane with a direct line to my heart. I know I have appeared and disappeared from your life. But the light of friendship still endures, and no darkness can ever extinguish it. Love,
    Thomas Picton, CSsR
  • Joseph: A few months ago, Father Michael Holleran mentioned your recent memoir, AS IT WERE, and I immediately scooped it up and devoured it. Thanks so much for writing it. It was lovely, for it brought me through fond memories with a smile and a relishing of golden times. The memoir related to me in several ways: my brothers, Ed ’54 and Kevin ’57, were at Brooklyn Prep around your time. Then there were the signature encounters—yours and mine—with the Christian Action Core: its music and varied horizons. I thank you for helping me relive all of it again. Then there were my days at St. Andrew’s Novitiate which paralleled your own at Bellarmine College; and finally my later interweaving with Zen. The memoir made so many connections. Who else but you in one book could write of my experience in high school; of Thomas Berry and Charlie Winans; of how we novices understood asceticism and what we did for fun? Who else could speak of Father Daniel Berrigan or the glory of comparative religious paradox; of psychology and spirit and the actual practice of contemplation in action? And I hadn’t thought of my school mate, Rich Cucolo, in more than forty years. So your sweet book in my hands, Joseph, was a great journey for which I thank you. I hope you are well.
    Peter McLoughlin CEO Consulting Firm
  • Dear Joseph, Your memoir, AS IT WERE, greeted me when I arrived home from Hawaii. It was the perfect book to see me through the impending twenty inches of snow that fell on Chicago later that day, into the evening, till noon the next day. As the snow fell and tried to dampen my suntanned soul, my spirit soared as I turned page after page of your memoir. There is so much to comment on: your family, the Jesuits, your mother’s journals, a wonderful kaleidoscope of your life, but this will do for now. Your memoir is a manifestation of what I say in my own book, THE WISDOM OF MEMOIR: “I define memoir as a narrative that captures and communicates one’s own specific life experience and its individual and social, personal and communal significance.” Your book indicates that I got the theory right. I was honored to have been named in it—a “shout out” as the current generation would call it—and the genius and geniality of the IPS summer faculty, which you headlined with such optimism and creativity, flowed back into my consciousness. “From a table in the corner they could see a world reborn.” Thank you for the recollection. By the way, do you or any of your characters ever not eat at a corner table? Again, Joseph, thank you for the inscribed book. I treasure it. Cheers,
    Peter Gilmour Emeritus Loyola University professor
  • Dear Joseph, Thank you so much for sending a copy of AS IT WERE. I have enjoyed every page of it. I learned a great deal about chapters of your life that I never knew. The novitiate in upstate New York was fascinating. I was reminded of many experiences we shared, if only indirectly. The book I’m sure will be a precious resource for all your friends. One of your accomplishments is your skill as a poet. The retranslation of “The Prodigal Son” in linked limericks is masterful. I know it will come in handy. I hope we’ll catch up soon and plan a few new chapters. With great affection, as always,
    David Eckel Boston University professor, Mahayana Buddhism
  • I would like to recommend a memoir recently published by Joseph Roccasalvo. It's entitled AS IT WERE: Life at a Slight Angle to the Universe, published by Xlibris and available through Amazon. It contains reflections of his life at Brooklyn Preparatory High School, both as student and teacher. It also includes some marvelous Charlie Winans anecdotes. I think that alumni from the late Fifties, when Joseph was a student at the Prep, or from the Sixties, when he taught there, would find the book insightful and enjoyable. Prep alumni might want to know about it.
    Joseph Lombardi St. Joseph’s University professor of ethics
  • What’s most remarkable about Roccasalvo’s memoir, AS IT WERE, is that it’s completely accessible and endlessly mysterious. You’ve never been told anything like it, though what it tells you has been there all along. Is there more going on than meets the eye, or is what meets the eye all that’s going on? The answer is yes.
  • Dear Joseph, I wish to thank you for your marvelous book, AS IT WERE. I really enjoyed looking back and recollecting le temps perdu. A lot of JR is present all the way through, but so are your intriguing thoughts on priesthood, friendship, dealings with writers and poets, the Jesuit Order’s ups-and-downs, and finally your family. It’s a wonderful travelogue while being at the same time a confessional work. So when I’m again in NYC, I’d like us to have lunch or dinner together. I just want to toast the “toast” of AS IT WERE. I need to tell you how often—and in so many places—I shared your slightly askew view of our universe. Do continue your wondrous ministry: to the unchurched; to overt and covert Buddhists; and especially to those radically searching souls who remain beloved. Love and prayers,
    Peter Murray Director of the Jesuit Martyrs Shrine, Auriesville, NY

I begin this memoir in a state of acute reluctance. I’m not even sure I can call it a memoir, for my story consists of reminiscences extending over five decades in which the breaks are exceptionally long. My record of events begins with the alpha of infancy, full of boundless affection, and ends with the omega of adulthood when choices have narrowed and aging is the clearest sign of movement. The memories I set down are taken from several periods so detached in time and space that I have to fill in the gaps. I’m happy to do so for I chanced to come into contact with persons of genius who became my friends.  I’m fortunate to have in safekeeping a body of their work that is still unpublished.  What they share in common is fidelity to fine writing, and my intent is to ensure them public recognition.