To My Dear Augustinian Brothers and Members of Our Augustinian Family,
This April 9th was the anniversary of the date of the Grand Union of our Order 760 years ago in 1256 in Rome. We know that the foundation of the Order goes back an additional twelve years to 1244 with the Little Union.
From these roots, the Order grew and spread throughout Europe and around the world. The Order has enjoyed great moments when it flourished and has endured great times of trials over the centuries. It has produced great saints and performed wonderful works during all of these times.
The Order eventually spread to the eastern part of the United States 220 years ago in April of 1796 when friars from Ireland arrived in Philadelphia. The original name of the vice-province under the direct jurisdiction of the Curia in Rome was Our Mother of Good Counsel.
However, when the first American Province was established in 1874, it was named St. Thomas of Villanova. April 26, 1941, is the actual date of the founding of our Midwest (Chicago) Province 75 years ago on the Solemnity of Mary, Our Mother of Good Counsel.
It is in a spirit of gratitude to Almighty God and for all those who have been part of our history that I make this report during this 75th Jubilee of our Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel.
As we approach the Intermediate Chapter in June of 2016 and the conclusion of my sixth year in office as Provincial, I once again reflect on the State of the Province. I am happy to say that, overall, I am very pleased with who we are, what we currently do, and what we can continue to do well into the future . . . a future of joyful hope!
Much of my time has been spent working with our men—from vocation candidates and students in formation to the elderly and infirm and all those in between.
While I have received the vows of 9 new friars (with the great hope of 5 more this summer), I have also witnessed the funerals of 14 friars.
Receiving the vows of new men professing their lives to the Order and Church as well as attending their ordinations has been my greatest joy, and presiding and preaching at the funerals for men who have given their lives in service to the Order and Church has been my greatest privilege.
Hearing of the good works of our men in active ministry makes me proud to be your Provincial. However, dealing with some personnel matters has indeed been my greatest challenge!
WE are the Province; not buildings or apostolates, but people, ordinary men, friars who have given our lives, with all our gifts and talents as well as with our weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and Our Holy Father St. Augustine to live in community and to serve the Church . . . The People of God!
All of this is a sacred privilege for me. I try daily to follow the example of Our Lord and Our Holy Father Pope Francis to deal with my brothers and all with love and mercy. For those who have not experienced me this way, during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I ask for your forgiveness.
And so, I now make what I am considering my last major group of assignments, barring an emergency. There should be no reason for me to make other major moves in 2017, a year before the change of Provincial leadership in 2018. Therefore, the following assignments will take effect July 1, 2016unless otherwise noted:
- Fr. Bob Dueweke, O.S.A., has been appointed by the Prior General as the new Representative of the Order at the United Nations. Bob will live in the Community of St. Nicholas of Tolentine in the Bronx. (May 1st)
- Fr. Jerry Van Overbeek, O.S.A., will be part of the Community at St. Rita House—Cole Street in San Francisco (May 1st).
- Fr. E.J. Dodge, O.S.A., will move into assisted living (May 1st) at Blessed Stephen Bellesini Friary in Crown Point.
- Fr. Chris Steinle, O.S.A., will return from Ecuador (May 1st) and live at St. Rita Monastery while he has shoulder surgery and rehab. He will receive a new assignment by July 1st.
- Brother Larry Sparacino, O.S.A., will move into independent living at Blessed Stephen Bellesini Friary in Crown Point and be a driver for those in the care facility there.
- Fr. Rich Young, O.S.A., will return to Providence Catholic High School to teach and be Theology department chairman. We thank him for his willingness to serve temporarily as administrator of St. Rita Parish in Racine.
- Fr. Rich O'Leary, O.S.A., from the Villanova Province, will be the Pastor of St. Rita Parish in Racine and a Member of the Novitiate Formation Team.
- Fr. Fred Taggart, O.S.A., will be Treasurer at the Novitiate, a Member of the Formation Team and part-time Associate at St Rita Parish in Racine (August 1st).
- Fr. Robert Basler, O.S.A., will be an Associate Pastor at St. Jude Parish in New Lenox.
- Fr. Homero Sanchez, O.S.A., will be an Associate Pastor at St. Rita Parish in Chicago.
- Deacon (soon to be Father) Richie Mercado, O.S.A., will be Director of Augustinian Mission and Chaplain at St. Rita High School. He will do weekend ministry at St. Rita Parish.
- Fr. Steve Curry, O.S.A., will be leaving Chicago. We thank him for his year of service at St. Rita and wish him well in his new assignment.
- Fr. John Sotak, O.S.A., will be leaving Cascia Hall and taking some sabbatical time before receiving a new assignment.
- Fr. Rich Jacobs, O.S.A., will move into the Villanova Monastery. He will continue his teaching ministry at the university.
- Brother Nick Mullarkey, O.S.A., will teach Theology at Cascia Hall in Tulsa for his pastoral year.
- Fr. John Ohner, O.S.A., has decided to retire from being Pastor at Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Homer Glen this fall (September 1st). He will be a member of the St. Jude Community in New Lenox, and will assist with sacramental work at St. Jude Parish in Joliet and other local parishes in the diocese. We thank him for his ten years of service as Pastor of Our Mother of Good Counsel. The next Pastor there has not been named yet.
- Terry Deffenbaugh, O.S.A., will move into the Community of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Homer Glen (September 1st). He will continue his ministry at the University of St. Francis.
- Fr. Mike O’Connor, O.S.A., will move into the Community of St. John Stone Friary (September 1st). He will continue his ministry as Director of Health Care for the Province.
With Fathers Mike O'Connor and Terry Deffenbaugh moving, we will put the last two units of Austin Friary in Matteson, Illinois on the market for sale.
Working in this area has been an amazing source of joy and hope for me! I have continued to participate in the biannual discernment weekends, and I am truly delighted to see how seriously these candidates are involved in their faith life and service experiences. They are attracted to Community Life, Parish, and Education Ministry and St. Augustine himself--exactly what we say we have to offer them and the Church!
Fr. Tom McCarthy, O.S.A., has been a key component of our success in this area. I am grateful for his willingness to serve as Vocation Director for the Midwest, Canada, and the Villanova Provinces!
When I am asked by other Provincials at CMSM meetings, what we are doing to be getting so many candidates, I tell them that we have made a concerted effort to create a culture of vocations, the Holy Spirit has blessed us, and our Vocation Office is open late night! Yes, Tom is willing to talk to young candidates when they want to, even if that means 10 or 11 o'clock at night! Thank God he is a night owl!
I also want to thank Sr. Ardis Cloutier, O.S.F., who has faithfully served for the past eight years as the Assistant in the Vocation Office, and who will be retiring this summer. She has been an integral part of our program and will be missed. She was affiliated to the Order last year. The Vocation Office for Chicago, Villanova and Canada will now be housed at Villanova, and Bernadette DiLucido will be the full time Assistant.
Let us continue on this path . . . By praying for Vocations, actively encouraging those who express interest, enthusiastically welcoming candidates into our communities for prayer and meals, and generously sharing our story and community life with them! It is anticipated that five men will be in the pre-novitiate for our province in the fall, and we will have one live-in associate and one in the novitiate program for Canada.
We have recently studied our sites and programs of Formation and have recommitted to having the Pre-Novitiate Program with the Villanova Province at Villanova University and Bellesini Friary in Ardmore, PA; the Novitiate at St. Rita Parish in Racine (the Federation recently signed a five-year contract); and the Theologate at CTU and St. Augustine Friary in Chicago.
We believe that these are the best places for our men in formation at this time in our history. I am grateful for those involved in these studies, especially Blake Hastings (Cascia Alum), Mike Faron (Mendel Alum) and Fr. Jim Halstead, O.S.A., and to the friars who continue to serve as Directors and Members of our Formation Teams.
I am particularly grateful to Fr. Rich Young, O.S.A., Dean Landry, and the other Trustees, Council and Finance Members of St. Rita Parish in Racine for working with us to accommodate our continued presence in the Parish there and as the site for our North American Novitiate. At the end of our Intermediate Chapter, on the evening of Friday, June 10th at 6:30 pm, Deacon Richie Mercado, O.S.A., will be ordained to the Priesthood by Bishop Bob Prevost, O.S.A., at St. Rita Parish in Chicago.
He will have a Mass of Thanksgiving the following evening at 5:00 pm there as well. He will also have a Mass of Thanksgiving in his native home in Cebu, Philippines on August 13th. I plan to accompany him for this celebration.
I am delighted to have us host the Federation Formation Gathering this year at St. Xavier University from July 29th to 31st. The gathering will conclude with the first profession of vows at St. Rita Shrine on Sunday, July 31st with Mass at 11:00 am.
I am also happy to inform you that our St. Augustine Day Celebration this year will be on Sunday, August 28th. We anticipate that Brother Joe Ruiz, O.S.A. will make his solemn profession of vows at a 4:00 pm Mass at St. Rita Shrine Chapel followed by dinner.
The Rule of St. Augustine reminds us that “the main purpose for your having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God in oneness of mind and heart.”
And our Constitutions, especially in Chapters 1 and 6, encourage us to do the same. The Province Administration, with encouragement and support from the Religious Life Commission, has challenged each friar and community to strengthen their commitment to this ideal in the midst of aging membership, multi-generational communities, and increased ministerial demands.
We must work at keeping the main thing the main thing!
I have been pleased with the open discussions that have been held regarding real topics that affect our lives together such as finances and aging. We must continue to engage in such a dialogue at local and province levels.
The Administration will continue to consider the challenge from our General Chapter to keep at least three members in each community. We are actually doing quite well in this area.
I was happy to serve as the first Prior of FANA (Federation of Augustinians of North America). I recently completed my second two-year term and was not eligible for reelection.
I believe that working together across Province lines is essential for our future. We are doing quite well in some areas such as Formation and Secondary Education, but need more efforts in other areas.
I am still a Member of the Council, but Fr. Michael DiGregorio, O.S.A., of the Villanova Province is the new Prior. I believe we need to put an even greater effort into collaboration across Province lines and even be willing to look at the possibility of unification someday!
This continues to be an important ministry in our Province as many more members are in need of various levels of care as they age.
I am becoming more aware of how difficult it is for our men to slowly lose their independence and move into assisted living. This process is more difficult for some than for others.
However, we must continue to work with our health care professionals and each friar to assess when a move is necessary, especially when the local, active communities are not able to properly care for an individual friar. This is part of our ongoing commitment to our Covenant of Care.
Our primary site for Province Health Care remains at Bellesini Friary and St. Anthony Home in Crown Point, Indiana. There are of course a couple of men in other places due to varying circumstances (Fr. John Gaffney, O.S.A., at Montereau in Tulsa and Fr. Dan Hartigan, O.S.A. at Mercy Circle in Chicago). These should be seen as exceptions to the norm based on the needs of these individuals. I am extremely grateful to our Affiliate, Bill Warren, who covers the entire cost of care for John in Tulsa.
I am also grateful to those who are part of our health care team: Fr. Mike O'Connor, O.S.A., Marge Gleason, Brother Jerome Sysko, O.S.A., Brother Mark Emken, O.S.A., and Fr. John Merkelis, O.S.A., with special thanks to Brother Larry Sparacino, O.S.A., who has been of service to the men at Mercy and St. Rita Monastery. We must also consider preparing other friars who will be able to assist in this important ministry in the near future.
I am happy to announce that we recently received a $50,000 grant from the Bernard Heerey Family Foundation for the care of one of our friars receiving care. This covers all of his expenses for one year. We are hopeful that this grant can be renewed in the future as well.
Our mission in Peru is coming of age and is almost completely Peruvian! There are only two friars from our Province and one from Villanova who are members of the Vicariate. All the rest are Peruvian!
The three Vicariates in Peru have recently entered into a Federation which is specifically directed towards Unification. It is very possible that at the General Chapter of 2019 a new Peruvian Province could be established.
We continue to do good work in our schools, but all are concerned with maintaining positive enrollment numbers.
I am hopeful that more friars will be willing to teach and do campus ministry in our schools, rather than taking on administrative roles.
We need to continue to collaborate with our lay partners who can fulfill those roles so that the friars are more engaged with the students.
We also continue to do good work in our parishes. I am confident that we can and should keep the current commitments that we have with various dioceses. I also think we need to be open to assisting in parishes as sacramental ministers in the Diocese of Joliet and the Archdiocese of Chicago while living in an Augustinian Community.
We have kept our presence alive and financially solvent! I am grateful to Brother Paul Koscielniak, O.S.A., and most recently Fr. John Szura, O.S.A., who are serving at Marylake as well as our lay Executive Director, Joe Gennaro, for working hard to keep operations going.
I am also grateful to Chairman of the Board, Frank Stadler and all the Board Members for their dedication and commitment to Marylake and the Order in Canada. Frank is stepping down as Chairman and I am happy that Angelo Bitondo has agreed to accept this position.
I am also grateful to the Nigerian and Cebu Provinces who continue to assist us with personnel in Canada.
I believe that we have made tremendous progress in this area under the direction of our Advancement Director, Michael Gerrity. He has assembled a great team which includes Patrick Murphy, Elizabeth Mazur, Mary Gal Carroll, Karon Basile, Anne Russell, and Sean Gerrity.
He has also enlisted the help of a powerful lay advisory council and campaign cabinet made up of more than 30 dedicated and passionate friends of the Order!
The Advancement Staff and advisors have impressed upon me that the Friars and Men in Formation have key roles to play and that donors respond best when they are involved. Therefore, we will continue to make efforts to engage Augustinians and Men in Formation in an appropriate manner.
Our Advancement efforts have resulted in the completion of a successful capital campaign to build up our trusts raising nearly 3.6 million dollars in gifts and pledges, establishing a solid annual fund which includes appeals in all of our parishes and schools, hosting four successful galas, enhancing our planned giving program, and completely refreshing our communication plan!
Because of these efforts which net nearly $750K annually, we are now able to request fewer draw downs of funds from the trusts, thus allowing the principal to grow and helping to assure a solid financial future. Advancement revenues will continue to play a vital part in our future; therefore, we will continue to do all that we can to solidify and make this program permanent.
There are now four independent trusts administered by lay trustees for the benefit of the Province. They are currently in the best shape in our history. These trusts have nearly twenty million dollars and we have reduced our annual draw downs.
However, with increased needs particularly in the area of formation costs, I am still concerned about the amount of money we must draw down each year: approximately $850K at the present time.
I am pleased that we have two new trustees joining the board in Ted Berman (connected to us through St. Jude Parish and a Providence Alum) as well as Peter Lisnic (St. Rita Alum).
I would like to offer my special thanks for the faithful service of Fr. Tony Burrascano, O.S.A., from the Villanova Province, who was one of the founding trustees, serving since 1995. He has recently stepped down and was awarded the Fidelitas Medal at the Gala.
Over the past few years the Finance Commission has greatly clarified our financial position and provided assistance to our day to day staff. They are also helping the Province to be more transparent in financial matters and provide us with a better sense of direction.
Our commitment to our elderly and infirm friars as well as to our younger brothers in formation, requires that we continue to receive income from apostolic work in order to support these causes. I appreciate the cooperation from communities and individuals who do a separate budget who have completed the new financial forms, have continued to send in surplus funds, and have sent car accounts to the Province as per the new policy developed by the Treasurers.
Our vow of poverty and commitment to common life encourages us to work together in all financial matters.
The newly revised Stewardship & Financial Handbook has been sent to all members of the Province who have email addresses. It has not been put into print form yet. I am hoping to have a gathering for all Priors and Treasurers to discuss the new policies in this handbook in the near future.
I was very pleased that the Province took seriously the discussion of the effects of finances on our lives according to the principles from Scripture, and our Rule and Constitutions: "to hold all things in common,"and "each according to his need."
While these discussions did not solve all of our problems nor address all of our concerns, I believe they have made us more attuned to "our money" as a Province as opposed to money owned by local communities or individuals.
I believe that our responsibility to each other and the need to continue to work together towards greater transparency and trust amongst ourselves is evident. I believe we are experiencing a positive change in attitude!
I am grateful to Fr. Mike Slattery O.S.A., and Brother Mark Emken, O.S.A., who helped to start this positive movement and to Fr. Dick McGrath, O.S.A.; Sr. Mary Ann Hamer, O.S.F.; and, Deacon Bob Carroll, our new Director of Finances, who have continued this process with great assistance from our lay partners from Providence High School: Chuck Engvall, MaryBeth Carroll, and Kathy Ball as well as Mike Gallagher from St Rita High School who serve on our Finance Commission.
I am grateful to Fr. John Merkelis, O.S.A., Dr. Michael Bland, Michael Airdo, and our Review Board for their efforts in our Accreditation Process with Praesidium, and our Victims Assistance Outreach Program.
I will be heading to Abuja, Nigeria in September for the Intermediate General Chapter for the Order. I plan to be in Africa from September 16th until October 1st. During my absence, Vicar Provincial, Fr. John Merkelis, O.S.A., will be in charge.
Brother Tom Taylor, O.S.A., has served as Province Secretary for the past 15 years, and while I presume that he will be able to faithfully fulfill the last two years of this term, I would not imagine he would continue after that.
This will be a difficult position for the next Provincial to fill. And so I am proposing that we use a similar model that we did in the finance office by having a trusted layperson engaged in the daily office work and also a Canonical Secretary to oversee and sign off on official business.
I believe that we need to do this now so that Brother Tom can teach the person what needs to be done while he is still in office. This way, there can be continuity into the next provincial administration and hopefully an easier search for the friar who can be the Canonical Secretary while still being engaged in other ministry. If anyone knows of a possible candidate, please let me know.
Because I believe that it is important to leave a place better than I found it and ready to continue functioning well under new leadership, I want all members to be aware of the fact that the election process for a new Provincial will begin in just over a year from now in the fall of 2017 with the exploratio for new candidates and hopefully conclude soon afterwards with the election of a new Provincial in December of that year.
As for my future, I will certainly give it my all for the next two years, and then I plan to take a sabbatical beginning in June 2018 after the Province Chapter. Some things that I am considering in my initial planning are: Spending time with my folks at their place in the country during the summer, some retreat time in San Gimignano and Rome in the fall, celebrating my 25th Anniversary of Priesthood in November, and a renewal program in the spring to help determine my next ministry.
In the meantime, we have a lot of work to do! I am grateful for your continued prayers and support. Let us continue our journey together, one in mind and heart on the way to God, in a spirit of hope and mercy and joy!
Fraternally in Christ and St. Augustine,
Very Reverend Bernard C. Scianna, O.S.A., Ph.D.
Prior Provincial of Chicago, Canada, and Chulucanas, Peru