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RIP Father Palladino, Master of Letter Forms

MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD. Father Robert Palladino taught calligraphy at Reed from 1969 to 1984.

Father Robert Palladino, a vital force in Reed's calligraphy tradition, and mentor to many scholars of the letter—including a penniless dropout named Steve Jobs—died quietly at home in Welches, Oregon, on Friday, according to his son, Eric. He was 83 years old.

A former Trappist monk, Father Palladino taught calligraphy at Reed from 1969 to 1984, where he guided students on an intellectual voyage through the the art and history of the letters of the alphabet with brush, pen, quill, and ink.

“Whenever you write, write something worth reading,” he told his students.

Born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Palladino joined the Trappist order at the age of 17. He deepened his knowledge of letter forms at the Abbey of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Lafayette, Oregon, where he served as scribe, choirmaster, and bookbinder, in between shifts pruning the monastery’s orchards.

Palladino left the order in 1968 and joined Prof. Lloyd Reynolds at Reed the following year, instructing students in calligraphy. One of his students was Steve Jobs, who later spoke about the impact that Father Palladino's classes had on him. “It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture.”

Palladino was the subject of an extensive profile in Reed in 2003 and in the Catholic Sentinel in 2011. He wrote a moving article in Reed about his mentor, Father Edward Catich, who cut the stone inscriptions for Eliot Hall. He was also instrumental in ushering in the revival of calligraphy at Reed with the Cooley Gallery's Calligraphy Initiative in honor of Lloyd J. Reynolds.

“It was a remarkable thing for our community for Robert to return to Reed and begin teaching again through the Calligraphy Initiative," said the gallery's director Stephanie Snyder ’91, who founded the initiative. "He was deeply disappointed when Reed dissolved the calligraphy program in the 1980s, and elated that it had returned as a community endeavor."

"Robert understood the importance of silence, of slowing down and paying close attention; values that often get drowned out in the din of contemporary American culture," said Calligraphy Initiative Coordinator Gregory MacNaughton ’89, who now leads a weekly scriptorium on campus. "He found it amusing that he would be remembered primarily as the calligraphy teacher of Steve Jobs, especially since Robert did not own and never used a computer ('The letters are so ugly on the screen.') However, Robert was a prolific correspondent and a handwritten letter from him was always a testament to his immense kindness and generosity as well as a transcendent example of what can be accomplished when the human mind and the human hand are united in the making of beautiful, ordinary things."

A funeral mass for Father Palladino is scheduled for 11 a.m.Friday, March 11, at St Mary's Cathedral, 1716 NW Davis Street, Portland.

Plans are afoot to hold a scriptorium in his honor at Reunions ’16, June 8-12.

In the meantime, honor Father Palladino with a gift in his name to the Calligraphy Initiative, and share your memories in the comments below.

Tags: calligraphy, professors

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