Reflection for Beginning of Second Term as Prior Provincial

By the Very Rev. Bernard C. Scianna, O.S.A., Ph.D.

Delivered on June 11, 2014 at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois


 The Very Rev. Bernard C. Scianna, O.S.A., Ph.D., began his second term as Prior Provincial of the Midwest Augustinians on June 11, 2014

The Very Rev. Bernard C. Scianna, O.S.A., Ph.D., began his second term as Prior Provincial of the Midwest Augustinians on June 11, 2014

What has happened the last four years?  I said it couldn’t be business as usual! And it hasn’t been! Here are some difficult things that we had to do over the past four years:

  • Four years ago we were at Tolentine Chapel, our Province Headquarters and residence for infirm and elderly Augustinians.  One of the first things my administration did was to put Tolentine Monastery and Center up for sale.  Province Headquarters closed.  Change was expected, but that fast?! It had to be! It was to some a painful process, but there was financial instability and our trusts were declining! (Four years ago, we were also preparing to watch the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup after a forty-nine year drought.  I thought we would be doing the same tonight, but due to a bad bounce in overtime, we are not)! And since there is no hockey game to get to, I would like to speak a little longer than I usually do.
  • We put two of our schools, Cascia Hall and St. Rita, under Lay Leadership. Some believed that we were giving up on them.
  • We withdrew from two Parishes, St. Clare in Grosse Pointe Park that we founded and served for 87 years, and we also left St. Peter in Douglas, where many of our men served since the time of our minor seminary in Holland.  This too was painful for many.
  • We closed St. Monica Friary.
  • We sold one unit of Austin Friary and have recently put a second unit on the market.
  • One friar who was on exclaustration is no longer in the Order and one went on exclaustration.
  • We sold land in Vancouver to help support a near bankrupt Canadian Province that is now completely under our jurisdiction.
  • We merged the Mission Office with the Advancement Office.
  • We eliminated full-time salaries for Mission Director, Personnel Director and Treasurer. These functions are still accomplished but with people who are involved in other ministry.
  • We lost 14 Augustinians.  Among them, some Giants of the Province and Order like Fathers Ted Tack, Ray Ryan, Jack Gavin, Don Brennan, Dudley Day, Ed Kuczynski, Wally McNicholas, John Fitzgerald, Ron Turcich, Frank LawlorCharlie Bodden in Peru, and Larry Clark, Joe Walker, and Lambert Bosmann in Canada.

This is enough to put someone into a low grade depression and sense of hopelessness! 

And then I received a letter, entitled "Marked for Life" which started like this:

I am a product of the Roman Catholic and Augustinian education system. I am one of millions that have been silent for too long. Silent for many reasons, but silent too long. I know I am not alone. I have spoken to many others who have shared my experiences. We have been ‘marked for life’ as a function of repeated encounters with priests, nuns and even lay teachers who seemed to spend their lives in relentless pursuit of us and ultimately of our very souls. We have all been silent too long. Perhaps we are embarrassed or fearful of what people will think or say when we finally speak out about our experiences. These experiences have left ‘permanent marks’ that have effected every element of my life!

Let me tell you, when a letter starts like this, you fasten your seat belt and pray!

The letter goes on to say:

Because of these people, I have lived in a solid Catholic marriage for more than 30 years and have amazing children who are ‘marked for life’.
”As a result of the effects of this Roman Catholic and Augustinian exposure, my thoughts and actions are influenced. I am forced to consider the ethical or moral implications of my behavior at home and at work. I find myself making decisions based on a set of principles—principles that have not changed for centuries but that endure through trial after trial, and even through persecution.

It continues:

I have learned that I am part of something much bigger than myself and that I have an obligation to contribute to that greater good. I have learned that contributing to that greater good requires sacrifice and I have learned that sacrifice is good… It is a sign of love!
”I have a healthy respect for authority and yet I feel empowered to challenge authority when it seeks to oppress. I have a genuine love and respect for life in all its forms and in all of its stages.
”I understand the fundamental principles upon which this great nation was built and I understand my obligation to defend the basic rights of others whether or not we share the same opinions and values.
”I have experienced the power of prayer and I have learned that miracles really do occur!

At this point in the letter, I am feeling so proud of what we as an Augustinian Community have accomplished!

He continues:

Because of these Catholic and Augustinian influences, I have come to know my God and creator in ways I never thought possible. I am forced to reckon with the fact that I have a free will and that I, alone, am responsible for my behavior.
”Perhaps the most profound impact has been the discovery of love and forgiveness and the need, yes need, to ask for forgiveness when I have done wrong as well as the need to offer forgiveness when I have been wronged.
”In short, the marks of these priests, brothers, nuns and a Catholic and Augustinian education have left on me are deep and profound and indelible. They color all that I do! I pray that they enable me to ‘mark others’ in the same profound manner.
 Fr. Bernie Scianna, O.S.A., is the 13th Prior Provincial of the Midwest Augustinians

Fr. Bernie Scianna, O.S.A., is the 13th Prior Provincial of the Midwest Augustinians

And then the writer asks that his voice be heard as he speaks out about what the Catholic and Augustinian influence has done for him and to let the world know that he will never be the same.  He closes the letter saying, “let those unrelenting priests, nuns, teachers and parents know that I can never repay them for the ‘wonderful mark’ they have left on me!”

Wow, what I thought was going to be a problematic letter, was indeed the exact opposite.  It was a message of hope and encouragement!  And that is what I am here to proclaim tonight:  a message of hope and encouragement! As I travel around the Province, I am privileged to hear the countless stories of how Augustinians have had and continue to have a ‘significant mark’ on the lives of people.  And I am committed, with your support, to continue to provide care for those who now are in retirement who have given their lives in service to the Order and Church, to our men in our varied apostolates in the Midwest and Canada, in our Mission in Peru, and also for the education and formation of our young men joining us who are our future and will continue our mission to have a ‘positive mark’ on the lives of future generations.

Yes, four years ago, we needed a change in attitude from the days of business as usual.

And, yes, we needed courage, strength, and grace to be faithful to our mission while dealing with failures, diminishment, selling of properties, not doing business as usual and accepting this necessary change:  changing the way we operate as a Province!

Changes: some we eagerly await, and some we abhor; some are planned and others arrive uninvited.  We ask our Lord to open our eyes, minds, hearts, and souls to the needed changes in our lives, our Province, our Order, and our Church; and to awaken us to new life and perspective—one of encouragement and hope!  Pope Francis recently said, “May God protect us from the fear of change!”

But here is also some positive things we did do! Some things that were listed as negative, have indeed been positives!

  • We now have a health care program “covenant of care” and moved our men who are in need of assisted living and skilled nursing care as well as a “healthy core community” to a Catholic health care facility, known as Bellesini Friary, first in Lemont, and now in Crown Point because it serves the covenant of care we have with them! This program was touted by the NRRO (National Religious Retirement Organization) as a healthy model.  We received a grant from NRRO, and we now have an Augustinian Care Coordinator, and a nurse as our Professional Care Consultant.
  • We did sell Tolentine Center and Monastery, and we used the proceeds and annual cost savings to care for infirm and retired brothers, and we established a new trust in honor of the late Ray Ryan for vocation and formation expenses.
  • We did sell one unit of Austin Friary in Matteson, and have recently put another unit on the market so that we utilize our properties and space in our friaries in the best way possible.
  • We did rent new more functional and easily accessible offices at CTU (Catholic Theological Union) for the Province Headquarters.
  • Most importantly, over this time, we have had 22 men in Formation for our Province. Five have left, but two have been ordained, and one recently professed solemn vows! And the best news is that we still have 14 in formation, including 4 who have just been accepted into our Pre-Novitiate!  And we completed a revision of the formation handbook to reflect our current realities.
  • We did establish a Victim Assistance Team comprised of Augustinians, a Professional Counselor and Legal Counsel, and we were accredited by Praesidium.
  • We moved Development to Advancement:  conducted a professional audit, hired a new director, merged the missions office into the advancement office, hired additional advancement staff, enhanced the Annual Fund, held two successful galas, did a feasibility study for a capital campaign, started the quiet phase of Continuing Our Journey of Faith campaign that now has over $2.3 million pledged.  We are committed to building our endowments: we now have four trusts that are governed by independent trustees, and we currently have more funds in these trusts than we did four years ago even after caring for an increased number of elderly and infirm friars as well as an increased number of men in formation. We clarified and combined financial accounts, eliminating unnecessary accounts.  Launched a new website, enhanced the newsletter, increased the number of people in the Restless Hearts Society where people have informed us that the Province is in their estate plans, and Proclaimed the Good News of the Midwest Province, the Vicariate of Chulucanas, the Canadian Province, and the Order of St. Augustine to our friends and benefactors!
  • We increased the number of lay volunteers to more than 30, including the Advancement Advisory Council, the Augustinian Gala Committee, Campaign Cabinet, Commissions and Committees for the good of the Province.
  • We engaged alumni of our current schools and schools where we served that are now closed.  Particular attention has been given to Augustinian Seminary Alumni.
  • We accepted responsibility for St. Turibius and St. Gabriel Parishes in Chicago.
  • We did put two of our schools under the direction of committed laymen, Cascia Hall and St. Rita and the Education Commission completed a revision of their handbook.
  • We completely renovated St. John Stone Friary.
  • We collected surplus funds from communities to help support Province priorities.
  • We established the Federation of Augustinians of North America (FANA).  I have been elected to my second term as Prior.  The Villanova Province is in Chapter this week and California is in Province Meetings.  We are all connected in prayer and planning for our future together!

In Canada:

  • We established a lay board of professionals to assist us, assumed complete responsibility for Canadian Province, stabilized Marylake (reduced spending/increased revenues), sold some of Delta property, and received Augustinian members to assist from Chicago, California and Cebu. Canada is now much more stable and hopefully positioned for growth.  We even have a young priest who desires to join the Canadian Province!

In Peru: 

  • We appointed the first native Peruvian Vicar.  We encouraged the furthering of financial self-sufficiency, supporting the movement toward an independent Province by combining with two other vicariates, supported the purchases of land for the building of a new school in Trujillo, and we recently celebrated the Golden Jubilee of our presence there. Delighted to have Bishop Turley who will address us at the end of our time together. We should be very proud of what started with Bishop John McNabb, O.S.A., 50 years ago!

There has been much change, but positive change—progress!  I believe the change that has happened over these past four years has ‘Marked’ our Province and Change is still in the air!  It is ongoing, and we have more to do!  It is not only within our Province and Order, but within the Church and the World! 

Pope Francis:  this Pope gives me Hope!  He encourages us to Practice what we Preach!  He wants us to get Back to the Basics—The Mission of Jesus!  Someone said, “He seems to be more like Jesus!” Aware of our frailty but humbly moving forward! Refreshing!  Joy of the Gospel!  Witnessing to Life and Hope! He challenges us:  Am I life-filled and life-giving?!  Do I allow “things” to drain me, draw me down, get overwhelmed, and cause me to lose zest for life? Be careful! We are part of a tremendous enterprise—The Good News—the power and beauty of the fundamental mission…of Jesus Christ!

 Fr. Bernie Scianna, O.S.A., met His Holiness Pope Francis in Rome on the Feast of St. Augustine in 2013.  © 2013 Servizio Fotografico, Citiá del Vaticano

Fr. Bernie Scianna, O.S.A., met His Holiness Pope Francis in Rome on the Feast of St. Augustine in 2013.  © 2013 Servizio Fotografico, Citiá del Vaticano

I feel we are emerging as a Church and as an Order into an Era of New Hope! Pope Francis says, and I agree, that the Church must be a “big tent and not a small chapel.” He goes further, saying that the tent should be a field hospital tent where all who are in need of healing, mercy and compassion can come.   “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.  I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends up by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”  He even went on further saying that some historical customs can even be cast aside if they no longer serve to communicate the faith.  Citing St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Francis stressed the need for moderation in norms so as to not burden the lives of the faithful!  He added, “more than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our doors people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, ‘give them something to eat.’”  Yes, people are hungry literally, spiritually, morally, educationally, and in need of our Augustinian Presence and Ministry.

In a frank and often funny style that has come to define Pope Francis’ preaching, he chastised priests for their complacency, giving them a lesson on preparing homilies that don’t put the faithful to sleep!  He reminded them that the confession shouldn’t be ‘torture,’ and told them to get out of their sacristies, get their shoes muddy, get involved in the lives of their faithful and not be defeatist sourpusses!  There is no room for pessimism.  In the spirit of Francis, ”no sourpusses!” So don’t be boring, sad-looking, exhausted, withdrawn, disappointed, or overwhelmed.  This will not attract others.  Get in there and smell like the sheep, or like Fr. Wally McNicholas, O.S.A., used to say, "You gotta be with the people!’

This new spark is a call to each of us to invite others, professed and lay, into communion and mission—a Mission of faith, hope, love, mercy, compassion, mutual respect, outreach, and ministry! We need to challenge and confront in caring and loving ways to discover our desire and capacity to change!  To paraphrase one of our Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, when he speaks about leadership: “Do our actions inspire others to dream more, to learn more, to do more, and to be more than they thought they could be?!” “Are people healthier, wiser, and freer?!”  Servant leadership, not just administration, involves mutual respect, a willingness to compromise.  Like Augustine states, “unity in essentials, diversity in all else, charity always!” Can we speak honestly and openly, and share same values! Where and how is God calling us? Such accompaniment does not give in to frustration or fears, but invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up their mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to Proclaim the Gospel.  It will teach us to be patient and compassionate with others, to find the right way to gain their trust and their readiness to grow!  Saint Pope John XXIII reminded us that the Church is always flawed yet is a carrier of grace, and there is no room for prophets of doom that have never learned from history.

So what shall we do? 

  • We will continue to promote a Culture of Vocations and support and encourage our Men in Formation! This again will be my Number 1 Priority!
  • We will continue to encourage Lay Leadership through events like the Augustinian Values Institutes, lay leadership and collaboration in ministry. This is a positive not a negative!
  • We will reshape Parish commitment with Bishops who want to be creative! And we will continue to work in our neighborhoods!
  • We will announce a Jubilee Year, Diamond Jubilee to celebrate our 75 years as a Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel from April 2015—April 2016: Galas, Masses, local celebrations, and Affiliations!
  • We will continue to collaborate with the other Provinces in the Federation to find more ways to work together.
  • We will continue to walk with our Brothers in the Vicariate of Chulucanas as they move towards becoming an independent Province and continue to support the Diocese of Chulucanas as long as our Brother Dan is the Bishop.
  • We will strive to preserve and promote an Augustinian Presence in Canada in Marylake and Delta.
 Bishop Dan Turley, O.S.A., congratulates Fr. Bernie Scianna, O.S.A., on his second term as Prior Provincial

Bishop Dan Turley, O.S.A., congratulates Fr. Bernie Scianna, O.S.A., on his second term as Prior Provincial

Personally, I pledge that I:

  • Will continue to care and love my Brother Augustinians to the best of my ability, to see myself and them as gifted and flawed, but much more gifted than flawed.  We are wounded healers!
  • Will continue to visit our seminarians and elders at least once a month, which I have done for the past four years.
  • Will recommit myself to participating in the two discernment weekends a year that we do in collaboration with the Villanova Province.
  • Will visit all of our communities annually to affirm and thank them for who they are and ministry they are doing!
 Fr. Bernie Scianna, O.S.A., visits our retired Augustinians each month

Fr. Bernie Scianna, O.S.A., visits our retired Augustinians each month

Jesus was filled with life, compassionate and caring, healing and forgiving, other-centered, animating gifts, and listened! I hope to strive to do the same, and I hope you will, too! He has filled our lives, each one of us.  He has ‘Marked Us for Life’ as the letter I received pronounces so clearly! We are called to do the same.  The Choice is Ours:  let us choose life and hope for we are called to exist in Community for the sake of Mission!  Missionary disciples of Christ! So, everyday get up and try to be the best you can be! Let us continue to ‘Mark People's Live’!

I choose to be an optimist.  The glass is not only half full; it is getting fuller and will soon be overflowing!

We now have Vocations who themselves are attracting more Vocations!  We need to choose to live a joyful life, as Bishop John McNabb ended my ordination homily 21 years ago which I listen to every year.  To choose to smile in the midst of fear letting others know that we are stronger today than we were yesterday!  Oh yes, we have to deal with loss and change, and all the emotions that go along with this.  We have to talk about it, accept it, grieve it, ritualize it, and move on!  Allow new people and places into our lives!

Thanks to my council, staff, commissions, councils, committees:  both religious and lay!

Thanks to my family, especially my parents, Mike and Jean Scianna, my brothers, and my relatives and friends.  The older I get, the more I realize how fortunate and blessed I am to have such wonderful parents who have been an example of faithfulness, dedication, commitment, sacrifice, and love.  They will be married 53 years this fall.  They have given me the gift of faith,  Catholic Education, and an example of hard work and discipline!  And I also realize how blessed I am to have them still in my life! And also to have such a supportive family and group of friends.  We are all Partners in Ministry, and you encourage me to keep going on the way each and every day!

I conclude with a quote from Henri Nouwen from the Return of the Prodigal Son: a Story of Homecoming:

For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the scriptures, and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair. Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me! The questions are not, ‘How am I to find God? How am I to know God? And How am I to love God?’ But ‘How am I to let myself be found by Him! How am I to let myself be known by Him! And finally, How am I to let myself be loved by Him!’ God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home!

And so, we go forth together into a future of hope, continuing to do God’s work and to ‘Mark Peoples’ Lives for the Good, always remembering that "We are called to act with justice, we are called to love tenderly, we are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God!"