Interview with Bishop-elect Robert Prevost, O.S.A.

Patrick Murphy: Hello everyone, this is Patrick Murphy with the Midwest Augustinians. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Bishop-elect Robert Prevost, who was just recently named the Bishop of Diocese of Chiclayo, which is in Northern Peru. Fr. Prevost has also been the Prior General of the worldwide Augustinian Order, and Prior Provincial, he's been a missionary in Peru, among many, many other titles. He's a busy guy.  Father, if I may call you that, it's a pleasure to have you with us today.

Bishop-elect Robert Prevost, O.S.A.: Thank you very much, Patrick. I'm happy to be able to spend this time with you and with all those who will be listening.

Murphy: The first question that I like to ask the friars, is what was it that called you to be an Augustinian?

Prevost: Sounds like an easy question. The answer is probably very difficult, and as everyone's personal journey goes, there's probably a number of different chapters and twists and turns along the way.

Certainly from a young age, I had sort of a sense that I would like to do some kind of service in the Church. Priesthood was a part of that, but it wasn't necessarily clearly defined. It happened that both of my older brothers studied at an Augustinian high school, Mendel High School in Chicago, and through their presence at Mendel High School I came to know a number of Augustinians who were their teachers, my mother was very involved in the Mothers Club in those years. Coming to know the Augustinians both through the teachers at Mendel and also because a couple friends from my local parish were seminarians or students with the Augustinians in the seminary system at that time, I made a choice early on to go to the Augustinian seminary, the minor seminary that we used to have in Holland, Michigan.

From that point forward, it wasn't like it was a clear shot, there were a number of moments of discernment in terms of different options, diocesan priesthood, missionary life, etc., but several things stood out in my experience that made me say this is the group I want to be with. Those experiences, including such things as friendship and community, working together as well as living together with a common vision, a common purpose, where things said to me that the Augustinian way of life is something that really makes sense to me, and obviously I did early on made a decision, which today I'm still very happy about, to give my life to the ministry in the Church, but through it in the Augustinian Order.

Murphy: Father, are there any particular friars that helped you along in those early formative years for you to make that decision to become a fully professed Augustinian?

Prevost: Yeah, there's probably a lot of them. Actually, the first Augustinian that I ever knew in my life, I was just a small child. He was a Spaniard, Fr. Fidel Rodriguez was his name. He was known by a number of the "Men of Tolentine." I got to know him because of his work with migrant workers. My father, who was a school superintendent but very involved in helping the people in the are where he worked in the public schools, was looking for a Spanish-speaking priest to reach out to the migrant workers in the area at that time. He found Fr. Fidel and he would bring him over to supper. Fidel, I was just a small boy, but he had quite an impact on me. I never forget it in terms of his sense of humor, his generosity, his willingness to serve the people who were, if you were, down and out. Just the way he reached out to them. That would be one right off the bat, the first Augustinian I ever knew, really.

I mentioned teachers at Mendel. One of them who had an impact, especially on one of my brother's lives, but also my life, was Fr. Fred Taggart, currently at St. Mathews in  Flint. His generous sense of concern, service, and being concerned about the students he was teaching, including one of my brothers, had an impact on me all of a sudden. Those, like among the first ones going way back, certainly through my years in formation, there were a number of Augustinians that were also very significant, some of them are still with us, some of them are not, but again, I think more than individuals, the community impact, the way that Augustinians work together in spite of or because of different personalities and different gifts and bringing all of that together in a very human, down to earth way. All those things said to me that this is something that's really worthwhile.

Murphy: Father, you have a great perspective as far as the global Augustinian Order. As I mentioned before, and some of the listeners might know that you served as the Prior General of the Augustinian order for two six-year terms, for twelve years in Rome. I'm guessing that a lot of that was also flying around the world, too. What would you say the role is of the Augustinian Order today, and how are the Augustinians still relevant in today's society?

Prevost: Certainly the experience that I was privileged to gain as I was called to the service of Prior General was something that had a deep impact on me, and has really been a blessing in terms of helping me to grow in my understanding of how important the Church is in our world, and with that, how important, how relevant, how significant the Augustinians are in the many different ways in which we serve.

The experience brought me literally around the world, to every continent. The Augustinians are in 50 different countries and I had the opportunity of visiting all of them. To see the kinds of things that the Augustinians are doing, in many, many different kinds of missions and apostolates, largely in education, parish work, missionary activity in terms of preaching the Gospel, of course, but also in a lot of different things, chaplaincies and working in prisons, and hospital ministry and working with immigrants and literally the people who are on the very margins of society today. Just a great sense of the spirit of Augustinian service in the Church, recognized time and again by the Church and by people who are admitted to the Church. That was a great privilege.

For myself, I think that one of the great strengths that the Augustinians have is precisely in that community spirit of working together. Even if one man is working by himself in some specific mission, he knows and very much experiences the fact that it's a community that stands behind him and supports him, so that when we read the Gospels or when we read the Acts of the Apostles and we have kind of a little bit of a glimpse at how the early Christians lived, when we hear about Christians coming together and listening to the teaching of the Church, the teaching of the Apostles together, the breaking bread together, celebrating if you will, Eucharist, the sacraments together, it was done in community, and so our life, in a very special way, is both if you will, an example, a living example of trying to re-create or continue to live, I guess I would say, the memorial, the experience of that early Christian community, but really inviting others to take a part of that, to be welcoming and to invite other believers to come to this experience of living community life or sharing life and gifts and resources in common, and in that way trying to make the world a better place, always centered the Gospel, centered around Jesus Christ.

I think the message is extremely relevant, and no matter what kind of specific works we're involved in, the meaning of what Augustinian life and vocation is about is something that can really be of great value to people everywhere in the world.

Murphy: Thank you, Father. You mentioned vocations. One of the things that we're doing these interviews for is the Continuing Our Journey of Faith campaign, and the campaign helps to build the Fr. Ray Ryan Trust for Vocations, as well as the Journey of a Lifetime Trust for the retirement needs of the Midwest Province of the Augustinians. Given those two causes, I know that you've served as a Vice-Chair on the campaign, you've been very helpful for the problems. Why do you think that this campaign is particularly important right now?

Prevost: As you know, this past year, the time I finished as Prior General up until present time, I'm serving currently as Director of Formation in the House of Professed here in Chicago, St. Augustine Friary, we have a wonderful gift right now of having again, numerous vocations. There are 15 men from the 3 provinces in simple vows right now, there are in addition 7 men in novitiate. These are numbers which have not been seen in the United States, at least among Augustinians for quite a few years. To see this, if you will, re-awakening in the Church, a new openness, willingness, even excitement to consider giving your life in service to the Church, that's really a great gift. It's a wonderful thing we're experiencing, but to properly form, educate, to accompany these men as they live in Augustinian formation, in order to become well-prepared Augustinians, well-prepared ministers for the future of the Church, that takes a lot of energy and investment.

Sometimes people talk about the expense of doing formation work. I prefer to think of formation work as an investment. It's an investment in the future of the Church, an investment in the future of the Augustinian Order. To be able to do that, we really need the support from our friends and benefactors. It does become quite costly, but at the same time, again, not an expense to be borne but an investment to be made toward the future.

I think there's a great significance in saying we look at the Fr. Ray Ryan Trust Fund, and we look at the need to prepare province today and into the future, that's something that I personally am very committed to, and would like to invite others to consider, precisely because of the future of the Church, and the future of the Order, which has so much to give to the Church, so much to give to the People of God.

That in terms of the Fr. Ray Ryan Trust Fund, caring for those who have been significant in our lives, my life as an Augustinian, the lives of Augustinians, but the lives of so many lay men and women in the Church. We have a number of elderly members today, and I'm sure in the future as we all live longer, the healthcare needs of Augustinians will also be a concern, and I think it's a matter of justice that we look for ways of assuring the kind of care that each and every one of them deserves. Hopefully, again, through the generous support of so many good people, we will be able to do that. That makes the commitment to the campaign very significant on the part of ourselves as Augustinians, but many, many lay people who are supporting us in this process.

Murphy: Father, do you have any advice for those that are currently in formation or those that are discerning a religious vocation right now?

Prevost: Probably lots of things to say. The men who live in the formation community with me here have heard a number of things, but I would say first and foremost, be willing to take the risk.

I think a lot of times people nowadays, for different reasons, are afraid to risk their lives as they look to the future. There are a lot of reasons for that, I suppose, but if you give your life over to Christ, he takes care of the rest. It's actually, there's a kind of a freedom that is given when one says I want to explore this further, and I want to give my life to Christ and see what Christ is offering. I don't know what's involved and it is an adventure, and yet I hear those words that Jesus said to his own Apostles, do not be afraid. Go forward. Take the risk. I think that would be a very important thing.

The rest comes along with it. Formation process doesn't happen overnight and you don't go from I'm thinking about it to making solemn vows in one day or one month or even one year. There's plenty of time for good discernment and for considering the gifts that one has been given, considering the ways that community life works and to see if it's a good match, and I think that the mistake is not taking the risk. You end up losing out everything. No one loses by giving it a try and coming in this case, to the Augustinians and discerning whether or not the Lord is truly calling them. There's so much to be gained, regardless of what the outcome may be. So to trust that and to trust that the Lord will be with you, with a young person who's thinking of going through that process.

Murphy: Father, listening to that response, which I think was great, I can't help but think in the back of my head, you will also be saying this in Northern Peru on a pretty constant basis for the diocese of Chiclayo, and if I could just ask a question that I think a lot of our listeners are dying to know, do you have any thoughts about how do you feel about going to serve as a Bishop there?

Prevost: That's a very good observation, Patrick, and as a matter of fact, I think I need to say those same words to myself, and since... In this very short amount of time since I found out about the decision of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, to call me to this service, my prayer has very much been kind of an acceptance in saying to the Lord, Lord, you've called me, and hearing the Lord say do not be afraid, I will be with you. Those same words, I think, are words... It's a message that Jesus repeats continually throughout the Gospel, saying to his disciples do not be afraid. I certainly hope to share my own faith, and this encouragement with the people that will be... That I will be meeting for the first time, for the most part, as I go to Chiclayo to take up the mission.

I think that again, the message of the Gospel is so important for people's lives, the consolation, the healing, the mercy, that Pope Francis speaks about often, but also the challenge. The new life and the freedom that can be gained that Jesus Christ offers like no one else does. The gift that can be given to people in and through that faith in the presence of God in our lives, the strength and power of God's love. That's something which is so great, which I personally have been blessed to experience and which I hope to share with others. The Lord calls us to make the world a better place, to come together as a people, as a community and to really work together to overcome the difficulties and to share those gifts that we've been given to make a difference in our world.

Yeah, absolutely, I do hope that I'm able to share the gifts I've been given, but to share that message that we've all heard in the Gospel, with the people that I am now called to serve.

Murphy: I think that you will have the prayers of many, many, many people here in the United States as well as across the world, to say the least, to help you on that journey.

I know that we do want to wrap things up. Being a recently appointed bishop, there's a lot of stuff that has to happen, but before we go I just wanted to ask if you can summarize, we talked a lot about why people should give to the campaign, but if you could summarize in general why you think are some of the best reasons to give to this campaign, what would those be?

Prevost: Summarize... I suppose to think of just a few words why I really believe that this campaign is a worthy cause and that people have the wherewithal that, if they could give to help support the mission, it's precisely because the Augustinians are committed, the very same mission that the whole Church is committed to, and that's to continue working toward this vision that Jesus Christ shared with us, of continuing working toward the realization that the values of the Kingdom of God's in our world here today. That's what being an Augustinian's about. We do that for our parish and community and I invite other people to take a part in that.

Not everybody has the same gifts, not everyone has the same resources, but if we all share from the gifts we've been given, that's all the Lord asks of us, and I hope people hear that message and respond according to the abilities that they've been given.

Murphy: Thank you Father, and if anyone would like more information on the campaign, you can contact campaign director Michael Gerrity at 773-595-4035, or there's plenty more information about the campaign at augustiniancampaign.org.

Thank you once again so much, Father, for taking out the time to speak with us. We will be praying for you from the United States for many, many years to come.

Prevost: Thank you very much, Patrick. I will be counting on your prayers, the prayers of all the supporters of the Augustinians, and I'm just really confident that the Lord and the Lord's Providence will continue to be with the Augustinians and continue to be with the mission work of the Church, for a long, long time, so thank you very much. God bless.

 
Posted on December 10, 2014 and filed under Robert Prevost O.S.A..