On the occasion of Fr. Bernie's 25th Anniversary Mass at St. Rita Shrine Chapel in Chicago, Mark Hacker, Provincial Advancement Council Member and St. Rita High School Alumnus, gave the following speech:
My name is Mark Hacker. I am so happy to be here today with my family (Mindy, Madison and Cristian, and my mom, Bunny) and to be here with all of you to celebrate Fr. Bernie’s 25th Anniversary and I am truly honored to have been asked to share a few words on what Fr. Bernie has meant and continues to mean to my family and me. There are so many people here today who are incredibly thankful to have Fr. Bernie in their lives, and I pray that my words capture at least some aspect of how Fr. Bernie has impacted you and your families.
Fr. Bernie and I share much in common. We are both very proud of our Sicilian heritage, we both graduated from St. Rita High School, we both graduated from Villanova University, we both love our reigning national champion Villanova men’s basketball team (in fact, when we aren’t watching Villanova games together, we’re sending each other game-day texts to help ease the stress), and last but, not least, we are both die-hard Cubs fans, which is not an easy thing to be growing up on the South Side of Chicago.
When I think of Fr. Bernie’s impact, I think of three areas: Ministry, Friendship and Leadership.
When it comes to Ministry, my family’s experience with Fr. Bernie is certainly not unique. Like countless other families, we can say that somehow, some way Fr. Bernie finds a way to be there to celebrate, to comfort, or to pray with us at the most significant, the most important times in our lives. Whether it was traveling to Philadelphia to con-celebrate our wedding at the Villanova Church or several years later, braving the elements, traveling back to Philadelphia during the “Storm of the Century” to baptize my daughter Madison, or praying with us in Chicago when my son Cristian was very ill as a baby, or changing a scheduled flight to be able to visit my dad in the hospital when it was clear that my dad was beginning to fail, or providing great comfort to my family and me while presiding at my dad’s funeral, Fr. Bernie has been and continues to be there for us with his kindness, his compassion, his intellect, and his humor. I honestly don’t know how he is able to do it. It is nothing short of amazing to hear so many people share similar stories of how Fr. Bernie finds a way to be there at the moments that matter.
On behalf of all of the families who you have touched through your ministry, thank you.
Like all of you here today, I feel truly blessed to call Fr. Bernie my friend. Our friendship began in 1989 at St. Rita High School during my junior year. That is when the then, Brother Bernie, began his teaching career. Since then, our friendship has grown and strengthened over almost 30 years of shared experiences. And while there are so many great moments to share, there is one particular act of “friendship and love” that continues to have a lasting impact on me. I call it “the Check-in”.
My first “check-in” was my freshman year at Villanova University. I was in uncharted waters. I had never been away from home for any extended period of time, I had never traveled further than Wisconsin before I went to Villanova, and I did not know anyone else who was attending school there. I was feeling a little lost and a little unsure of myself. About a month into my freshman year there was a knock at the door of my dorm room. It was Fr. Bernie from Chicago just checking-in to see how I was doing. At the time, I didn’t think twice about Fr. Bernie’s story that he “just happened to be in the area and thought he’d stop by to say hello”, but as I look back, I know that Fr. Bernie’s “check-in” was not accidental or spontaneous. It was intentional, it was thoughtful, and it was vintage Fr. Bernie. He knew that I was a long way from my South Side upbringing and because he understood that as my friend, he made it a priority to make sure that I knew I was not alone and that he was there for me as I navigated life away from home at Villanova.
That freshman year “check-in” was the first of many. Fr. Bernie traveled to Villanova and met with me several times during my years there both as an undergraduate as well as a law student. My favorite “check-ins” were at Brittingham’s Irish Pub. There we’d sit, two Sicilian friends enjoying a Guinness (or two), and singing Irish folk songs at the top of our lungs. We share wonderful memories there.
And the “check-ins” have not stopped even as Fr. Bernie’s responsibilities have grown and our lives have become busier and more complex. Whether it is a text [message] or a call to see how I am doing, or an email inviting me to “take a breath” and enjoy a game together, or a personal handwritten note letting me know that he is thinking of the family and me, Fr. Bernie has an uncanny sense of knowing when a friend needs a boost and he is able to provide that boost in the most unassuming way that brings comfort, peace, and laughter.
Fr. Bernie’s “check-ins” are gifts I cherish and remind me of how lucky I am to call him my friend.
On behalf of all of your friends, thank you for “checking-in” on us.
When I think of Fr. Bernie’s leadership attributes I think of three words: aspirational, innovative, and courageous. As a member of the St. Rita Board of Directors and the Midwest Augustinians Advancement Council, I have had the opportunity to work closely with Fr. Bernie and I have watched him develop into a “servant leader” who sets big, lofty goals and then inspires those around him to believe those goals are attainable. [Fr. Bernie] has the guts to make tough decisions – decisions that may not be popular with everyone because they break from the status quo - but decisions that are always data-driven and made for the good of the long-term. I have watched Fr. Bernie develop his business acumen - an understanding the importance that financial stability plays in ensuring the sustainability of the organizations that he leads. I have watched Fr. Bernie pioneer creative solutions to very tough problems by being inclusive and vulnerable enough to ask for help and to brainstorm with people from different backgrounds and who share different perspectives.
As a leader, you hope your legacy is that what you leave behind is stronger than what you were given. There is no doubt that St. Rita High School, Providence High School, Cascia Hall [Preparatory School], and the Midwest Augustinians are stronger today because of Fr. Bernie’s Leadership.
I, like so many here today, wait with great anticipation to see where Fr. Bernie will bring his aspirational, innovative, and courageous leadership style next. On behalf of all of those who you have led and inspired, thank you.
Fr. Bernie, Happy 25th Anniversary! Thank you for your ministry, your friendship, and your leadership.
We love you very very much!