Interview with Fr. John Gaffney, O.S.A.

Anne Russell: First of all, let me congratulate you on your 75th Diamond Jubilee on your first profession of faith.  How are you doing today?

Fr. John Gaffney, O.S.A.: How am I doing today?

Russell: Yes.

Gaffney: I'm pretty well.  I'm 95 years of age, so I'm able to answer the phone, and my hearing is not too good and, as a result, I can't guarantee that I can talk too well with you in the sense that, hearing, but I'm all right.

Russell: Good.  Well, I'm glad you agreed to let me interview you today.  Father Gaffney, here are a few questions.  Take your time, and then we'll try to get to some of the things that we'd like to know.  First of all, what was it that called you to be an Augustinian? 

Gaffney: I met with a young man who was at Staten Island in the prep seminary, and he had left the prep seminary at the beginning of his second year in the prep seminary at Staten Island shortly after Thanksgiving, I can't remember the year.  It might have been 1936.  I think it was '36 or '35, and I met with him and another friend of mine, Father John Gallagher, who was in St. Leo's High School in Ashley, Pennsylvania, we were classmates.  The two of us met this young man and his last name was Culver, C-U-L-V-E-R.  I don't know whether it was John Culver or what the first name was, I forget, and he told us about Staten Island Prep Seminary where he had been.  He left not so much because he didn't like everything that was going on at the time, but, simply, because he felt that it was not his vocation.  He was probably a sophomore in high school, maybe a junior, I'm not sure.  We were juniors, Father John Gallagher and I.  Classmates at St. Leo's, as I just said. 

This young man told us about the prep seminary of the Augustinians.  I didn't know anything about the Augustinians.  I had never met an Augustinian, but because of that meeting and that Father, Father John Gallagher at the end of his junior year at St. Leo's in Ashley, Pennsylvania, went into the Augustinian Preparatory Seminary on Staten Island.  I presume it was because of his and my contact with this Culver young man.  John Gallagher entered and used to write to me off and on telling me about his seminary life experience, so I followed John Gallagher, my classmate at St. Leo's in Ashley, Pennsylvania, into the Augustinian Seminary at Staten Island after I had graduated from St. Leo's High School in the year 1937.  That's it.

Russell: That's a wonderful story.  Now, Father, I have another question to ask you.  Father, do you know about our campaign for Continuing Our Journey of Faith?

Gaffney: Do I know about it?

Russell: Yes.

Gaffney: Oh, yes.  I know about it.

Russell: Okay, and what do you think about the idea of the campaign, and the other question is about the Father Ray Ryan Trust fund for men in formation.  Do you think this campaign is really important at this present time?

Gaffney: Would you repeat that question, please?  Do I think that...

Russell: The campaign that we're doing right now for the Father Ray Ryan Trust for men In formation...

Gaffney: Yea, I think it's very important to help support the people that are going to respond to the Lord's invitation to a possible vocation with the Augustinian Order.  I think it's very important that the campaign, which is, at least, partially, if not completely meant for the support of the seminarians, is that it?

Russell: Yes, and then, also, there's another lifetime trust for the retired and infirm Augustinians.  How important is that in today's date?

Gaffney: I didn't get that second part.  The part of the campaign is also for, what did you say?

Russell: The retired and infirm Augustinians.

Gaffney: Okay.  The retired and infirm Augustinians.  I think that is a very good thing also, good objective because I'm one of the retired and infirm Augustinians, and I know quite a number of my Augustinian priest friends and brother friends that are up in years, as I am.  I think both objectives are very good for...

Russell: All right.

Gaffney: The seminary, for the seminarians that are presently in the seminary or those that are going to be in the seminary, and for the Augustinian priests and brothers who are presently infirm or aged.

Russell: Oh, sure.  Now, Father, I have another question.  What impact did you see the Augustinians make during your ministry, and that is, did you find anything that really struck you that was important while you were at St. Rita High School, or you were at Oconomowoc, or when you were teaching at Cascia Hall.  Did you feel ...

Gaffney: What was the first part of the question?

Russell: Did you feel that the Augustinians made, what impact did you see the Augustinians make during your ministry, like while you were at St. Rita, while you were at the Novitiate in Oconomowoc or at Cascia Hall?

Gaffney: Well, I think they made a, from my viewpoint, in all three places, they made a very good impact on the young persons that we were teaching.  I was teaching from 7th grade up through 12th grade at various years in the course of my career at Chicago and in Cascia Hall.  In the Oconomowoc experience, I was not formally teaching.  I was a Novicemaster, but it was a teaching position in regard to the fundamentals of English language, or how to write, or how to speak English, or how to appreciate English, but it was in regard to the problems or the religious order, the Augustinians, to indoctrinate or to inform the novices of the kind of life they were seeking to enter if they were accepted into the Augustinian Order as a professed, professed in the sense of taking vows, or three years temporary vows.

I thought it was a good impact.  My own talents and efforts are limited, so I can't say it was extremely great, but it was, at least, good, and in my career at Cascia Hall, I spent most of my career at Cascia Hall, about 33 years in teaching, and after that, all together I've been over 50 years at Cascia Hall.  About 33 of those years were in teaching, and then the ones that were not in teaching were in some contact from time to time with some of the students that were going to Cascia Hall after I had retired.  That contact came to a halt within about five years because I was getting out of the world.  My energies were depleting, and I was getting older, so I wasn't as active. 

I think at that stage, the impact that I had was probably, at least, good, or, at most, good, at least, there.  I don't know.  I never asked the individuals that I dealed with what impact I had on them.  A lot of them went on to college, and professional life, and, I suppose, I had some little impact upon those that became professionals.  Most of them became professional people, doctors, mostly, or lawyers, or businessmen out of Cascia Hall.  I don't know what else to say.

Russell: Father, did you enjoy teaching?

Gaffney: Yes, I enjoyed teaching, but mostly on the level of the, I'd say, 7th and 8th grade.

Russell: Okay, so you liked the younger students?

Gaffney: Yes, I got along better with younger students, I think.  I made more contact with them, and I think I had more of an effect on their learning and their conduct on them when I was in the high school grades, but I had an effect in regard to, a good effect, in both high school and the lower school, middle school, we call it the middle school.

Russell: Yes.

Gaffney: 7th, 8th, and 9th or 6th, 7th, and 8th.

Russell: Very good.

Gaffney: I liked teaching the younger people.

Russell: All right.  The next question is this, Father.  Do you have any advice for those currently in formation or discerning a religious vocation?  What you would say to these young men who are coming through?  What advice would you give them?

Gaffney: Well, I would encourage them to make each day in the seminary a profitable day in the sense of learning, not simply the subjects that were taught, but also learning about the priesthood or the brotherhood that they were thinking about.  If they did become priests or brothers, what their role would be in that particular stage of their life, but as they're preparing as seminarians, whether in the minor seminary or the major seminary, it would be to develop the talents that they possess and take a deeper interest in trying to realize the role of a priest, a religious priest or a religious brother, in today's world.  Today's world is far different than the world that I entered into when I was ordained in 1945.  That goes back a half century, so the American culture in the world at that time, the United States of America and it's relationship with the world, the European world and the Asian world and the South American world was not as it is today.  Today we have more of a global effect on people rather than just simply an effect that is... to the state in which you are teaching or the country tin which you are teaching.  That is, the United States of America or the State of Oklahoma or Chicago or Illinois, these were the, not Illinois, but Wisconsin, these were the three states that I was located in in the course of my priesthood as a priest and as a teacher.

I don't know if that's completely satisfactory, but take a deeper interest in knowing more about what they're studying and the role of the priesthood in the Church of tomorrow.  The Church of the priesthood that they'll be in or the brotherhood that they'll be in.  The more they know about the Augustinians, and the wonderful tradition that the Augustinians have in Europe and in the United States of America and other places in the world, the more they'll appreciate their vocation as an Augustinian, and then to prepare themselves as best they can intellectually and physically and morally for those stations in life that they'll have as brothers or as priests.

Russell: Thank you.  My last question is this.  You know we're asking people to go an extra mile to give a special gift for this campaign.

Gaffney: Yes.

Russell: Do you think people should do this more often?  Do you think they should go that extra mile and give us more of a special gift to proceed with this campaign?

Gaffney: I think they should if they possess the means.  Look back at what the Augustinian priest or priests or brothers gave to them because they were in a position to do so on account of the generosity of people like themselves.  Lay people that might have set aside the annual gifts or gifts in their wills toward the end of their lives in order to replace the priests like myself or the religious brothers of my age who they follow in my footsteps or in the footsteps of other brothers that are presently still living or at the close end of their lives.  That is, when the Lord wants to take me or any of my contemporary priests, brothers, or Augustinian priest brothers, or Augustinian priest, religious brothers that they'll be replaced by people that will be able to carry on our traditions and the traditions of the Catholic Church in the sense that we're educating Catholic men and women.  Mostly, I think, the greater percentage of our children in high school and in colleges I think are Catholic people, so it's to make them better Catholics and more in the sense of being religious Catholics, and in the sense of being professional people carrying on in the United States or wherever, as professional people, and bringing to their clients something of the Augustinian tradition that they have experienced in their period of education, whether at the high school level or high school, college level, or seminary level, whatever it may be.

I think it's a good idea to encourage the extra mile, but if they can't do it because they don't have a means, well, there's nothing much that can be done in that regard.  Material means are limited.  You don't have a checkbook that is without its sum being used up, or money that is, cash money, that is available that is not going to reach its family at some time in the course of one's lifetime, either because of age, means, medical experience, or being in a home for the aged, or helping support one's own family, or people associated with one's family.  I can't think of any other ideas that I could express.

Russell: Well, Father, I want to thank you for your time this morning, and we will keep you in our prayers here in Chicago, and thank you again for your time.  Have a good day.

Gaffney: Okay.  I thank you, and I'll keep your mission in mind in regard to doing your best to help the Augustinians in the Midwest and throughout the United States and throughout the world.  Thank you very much.  Bye.  Bye.

Posted on November 3, 2014 and filed under John Gaffney O.S.A..