Professor Gerard Capriulo, a Leading Marine Biologist and Biology Department Chair, Dies Suddenly

Professor Gerard Capriulo.Professor Gerard "Gerry" Capriulo, the Fletcher Jones Professor of Marine Biology and chairman of the Biology Department at Saint Mary's College, died suddenly on Nov. 15 at his home in Clayton. He was 56.

Professor Capriulo was an internationally renowned scientist and a passionate professor and researcher who had taken students on a field trip to the ocean on the day he died. Yet his interests ranged far beyond science. He loved scuba diving, snorkeling, nature photography, playing guitar, writing poetry, examining the relationship between science and faith and serving in many ministries at his parish church, St. Bonaventure.

"Gerry truly embodied the values of our mission and tradition. His scholarship and his teaching were exemplary, and he promoted and fostered dialogue about our mission among his colleagues and his students," Brother President Ronald Gallaher said. "In an authentic Lasallian sense, he lived as an example to us all of the values we profess. God blessed us all through Gerry during his years at Saint Mary's."

Professor Capriulo came to Saint Mary's in 1997 from the State University of New York at Purchase. He taught courses including environmental science, evolution and ecology, general ecology, marine biology, marine ecology, Greek thought seminar, the ocean world and nature photography, and was active in the College's summer science research program.

Professor Capriulo also wrote and edited many books and journal articles. He is author of "The Golden Braid: the Symbiotic Nature of the Universe," which explores questions on the nature and meaning of creation, and a research textbook on marine protozoan ecology. At the time of his death he was editing a book supported by the Aquarium of the Pacific with chapters contributed by researchers throughout the county.

School of Science Dean Brian Jersky said that Professor Capriulo was an energetic and visionary chair who built up the biology department, designed its website and led the hiring of three new biology faculty members in the last two years.

"He was very effective," Jersky said. "He was not at all shy at putting his point of view forward and arguing for it. On the other hand, he listened to rational discussion and would rethink things. He was so engaged and passionate."

One example was the design of Brousseau Hall, the College's state-of-the-art science building dedicated in 2000. Professor Capriulo was on the committee that designed the building.

"He was very instrumental in designing Brousseau Hall," Jersky said. "He really helped make the building what it is. The collaborative research space at one point was on the chopping block, and he fought passionately to save it for us."

Professor Capriulo also helped develop the annual Katie Springer Forum on God and Science, which began in 2004 and is named for an SMC student who died in a car accident. Forums have explored various topics through the perspective of faith and science, including genetic engineering and addiction.

Professor Capriulo spoke often about faith and science at his church and other forums, and he wrote about the topic for Saint Mary's magazine in 2005: "The quest for the Truth requires different pathways for the whole to be grasped, i.e. rational truth of science, signatured truth of art and the reveal Truth of faith-filled witnessing, and a Catholic scientist should embrace all of them, as part of their arsenal."

"Saint Mary's and Gerry were made for each other," Jersky said. "It's a Catholic, liberal arts institution with a Lasallian tradition, and that's what Gerry was looking for. He represented science in a very good way. He was catholic with a small c -- he liked physics and math and chemistry and all sciences, and he infused it all with his Catholic with a large c faith."

His close friend, physics professor Roy Wensley, said Professor Capriulo also enjoyed helping non-science students learn about topics like the ocean world in general education courses.

Wensley once tagged along with Professor Capriulo on a field trip to the ocean with students to catch sea anemones; Professor Capriulo's primary research centered on the role symbiosis plays in marine ecological interactions, focusing on aggregating anemones and their endosymbiotic algae.

"He loved to take students to the ocean to do collecting and observing," Wensley said. "It was something he had a passion for and wanted to share."

Wensley also went scuba diving with Professor Capriulo in San Diego, and was part of a group of families and other Saint Mary's professors who went snorkeling and whale watching in the Sea of Cortez off Baja, California.

"That's his element,"Wensley said. "He pines for the ocean when he's not there. It's like he's in his natural place."

Professor Capriulo recently served on the board at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and on the Environmental Protection Agency Advisory Board.

Professor Capriulo also passed on his love for nature photography to students in his January Term course. Many nature photographs in the hallways were taken by students in his nature photography January Term classes.

Wensley said Capriulo was a Renaissance man; a serious science scholar who also wrote an adventure novel that "had to do with the ocean, of course."

"He enjoys all aspects of the intellect, as well as activity," Wensley said.

Before his death, Professor Capriulo had been working on transforming a large ship into a floating classroom on San Francisco Bay. The plan was that it would be docked in Oakland and would be taken onto the bay with schoolchildren on board for educational trips, with help from Saint Mary's students.

"He really wanted to get youth from the cities who might not have much opportunity to get into nature to appreciate it to get them on the boat," Wensley said. "It was something that would be provided free to people who couldn't afford it to give them that educational experience," Wensley said.

Professor Capriulo is survived by his wife of 30 years, Amelia, his daughters Lauren (a student at Saint Mary's) and Rebecca, his mother, Norma, his sister Clare Catanese (Peter), parents-in-law, Albert and Louise Stellato; brothers-in-law, Michael Stellato (Arlene), Amato Stellato (Tana), Robert Stellato (Nancy) and many loving nieces and nephews.

A visitation will be held Friday, Nov. 20, from 6 to 7 p.m., with a vigil service at 7 p.m., at St. Bonaventure Church, 5562 Clayton Road, Concord. The Funeral Liturgy will be celebrated on Saturday, Nov. 21, at 7 p.m. at St. Bonaventure Church. Memorial gifts may be made to St. Bonaventure Capital Campaign or to an Ecological Oceanic Society.

Saint Mary's is having a Memorial Mass for Professor Capriulo in the College Chapel on Friday, Dec. 4, at 12:45 p.m., followed by a reception in the Soda Center.

-- Erin Hallissy

Office of College Communications