Interview with Fr. Tim Cuny, O.S.A.

Patrick Murphy: Hello everyone. This is Patrick Murphy with the Augustinians. Today I am with Father Tim Cuny. Father Tim Cuny if right now living in Eastern Michigan [since the recording of this interview, Father Cuny has since moved to the Augustinian Marylake Monastery in King City, Ontario]. Father Tim Cuny has served before as the Mission Director and the Pastor of St. Peter in Douglas among many other ministries. Father Tim, it's a pleasure to have you with us today.

Fr. Tim Cuny, O.S.A.: Good to be talking to you.

Murphy: Well, what I like to ask many of our friars is what was it that first called you to be an Augustinian?

Cuny: That's, I'm going to try to make this quick, but it goes over a lot of years. I was Vocation Director also for 10 years and thought about a lot of these things. For instance, when I was a young kid literally climbing on the kneeler in the church, my father grabbed me and pulled me up and said, "Look," he was trying to get me from fooling around, but he said, "Look up there, there is Jesus." And I looked up and of course, in those days the Mass was in Latin and the Priest faced the wall and he held up the Host over his head. That was kind of my first, it seemed very mysterious that Jesus could be up there in that Host. So it was an attraction.

When I go to second grade, and of course, I never realized these things until I thought about them as a vocation director, but the second one was second grade where I received first communion. I had a bit of a... I kind of feel into a prayer experience that I can't explain. But from that day, I knew that the Eucharist would be important in my life.

Jumping to sixth grade, the nuns, and I'm in a Catholic school now, the nuns sent us, all the boys, down the basement to listen to a vocation director. For some reason I signed up, I was interested in being a cowboy, a garbage man, all those kinds of things at that time. He sent materials and then in eight grade he called me and my mother said, because I asked my mother, "What should I do, he wants me to go to the seminary?" My mother says, "Tell him your mother won't let you," which is a clear indication I wasn't ready at that time.

Going to Mendel [Catholic High School], Father L. Hildebrand asked me twice my first two years of high school. Father Gavin really impressed me being out on the football field. In fact, we'd be scrimmaging and he'd be on the sidelines and a lot of the players were going up and talking to him and finally I asked somebody, "What do you talk about when you're with Father Gavin?" The guy looked and said, "We go to confession."

Murphy: Really?

Cuny: So, the use of the Sacrament in my high school years, really kind of drew me. And again, Father Gavin was my confessor in high school and actually when I was professed at Tolentine he used to come out. And finally, Bishop McNabb, my senior year asked me, excuse me, he was Father McNabb at the time, but he asked me the big question, "Where are you going to go to college?" I didn't, football season had just ended, I had no scholarship, I had no idea what I was going to do for college. When he mentioned the Augustinians for some reason I said, "Yes." And that's it, they just really, they asked me and the Lord was throwing out these hints over my life.

Murphy: You mentioned a lot of influential Augustinians that I've heard across a number of these interviews. I can't tell you the number of time Father Jack Gavin has come up in particular.

Cuny: Let me add to some of those, another couple of those. The Order... the Province sent me to Rome to study theology. Of course, that's up and out away from Tolentine and all that, where I had many friends. Many of the guys there, my fellow students really helped me at Tolentine. I remember talking with people like Larry Dore and Bob Gardella and John Molnar and of course, David Brecht received me into his Schola Cantorum at Tolentine, which was big influence in my life. I shouldn't say, anyway, it made me feel I could do a lot of things.

Then going to Rome, first of all, Ted Tack was my Master of Professed when I hit the wall, so to speak. He told me, when I came to his room, I told him I'm going to leave. He said, "Tim, sleep on it. Well talk about it in the morning." Very insightful because in the morning I was no longer disposed to leave. But we had several really good vocation conferences with him.

Also, in Rome, John Rotell became my confessor/spiritual director and that really helped me a whole lot. I mean, Augustinian influences really... I can even go to a young priest, Father Vince Burnell kind of took me under his wing and let me cut my teeth as a new priest. Giving me advice and things like that. It was really good to have Augustinians around.

Murphy: Throughout all that formation and all the influence of the Augustinians that impacted your life... Flash-forward to today, what would you say the role is of the Augustinian Order and if the Augustinians are still relevant in today's society?

Cuny: I think more than ever we are relevant. Although, we've been relevant all through history. The thing, this is a little difficult to think, or to express. But I think every one of us on this planet man, woman, whatever... we have a desire for community. That is for a common union with God. Augustine's line, "Our hearts are restless until we rest in Thee." I thing that's what drew me to the Augustinians, these good men around me living community life really threw me.

As they say, I think whether you go through a marriage, every married person wants to have a union with another person of the opposite sex. It's really the union with God that we're seeking. As a religious with no partner in life, that's really what I'm seeking is the union with God. Every single person too, has that desire for communion with God. It's built into us as human beings.

So I think the Augustinians have really a treasure in the community that we proclaim and that we live to one degree or another. It's never perfect. In my lifetime that really the relevance of the Augustinians, our community life and how that corresponds to the interior driver or the interior need of every person, I think, in the whole world.

Murphy: Community is, time and time again I've heard that in my years of being part of the Augustinian Family, that is that it's eccentric to be what it is to be Augustinian and in many ways it's innately what we're all looking for. That community, that unity in particular with God and the pursuit of Truth that Augustine also talked about as well.

Cuny: It is when we are called to pursue Jesus, the way, the Truth, and the Life.

Murphy: Yeah. Talking about the campaign now, the Continuing Our Journey of Faith campaign that has two particular direct goals and that's to raise the Father Ray Ryan Trust for men in formation and ocations as well as the Journey of a Lifetime Trust for the retired and infirm Augustinians, the friars. But in many ways I think that it has the longer term goal of being able to instill those values that you mentioned in generations to come. Why do you think this campaign in particular is important at this point and time?

Cuny: Well, being 72 and a retired person I had to retire from my parish in St. Peter in Douglas because of my health. Facing the conclusion of my life, whenever that will come, I think that the Journey of a Lifetime Trust is really important. In other words, we didn't pay much attention to that back in the beginning of the day, Father Brecht wrote an article on that. We didn't pay much attention to salaries and things like that, but now my bills are getting to be really big. My health bills are getting to be really large, and, of course, I give my live to the community and the community says, "We're going to take care of you."

To be honest, I never expected to live in a palace of assisted living nor did I ever expect to be in a nursing home. I thought my life might end quickly, which isn't true anymore. People do these things. But I also imagined that if the Order couldn't, if the Province couldn't take care of me and I wound up in a cardboard box living on the street, that would be okay.

But I'd like people to tell me about the Journey of a Lifetime Fund because it's a very personal interest to me at this point in my life. The other one, I think is the Ray Ryan Trust for seminary, we bring into our religious life people that come off the street, so to speak, of all different persuasions and whatnot. The idea of education fills their head with ideas and objects. What we need to do is really touch their hearts. And that’s what formation is about. It's changing the heart of a person to really love God and give himself totally to God. That's not an easy thing. It takes a lot of years to do that. That's what formation is mainly about.

I know we run, we have a college formation and a theology formation, but real formation and the novitiate and all that takes place within the person. For that you need, if people are contributing to that, then I think they're doing the real work of God. That is helping people come closer to Him, not with their heads, but with their hearts. And that's what brings out the good life in people. When you follow Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life it brings out the best in people.

Murphy: It's probably one of the better, how do I say this, descriptions or a synopsis of what formation is. I know it's not necessarily easily "articulable" or easily articulated. But it's really about bringing, as far as I see it, not just the education and the learning of theology which are all important, but it's also about bringing that "one mind, one heart" mentality. That aspect of community just to be part of their innate nature.

Cuny: I've lived with Father David Brecht this last year before he died and it really, he is a true believe in Catholic education. People spend, well, Austin High School here is the cheapest thing around. It's $6,000 a year. People who fork over that kind of money have to be really believing. Because it's not just the education, it's the Catholic formation.

In fact, as I'm looking at Father David's fish here in his office. The Catholic formation is the water that we the little fishes swim in. In other words, there's a whole atmosphere of forming the heart of getting people to look at God and learn to love Him and learn to love Him through Jesus. It just can't be replaced, it just can't be beat. So that formation, whether you're sending your kids to a Catholic school or they're contributing to the Augustinians, that formation is so important in making really good people out of the raw material of us as kids.

Murphy: Right. Since you were speaking on formation and you've also served as the Director of Augustinian vocations in the past.

Cuny: Yes.

Murphy: If we have anybody listening that's currently discerning a religious vocation, do you have any advice for them?

Cuny: I think Tom McCarthy's program is pretty good: you get in touch over the internet and finally you get a phone call and maybe you're invited to something. If there's still a... I ran many of those gatherings. We do it at the Baldwin House many times. If there is still an interest after the first meeting with the community, you really have to take the step. Don't give it up. Take the step to get in to the community for three days, five days, whatever they allow today. I don't really know...

And even if you have a poor experience, you're going to know religious life is not for you or at least the Augustinians aren't. But if you have a good experience as I did in my formation, and I left home at 18. I was having these good experiences with priest and at my high school. But if you can have that good experience, I think, it will lead you forward. And if you're following Christ, if you're following becoming a celibate follower of Christ, and that means my attention is totally given to the Lord. And of course, from the love He give me as a celibate, I serve other people. It's such a wonderful lifestyle.

Oh, I was going to say, I went to Holland, Michigan as an 18-year-old and I would say within two weeks my experience was, of the community, all these young guys living together. You didn't have to lock your locker. It was really a wonderful environment. But, I pretty much, in two weeks, I really kind of knew, again, it's reflecting back I knew this, I didn't know it at the time. I didn't decide it or anything. But, in two weeks I knew I would never leave.

Murphy: Wow. Wow.

Cuny: Take the step. Take the next step and see what happens.

Murphy: Good advice, good advice. Thank you so much for sharing.

Cuny: All right.

Murphy: The last question I have here goes back to the capital campaign. Why would you say that people that are still considering to make a donation, why should they go the extra mile and make a special gift to the campaign?

Cuny: Well, again, a lot of people are not choosing Catholic school formation these days for their children. And again, there's I think that's absolutely essential to get a sense of God and values and right and wrong. If that's a good reason to make a donation to the formation Ray Ryan Fund. The Augustinians have done so much over the years for so many people. I think I've had 14 or 17 transfers, that is being sent from one place to another. So there's 17 different apostolates--not apostolates, but houses--that I've lived in and ministered from. You know, I've met so many people and touch so many lives. Again, I think that's a very worthy thing to support. That Augustinians are going to continue these ministries and are going to touch so many people.

Murphy: Thank you. Thank you.

Cuny: And I want to say, and touch them not as buddy-buddy or in parties, but touched them with God's love and helped them come to realize how  much God loves them. That's really the step you  need to enter in to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Murphy: You know what, the Augustinians do a good job with that because they are well formed. Because being able to share that and experience that isn't always easy. It can be a challenge some times. But as far as I hear, the Augustinians in people's lives do have that experience because of a common theme of friendship. Is just what I hear. Being able to believe in somebody whether it's in a parish, at school, a retreat or whatever it might be.

Cuny: I've always said that that as an Augustinian I do not have a wife and children of my own. As you move around Italy, I've been in Australia, I've been in South America you find other Augustinians who are willing to take you in and take care of you and show you the ropes and things like that. So it's a much bigger family that I have. Plus the fact that any perish that I've been in people remember me and welcome me when I come back, things like that. It's not a lonely life. It's very lonely if you make it that way. But it's not a lonely life. People are just waiting for us because they desire that common union, that communion with Christ.

Murphy: Yeah. Well, thank you once again Father Tim. It's been great talking with you and I hope the listeners have enjoyed it as well. If anyone has any further questions or wants to learn more about the capital campaign, you can learn more about it here at or you can contact the Campaign Director, Michael Gerrity at 773-595-4035. Once again, thank you so much Father Tim. Have a blessed day.

Cuny: Thank you, Pat. Thank you Patrick. And thanks for inviting me to do this. I really enjoyed it. God bless you and good night. 

Posted on December 12, 2014 and filed under Tim Cuny O.S.A..