“I always admire when professors take that extra interest,” the Rev. Nathan Malavolti, TOR, remarked, a thoughtful look in his eye as he fondly recalled his days at university studying chemistry. “You’re not just a number on a roster.”
Malavolti has been a light to many students on campus, and this semester, he has returned to the teaching scene as a chemistry professor. From his office and classroom on the third floor of Sts. Cosmas and Damian Hall, he works tirelessly to communicate the love of God through the sciences while developing a close connection to his students.
“I feel very honored that the chemistry department and the faculty here would welcome me to teach now in 2019,” he said, after reflecting on his long career in the field and his previous six years in various administrative positions at the university, the most recent being Chief Evangelization Officer.
Through his life, Malavolti shows what it means to persevere despite not knowing what God has in store for the future.
Malavolti’s interest in chemistry developed during high school and college. “I had a really good chemistry teacher in high school that I really look back on, and then in college, I had some great chemistry profs that really challenged me to go on to grad school,” he said.
After graduate school, where he earned a doctorate in analytical chemistry, Malavolti worked for five years in various chemistry research areas. Despite his heavy research, he began to focus more on his faith life.
“Some friends challenged me to go to Medjugorje,” he said. “When I came back from there, that’s when I thought I had a vocation.
It was then someone told Malavolti about Franciscan University of Steubenville, resulting in him entering what is now known as the Priestly Discernment Program.
“Chemistry was behind me,” he said. “Here, the bishops expect so much philosophy to be taken, so it was mainly philosophy with some theology classes.”
Following one year at the university, Malavolti entered the Franciscan Order in the fall of 1989. However, after a couple years, he needed to step away due to family issues.
After leaving the order in 1991, Malavolti returned to the world of chemistry, teaching as a professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, for a year and then working in pharmaceuticals. “I worked on testing Allegra D,” he recalled. He also tested medicine for ADHD in California.
However, God kept throwing him curveballs along the road, causing him to ask important questions about his career and life.
“In 1999, I lost my mother,” he said, “and it really made me step back, saying ‘What’s going on? Where am I going with my life? Do I want to continue work as a chemist? Is God maybe still calling me?’”
Finally, in 2000, Malavolti applied to return to the Franciscan Order, beginning where he left off nine years previously. He was ordained in 2005.
Even as a priest, Malavolti did not give up his original course of study, teaching chemistry at St. Francis University and even co-teaching for a semester at Franciscan. “It was a blessing to be able to … have priestly ministry and to be able to use my chemistry background and teach,” he said.
He especially loves studying the relationship between faith and science in relation to miracles. “It shows that there was a designer,” he explained, “someone who beautifully fashioned this world.”
In addition, Malavolti strongly believes that, through chemistry, he can show his students that God does exist. Thus, he devotes much of his time and energy into making sure that his students understand the subject and really throw themselves into their studies.
His cheery, caring attitude as a professor mirrors that of his influential chemistry professors from college who helped him begin down the path to the rest of his life. He now carries on that legacy as a nurturing instructor of God’s creation with confidence and grace.
Freshman Veronica Lacey, who has Malavolti as a professor, said that he always makes sure his students are doing well in his class. “He always reaches out to everyone to make sure they understand and checks with us on how we are doing,” she said.
Malavolti now serves as a full-time chemistry professor on campus. While he has not taught for several years, he feels that he has now gotten back into the classroom routine.
“It’s a different rhythm than administration,” he said, “but it’s been good.”
Between classes, office hours and all of his priestly duties, Malavolti will continue to spread God’s joy through his infectious smile and passion to live out his vocation in every aspect of his life.