"Advising is job number one at St. Paul’s. I’ve taken that to heart..."
As with the rest of faculty at St. Paul’s, Rick Pacelli serves in multiple roles. In addition to teaching several subjects in the Science Department, two interdisciplinary courses, and guiding students through evening meditation practices, he helps coach girls varsity basketball in the Winter Term, and come summer, teaches Ecology with the Advanced Studies Program.
Among all of these responsibilities, one towers above the rest. “The most important part of my job is as an adviser,” says Pacelli, who works with students in Con/20. “I came here in August 1998, and the dean of students told me in my interview that advising is job number one at St. Paul’s. I’ve taken that to heart ever since.”
Two years have passed since Sixth Former Lark White lived in Con/20, but she says it’s as if she and her former adviser from her Third and Fourth Form years haven't skipped a beat.
“Mr. Pacelli is just as present as he was then,” White said recently. “I had been having a really rough week. We had Chapel in Mem Hall, and I walked up the stairs, and he appeared and said, ‘Are you ok?’ I was literally like ‘how did you know?’ You are in the middle of Chapel, and I can't sit down and have a deep conversation, but it's just that he's asking those questions and he's taking that time to read your energy. That's comforting enough to get you through the day.”
Before becoming an educator, Pacelli worked briefly in big oil following his graduation from Princeton. Disillusioned by its methods and practices, he left the industry after two years and transitioned to work in pastoral ministry in Houston, Texas. Pacelli later moved to New York City where he worked with children and teens in crisis, before entering the academic realm at Iona College, and eventually teaching at an all-boys Jesuit school in Fairfield, Conn. These early experiences inform his approach to life at St. Paul’s.
“It’s a relationship,” says Pacelli of working with his six advisees. “They have to include me in their life here so I can support them.” That can include anything, from struggling in a class or relationships to adjusting to their athletic team, or house life.
Pacelli’s current advisee, Sixth Former Elizabeth Bryant, also appreciates his uncanny ability to be present when a student is in need of support. “Mr. Pacelli is always open to talk about anything,” she says. “He’s definitely able to tell if I'm really stressed out, which is amazing because I don't' see him every day.”
All advisers host in-house meals for their advisees at least once a term, but for the students in Pacelli’s care, these meals are a special highlight. He uses the recipes he learned from his Italian grandmothers and gathers the group at the table for a traditional meal, complete with homemade noodles and polenta.
“He is generous with his time and his kindness,” says White. “There’s a closeness that he establishes with his students that doesn’t fade. It makes you feel very known and cared about. There’s no real prompt for it except his kindness.”