COE Community Remembers Longtime VESL Partner Father Wally Kasuboski
Greg Chauhan ’92 ChE (left) and Chris McCartin ’91 CE (right) reconnected with Father Wally (center) in 1997 as they helped facilitate a student trip to Panama. Chauhan and McCartin were among the first Villanova volunteers to work with Father Wally in the early 1990s.
The Rev. Walter Kasuboski, OFM, Cap., a longtime partner of the Villanova Engineering Service Learning (VESL) program who devoted his life to improving the living conditions for residents of rural Panama, died July 20, 2022. He was 75. To honor his legacy, the College of Engineering is holding a memorial service Friday, March 24, at Corr Chapel on campus.
Villanova’s relationship with “Father Wally,” as he was affectionately known, began in 1991, when the Capuchin priest reached out to Campus Ministry requesting engineering help for his mission in the Alto Bayano region of Panama. Chris McCartin ’91 CE, newly graduated from the College of Engineering, answered the call. Having never met Father Wally, McCartin made his way to Panama for an 18-month stay, equipped with engineering textbooks, surveying equipment donated from John Barry Hall and about 20 words of Spanish.
“I’m waiting at the airport, and here comes Father Wally around the corner in his pickup truck, with a John Deere hat and a muscle shirt,” recalled McCartin, now a managing director of design and construction at Tishman Speyer in New York. “It was an absolutely life-changing experience for me. I picked up enough language to get by, and within a month we were off on our own every day doing our own projects. We just synced up, hit it off on a personal level.”
The work with Father Wally centered on providing clean-water access to multiple communities in remote Panama—a mission that has since drawn hundreds of Villanova students through service-learning trips over a three-decade partnership. A few months after McCartin met Father Wally, the first group of Villanova volunteers arrived to assist with surveying watersheds, laying pipe and building water tanks.
The projects were not without their difficulties, McCartin said. But in Father Wally’s mind, there was never a problem that couldn’t be fixed or a challenge that couldn’t be surmounted.
“You know how they say failure is not an option? In this case, it really isn’t,” McCartin said. “It’s very binary: It’s pass-fail. Either you figure out how to get clean water to that person’s home, or you don’t. Father Wally would go up against Goliath and just start chipping away at a problem until it was solved. He was very ambitious and very committed.”
Father Wally’s persistence led to the largest rural water system in Central America, bringing potable water to more than 15,000 people in 14 villages. With assistance from teams of Villanova students and faculty members, his mission also built churches, roads and schools in the region.
In 2017, Kasuboski received an honorary doctor of humane laws degree from Villanova for his social development projects. During the Commencement ceremony, Frank Falcone, AP, PE, ’70 CE, ’73 MSWREE, the College of Engineering’s director of professional development and experiential education, praised the example the priest had set for the entire Villanova community.
“Father Wally … demonstrates the principles of Catholic social teaching by living in solidarity with the communities that he serves,” he said, “and is an inspiration to all Villanovans for how one can live out his or her faith in their daily lives.”
Jordan Ermilio, PhD, PE, ’98 ME, ’06MSWREE, who worked closely with Father Wally for many years as director of the Center for Humanitarian Engineering and International Development, thanked his friend for embodying a life of service. He fondly recalled a piece of advice he received from Father Wally: “When you get to the gates of heaven,” he said, “the question is not going to be about how you felt, how you thought or what you said. It will be about what you did for others.”