Anne Russell: First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
Fr. Bernie Scianna, O.S.A.: All right.
Russell: I know you have a busy schedule. For people who don't know, one of the questions before we get started is, how was your second term as Prior Provincial of the Midwest Augustinian Order doing?
Scianna: It's off to a good start I think, and the first term was I believe a great success, with the help of a lot of people, Augustinians and laypeople in the office, and volunteers, and people doing great work in our ministry, so we're going to continue doing that in the second term, and hopefully make more progress in the areas of advancement and the vocations.
Russell: That's wonderful to hear that good news. I'd like to get started with asking you a few questions. First of all, what was it that called you to the Augustinians?
Scianna: I believe God called me at an early age. Second, third, fourth grade I already was thinking about the priesthood, and certainly the influence of my parents, my grandparents, the Franciscan Sisters at St. Stephens helped me to discern my vocation to the priesthood, but it really was the Augustinians at St. Rita High School who influenced me to visit Villanova University when I was a junior in high school, and once I did, as they say, the rest is history.
I loved Villanova. I loved the whole sense of Augustinian community. I still love it, and I still do it. It's a long journey from parents, and grandparents, and the nuns, in grammar school, to being part of the Order and Provincial now of the Augustinians. The journey was a good one, and still is.
Russell: Father Bernie, who was a great influence? What Augustinian was a great influence in your life?
Scianna: Well, a couple at St. Rita. Certainly, Father Brecht, who was my principal, and I saw him as a great mentor, and he certainly has been influential in my life in encouraging me to be a leader in our schools and our provinces. Father Pat Murphy is another one who was a big influence. Brother Jack, Father Flach was one of my teachers. We had a lot of Augustinians at the school at that time, and many of them were my teachers. But those in particular were a great influence. Brother Joe Fisher, who was the moderator of the band, and Father Tom and I were in the band, and certainly he was another influence.
There were just priests and brothers who made a difference in my life, and then really encouraged me to do the same now in other people's lives.
Russell: Those are all great men, because, like you said, I knew them all personally, also, and they were great men to follow in their footsteps.
My second question is, what would you say the role is of the Augustinian Order today?
Scianna: I think the role of the Augustinian Order is really the same. It's to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. I believe that we're an important of the Church as an Augustinian Order. We bring a particular gift or charism to the building up of community in our schools, and our parishes, and our own community life. I think that's our mission, to continue to do that, and to follow the teachings of St. Augustine, and to bring that to Good News of Jesus Christ, and the spirit of Augustine to others.
Russell: How are the Augustinians still relevant in today's society?
Scianna: I think we are relevant. I think maybe more so now than ever. I think there's a need for community. I think with the way technology is, and everyone has these virtual friends and that, and we really need to bring people together in prayer, and worship, and ministry, and just in life.
I think the idea of bringing people today in community is really relevant today, because too many things are virtual. I'm not saying those are bad, but we need the actual connections, and the teachings of St. Augustine and Jesus Christ can bring us together, and make a difference, particularly in the life of young people.
That's why I really like when our schools and parishes pay attention to ministry to the young, to help them to discern God's role for them, whatever it is: married life, single life, religious life, priesthood. I think we need to be in touch with them, and certainly that's what Augustine encouraged his followers to do, and we're continuing that today.
Russell: Our next question is, as you know, the Continuing Our Journey of Faith capital campaign hopes to build the Father Ray Ryan Trust Fund for men in formation and vocations, and, also, the Journey of Lifetime Trust for the retired and infirm Augustinians. Why do you think this campaign is particularly important at this point in this time?
Scianna: At the beginning of my first term, as I started to learn what this job was about as Provincial, I realized that the trusts that we had were being drained at an unreasonable rate. These trusts that were started by one of my predecessors, who I, also, mentioned earlier as one of my mentors, Father David Brecht, when he was Provincial, he established the Journey of a Lifetime Trust, because he knew that we needed to take care of our guys who have given their lives in service, and certainly at the particular time with the dwindling of people who were actually working and making salaries, we needed the income from trusts to take care of these guys.
We still have these guys now who deserve a modest retirement or care. We do that at the Bellesini Friary and St. Anthony Home in Crown Point. When they need assisted living, or skilled care, it's there for them. If they can, they stay in one of our schools or parish communities. Father Dodge lives with us in St. Rita. He's 90, and he doesn't need that kind of care yet, so he stays in an active community.
But when they do need the care, we need to provide it within the context of Augustinian community, so we need those funds, and we need to be able to do that, not only for today's men who are in retirement or sick, but for the future.
That's where the Ray Ryan Trust comes in, and we need to be able to say not only are we going to provide for young men we're fortunate to have in formation, provide for their studies, and all their formation needs, but we're, also, going to provide for them hopefully thirty, forty, fifty years from now when they're ready to retire, of if they're infirm, and they're going to be able to benefit from the Journey Trust.
It's really taking care of the young and the old, but an assurance to the young that with the building up of these trusts, we will be able to care for them. They'll be able to give their whole life in ministry, and in community, and in building up that community, and not have to worry about things like that, because people who are generous, and help us build these trusts are providing for our present needs and our future needs. It's really an important moment in our history, and in my tenure as Provincial.
Russell: Now, Father, what advice do you have for those currently in formation or discerning a religious vocation?
Scianna: I get the chance, since they're right next door from my office, to visit the men in formation at the level of theology, and I tell them, and I tell you and others that it's a great joy to see so many there, and for me after sometimes a difficult day in the office to go and have Mass and have dinner with them, and to hear of their enthusiasm, and their wanting to be part of our life and community, it's a great joy for me. They say they enjoy my visits. Well, I enjoy my visits probably more than they enjoy me coming over, because me gives me a sense of great hope.
I encourage them that if the Lord's calling them to this way of life, to follow their heart, and if it's want the Lord wants them to do, to do it. Just to keep plugging away and do it, and I tell them I have no regrets. It's been a great joy for me to be a priest and an Augustinian. It doesn't mean that I haven't had bad days or challenges, but overall really a delight to be one of God's servants as an Augustinian, and to be involved in the lives with people.
I encourage them to stick with it, get through some of the difficult and challenging times with good friends and a spiritual director, but if God's calling them to this way of life, say yes, and you will live a joyful life, and be part of others' lives in a way that you can never imagine possible.
Russell: Father, how many men are living next door to your office?
Scianna: There are ten from the three provinces that we have. There are ten young men in formation, and then there are, also, the people who are in the formation community, so there's four people who are solemnly professed to either do their work there with them, but, also, have other work outside, but live together, help them in that formation process.
Russell: My last question to you is regarding the [Continuing Our] Journey of Faith capital campaign. Why do you think others should go that extra mile to make a special gift to this wonderful campaign?
Scianna: Yeah. I certainly hope that others will go the extra mile to contribute to this campaign, because of what I said: it helps, not only our present, but it helps our future by building these trusts. It is a way of giving back to help care for our elders. Those who were our teachers and our pastors in the past, and those who now are in formation, and who are educating our young men in formation in the Augustinian way of life.
It's a way of giving back, and helping us to continue our mission and our ministry. It's a way of saying thank you to a particular Augustinian who is still alive, or in memory of one of those who had an influence.
I say to anyone who is considering a gift to this campaign, if the Augustinians have had a positive influence on your life, consider giving something back to this campaign, and making a difference in gratitude for what you have received.
Russell: Well, Father, I want to thank you for taking your time to answer my questions today. We will keep all of the Augustinians in our prayers. Thank you and have a good day.
Scianna: Thank you, Anne. I appreciate all that you do for us, too.