On December 19, 2013, the Midwest Augustinians re-elected the Very Rev. Bernard C. Scianna, O.S.A., Ph.D., to a second four-year term as Prior Provincial of the Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel. The Prior Provincial oversees all the activities of the Augustinians in the Midwestern United States, Canada, and Northern Peru. He will begin his second term in June of 2014. Below is an interview with Fr. Bernie, reviewing his first term as Prior Provincial. The interview was featured in the Winter 2014 issue of The Midwest Augustinian:
What changes in vocations have there been in the past four years?
As you know, at my installation in June of 2010, I stated that my first priority would be Vocations, and I have not wavered from this. In fact, I made a somewhat controversial decision to name Fr. Tom McCarthy, O.S.A., as the full-time Vocation Director which meant him stepping down from the Presidency at St. Rita of Cascia High School. Fr. Tom was in agreement with this decision since he could keep some involvement at St. Rita as Chairman of the Board and Chaplain, but knowing that his first priority had to be Vocations. We have experienced significant growth in the number of young men inquiring about the Augustinians and actually entering Formation. This is a great blessing and will benefit all of our apostolates in the long run. We also continue to work with the Villanova Province [in Pennsylvania] in this area on the Vocation Discernment Weekends, which I still attend, we share the the same pre-novitiate program, and the Villanova Province named Fr. Tom as their Vocation Director two years ago as well! We are now experiencing professions and ordinations on an annual basis again. All of this new life is very inspiring to me and I hope it is to all of you!
How has the Province managed its care of the elderly the past four years?
The Covenant of Care was formally approved at the Chapter of 2010, but work had begun on it under my predecessor, Fr. Bill Lego, O.S.A. I served as First Counselor on his administration, so I was quite familiar with what was being undertaken. It was my administration's decision to close Tolentine Center, where many of our elderly Augustinians were living, and form an Augustinian Community at a Catholic Health Care Facility for our friars who needed care beyond what could be provided in one of our active communities. Before this, when friars needed assisted or skilled care, they were sent to various health care facilities. This concept of having a healthy care community on site with those who were in the care facility was praised and recognized by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO). While we originally started at the Franciscan Village in Lemont, Illinois, where one of our men still resides, the Mid-Chapter asked that we review the site, which we did. In trying to remain faithful to the Covenant of Care, we moved the site of the Bellesini Friary Community to St. Anthony Home in Crown Point, Indiana. The main reasons for this were: friars would be assured of single rooms at all levels of care, they would have access to some medical assistance while living in assisted care, there is a hospital on site, and the cost was more economical. We are committed to caring for our men who have given their life in service to the Order and the Church. We want them to live in an Augustinian Community and receive quality care! I am very grateful to Brother Jerome Sysko, O.S.A., and Fr. Mike O'Connor, O.S.A., among others who have helped us to make this program a reality.
What are some of the successes of our missions in Peru the past four years?
Our Missions in Peru are inspiring! We should be very proud as a Province with what was started 50 years ago when Bishop John McNabb, O.S.A., went down to Chulucanas, Peru! Now, Bishop Dan Turley, O.S.A., is administering the Diocese while Fr. Fidel Alvarado, O.S.A., is serving as the Vicar for our Augustinian Vicariate. He is the first native Peruvian Vicar. Our Vicariate is now working with two other Augustinian Vicariates that were started by the Italian and Spanish Augustinians to become their own Province. They have taken on commitments to serve in more parishes and schools, and are planning to build a new school in Trujillo, Peru. They also have a good number of vocation candidates and young men in formation. They are well on their way to being a new Peruvian Province. We will continue to walk with them on their journey towards being financially self-sufficient and canonically independent. It is a joy to see the work of this mission that began so many years ago come to fruition and completion!
How does serving as Prior Provincial compare to your previous education ministry of serving as Headmaster at Cascia Hall?
Administration is Administration! You need to make sure that you have a strategic plan, financial stability, and a strong advancement office to support the endeavor. This has been done in the Province as was done at Cascia Hall, but I did not expect to have to be as hands on with the Augustinians as I had been at Cascia with the faculty and staff. In fact, I have had to be more involved with personnel than at Cascia. This is not a bad thing, just something that surprised me. I asked the late Fr. Ted Tack, O.S.A., before I left Cascia if he had any advice for a new, young Provincial. He told me two things: "Spend more time in the Chapel before the Blessed Sacrament in silence, listening for the Lord speaking to you." And, "Be sure to keep confident what your brothers tell you if you want them to trust you. You will need to take many things to your grave with you." This has proven to be great advice! Also, former Provincial Karl Gersbach, O.S.A., gave me some words of encouragement when I took office. He said, "We know you are a good administrator, that is why we elected you, but we also need you to be a Pastor of Souls." This advice has helped me, and over time I have tried to become a better Pastor and Brother to my fellow Augustinians!
What changes in parish ministry have the Augustinians taken the past four years?
We have had some changes in this area. We have had to withdraw from some places while taking on others. This is not an easy thing to do when we have been at some places since the foundation of the parish, but with personnel limitations and trying to respond to the signs of the times, we have reshaped our parish commitments. We withdrew from St. Clare of Montefalco Parish in Grosse Pointe, Michigan and St. Peter Parish in Douglas, Michigan. At the same time we have taken on St. Turibius and St. Gabriel Parishes in Chicago. We may need to do more of this reshaping in the next four years as well.
Midway through your term, you assumed responsibility as Prior Provincial over the Canadian Augustinians. What do you envision for the Augustinian future of Canada?
I was actually elected Prior Provincial right away in 2010, but in 2012 the Province [of Canada] decided to eliminate the position of Provincial Superior, which was basically a Vicar in Canada, and put their entire governance under my administration and me. I believe this was a good thing, but it ultimately meant more hands on attention to the two communities we still have in Canada, namely Marylake Monastery in Ontario and Sacred Heart Parish in British Columbia. With the help of an amazing group of laymen, Brother Paul Koscielniak, O.S.A., from our Province, and help with personnel from the California and Cebu [Philippines] Provinces, we have made some great progress in the Province and hopefully will now focus on renewing vocation efforts up there!
What are some of the challenges of being a Prior Provincial?
I actually enjoy being a Provincial, but there are some challenges. It is not a 9 to 5 job; in reality it is a 24/7 job. You are always on call! The phone can ring at anytime, and you need to be available to handle things at all times of the day and night. So you have to plan some weekends away as well as vacation time to allow your Vicar to handle things. Of course, even then, if it is a serious matter, they will email, text, or call me! The other challenge is the travel schedule. It sometimes gets hectic and tiring living out of a suitcase so often. Besides these logistical things, being Provincial means that you are always managing things and people and while I work to build consensus, there will always be people who don't like the decisions that I am making. However, having being reelected by a vote of 82 to 10, I guess there is more support than I imagined!
What are some of your greatest hopes for the next four years?
I believe that we will continue to make progress in the area of vocations! I also expect that our Capital Campaign, Continuing Our Journey of Faith, will be successful and put us on a solid financial footing to take care of our elderly/infirm friars as well as our young men in formation for years to come. I expect our schools and parishes to continue to thrive even though I think we may have to withdraw from one or more parish commitments. And I expect that our Mission in Peru will make great strides towards becoming an independent province. I would also like to see the Federation of Augustinians of North America (FANA) continue to make progress in collaboration on projects and Augustinian personnel.
Would you like to share anything with our readers currently discerning a religious vocation?
Being an Augustinian is a great way of life! I am very happy in my vocation and in my role as Provincial! We are able to have such a great influence for good in the lives of many people! If God is calling you to serve as an Augustinian: to live in Community being of One Heart and One Mind on the Way to God, and Serve the People of God in Schools and Parishes, answer the call! Pick up the phone and call the Vocation Director [Fr. Tom McCarthy, O.S.A., at 773-776-3044 or email him at email@example.com]. You will not know for sure unless you give it a try! We now have 35 young men in Formation in the United States, and we have at least seven more joining this fall. Join us on the Journey!
How can people continue to support the Augustinians?
First and foremost we need your prayers! Please continue to pray for Vocations to the Augustinian Way of Life, for our ministries and missions, and for me your Provincial. Knowing that I have your prayerful support allows me to give it my all for the next four years. Also, I would appreciate your involvement in supporting our Annual Fund, our Capital Campaign and our Augustinian Gala. May God continue to bless the good work He has begun in each one of us, and may He grant success to the work of our hands and hearts!