by Carolyn Arnold
Every university considers it a feather in its cap when a student is selected for a Fulbright Scholarship, the international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Government. Joe Annunziata ’60 holds a special place in Fairfield’s history: Not only was he awarded with a scholarship to teach English and French in France, he was Fairfield’s very first student to win the award. (There have been 53 Fairfield Fulbrights since the University focused on the program in 1993.)
Annunziata was well suited for such a journey, possessing a curious and open mind, and eager to experience new things. With the help of close faculty mentors including the Reverends John L. Bonn, S.J., (Latin and English), Joseph Manning, S.J., (Greek), and Victor Leeber, S.J., (Spanish and Italian) and Dr. Arsene Croteau (French), Annunziata took the plunge and applied for the scholarship. “There was no experience with such an application at Fairfield at that time, and no precedents of other graduates, or even faculty, to rely on,” he recalled. Nevertheless, Annunziata passed all of the requirements and was invited to teach at a French lycee in Paris in 1960.
After graduating from Fairfield and before leaving for Paris, Annunziata began an intensive master’s degree in French language and literature at Middlebury College – where students had to take an oath promising not to speak English!
“We were so inundated with the language that I got to the point where I even dreamt in French,” he said. “When I finally got to France, I felt like I was at home.”
In addition to teaching, Annunziata enjoyed traveling around the country. “You can’t say you know America until you experience Americans in New York, Alabama, or California. Similarly, Paris is different from Provence, which is different from Normandy,” he explained. “For me, it was great to learn the whole of France, not just one corner.”
After his first year in France, he was granted a rare second and third year from the U.S. and French governments to continue his teaching and studies. During that time, he pursued a doctorate in French literature at the Sorbonne while teaching French graduate students at the Catholic University of Paris.
Once he returned to the States in 1963, he received two fellowships to study comparative literature at Yale University. After that, he began a career with the U.S. Government where he taught and wrote about international diplomatic and military issues in Europe and Southeast Asia. His experiences in France made him a fountain of knowledge for the government.
Annunziata also worked at the Pentagon as a speechwriter and news analyst for defense and White House officials. In 1973, he became a legislative aide to senior leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate, where he helped write legislation that allowed women into the military academies.
In 1975, he became an adviser to the Secretary of Defense on international security matters. ”What I was trying to teach people was that to understand a different country, you have to study their history and civilization. You can’t just go in and assume they don’t have valuable experience and that what we have is better.”
After 16 years of service with the U.S. Government – including serving as part of the senior White House staff during the Carter administration – Annunziata decided to apply his skills to community service and business activities.
During more than 25 years in these areas, he has worked with civil and religious organizations at local, state, national, and international levels to encourage an improved quality of life for all people.
This work is just the tip of the iceberg for Annunziata. He continues to be involved in many other worthy projects, such as the Nova Catholic Community, and has worked with other Christian and non-Christian peace communities such as the Quakers, the Mennonites, and Pax Christi International.
This year, Annunziata joins his fellow alumni to celebrate his 50th baccalaureate anniversary. “I have often been aware of how the wisdom-searching orientation I received at Fairfield, especially Jesuit principles, have formed my mind and motivations,” said Annunziata, who now lives in Virginia with his wife Rosemarie. The couple has three daughters. “In issues such as diplomacy, war, or inter-cultural misunderstanding, my reference has often been to what might best result in forgiveness and love.”