Friday, January 25, 2008

Scholarship honors Santa Clara University's Father Coz

By Kim Vo
Mercury News
For a generation of Santa Clara University graduates, Father Richard Coz was as much a part of college life as classes, Broncos games and the iconic mission at the heart of the campus.

There he was, at fraternity parties, a silent reminder to not get too wild. There he was, looming at rugby and soccer games, camera in hand, snapping pictures he would later hand out during class or mail at Christmastime. Coz also remained a constant presence after graduation, officiating at more than 800 weddings and baptizing hundreds of children of alumni.

Even now, as he recovers from a stroke and heart surgery in a Jesuit retirement home in Los Gatos, he's still in their lives. Former students drop by all the time.
Last spring, SCU graduate Steve Erbst decided to establish a scholarship named after the retired economics professor. He sent out an e-mail to some friends, who passed it onto their friends and so on.

In three months, they raised more than $50,000 - an amount most scholarship campaigns take nearly a year to reach. Today, the Pause for Coz campaign has topped $150,000 - a testament to Coz's enduring popularity and a possible model for how the university could run future Internet campaigns, said Charmaine Williams, an associate director in the development office.

The results of the fundraising efforts have pleased Erbst, a Los Gatos resident who graduated in 1988 - but they haven't surprised him. The sales executive regularly meets fellow Broncos in his work "and inevitably someone asks, 'Did you know Father Coz?' " Erbst said. "It was an instant bond that was bigger than Santa Clara."

Williams noted that a recent alumni survey asked graduates to name one person from the university who had a "special impact" on their college experience. Coz came out in the top five, the only person still living to do so.

Coz came to Santa Clara in 1963, the son of a Catholic father and Baptist mother. He served in the Navy from 1942 to 1946, and entered the Jesuit order a year later.

Coz liked "the sacrifice you had to make to give yourself entirely to the church," he said, sitting in his small but tidy bedroom at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, where he keeps boxes of old college photographs.

He had taught English and Latin at Catholic high schools, but the college crowd appealed to him more. The older students made it easier to socialize and were more informal.

"I felt that when they got to know me, they accepted religion more easily," said Coz, now 83 and 60 pounds slimmer after a series of health problems.

Officially, he taught economics, or "Cozinomics" as his story-filled lectures were known. But he also worked in the Study Abroad Program, became a rugby moderator - "but rugby is not really moderated," he admitted - and attended numerous football, soccer and intramural sports games with camera in hand. He later developed the pictures in his bedroom.

He also volunteered as chaplain to Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, though - like rugby - "at that age you can't moderate them." He attended frat parties nevertheless "so it wouldn't get that wild."

Coz recalled one party that proved the priest's philosophy was working.

"I got to the party late. They had already started," he paused delicately, "enjoying themselves."
The guest of honor was drunk - it was his 21st birthday - but managed to corner the priest and say, "You know how I know God likes me? Because you like me."

Coz had a deft touch with students and tailored his approach to each one, said Mike Nicoletti, whose brother first recommended that the then-anxious freshman take Coz's class. Coz was a "fatherly figure as well as an instructor" to him, Nicoletti said, but took a different approach with Nicoletti's brother, John, who was so unmotivated that he didn't even bother buying the book for one class.

"One day," Nicoletti recalled, "Father Coz came up and said, 'Hey, John, you know those jocks in the class? Every one of them is doing better than you.' "

Coz retired in 1995, but remains an important part of Nicoletti's life.

In 1975, he had recommended Nicoletti for a job in Fresno; Nicoletti is now president of the grain company. Coz officiated at Nicoletti's wedding and baptized his three children. And every Christmas, the priest travels to Fresno to celebrate Mass with the family.

It's those extra touches that have cemented Coz's place in Santa Clara history, said Marte Formico, who graduated in 1983 and still visits Coz weekly.

He "baptized all three of my kids, married me, baptized my stepfather, confirmed my nephew," Formico said. "You can pick a thousand people who graduated SCU. And they have similar stories to mine."

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