Interview with Don Berschback

Michael Gerrity: Hello.  I'm Michael Gerrity, Chief Advancement Officer for the Midwest Augustinians.  Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Don Berschback of Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan.  Don is a prominent attorney with ties to the Augustinians stretching back over 60 years starting with grade school.

He is a graduate of Austin Catholic High School, a parishioner at St. Clare of Montefalco where the Augustinians have served for many decades, a member of the Province's Advancement Council and a vice-chair of the Continuing Our Journey of Faith campaign.

Good morning, Don.

Don Berschback: Thanks for having me, Michael.  It's a pleasure.

Gerrity: Thanks for agreeing to the interview.  How are things in Grosse Pointe today?

Berschback: We've got a picture-perfect day.  The summer went too fast.  Everything is good here.  The Lord has given all of us excellent opportunities for being servants of the Lord and that's what we do.

Gerrity: Thanks, Don.  Don, I'm going to ask you a few questions and I just want you to feel free to elaborate or take it where you want.  The questions are only meant as guides, not hard and fast.  I'd like to start out with how you came to know the Augustinians?

Berschback: In fifth grade and, of course, you mentioned St. Clare of Montefalco Church here in the Grosse Pointe area.  In fifth grade we moved from Detroit to Grosse Pointe Park and we had at the time, my parents had six children.  We got into St. Clare School.  At that time they had six Augustinian priests there.  It was a very large parish, 4,000 families.  So from the fifth grade on, I've really been associated with the Augustinians.  I really started as an office boy at St. Clare.  I cut the grass for a couple of summers.  From there... of course they were all Augustinians.  Actually the first pastor I ever served under was Father Phil Colgan who was kind of a mainstay for a long, long time.

That's really how I first got to know the Augustinians.  There were 1100 kids in the school in one building, 60 in a class with a lot of nuns.  The priests were very active and certainly active in my life.  Then, of course, I went to Austin Catholic High School which was located in Detroit.  It opened in '52 so I was the fifth graduating class.  We had a great time at Austin with the Augustinians and really that's where my involvement started in earnest with the Augustinians.

Gerrity: Wow, and you're still so young and dynamic.  That's a lot of history.  Let me ask you this.  Since you've probably seen quite a few Augustinians young and old, are there any particular Augustinians that come to mind that may have impacted your life?

Berschback: I always have a special flavor for many, many Augustinians.  In fact, I think I served under or at least assisted, 15 Augustinians pastors at St. Clare during my career, so to speak, in high school.  My father died at a very young age at 42 and I was between my freshman year and my sophomore year at Austin.  Father Ed Chapman, who should be a saint literally, was the disciplinarian there at Austin until he went to the Peruvian missions.  He was really my mentor.  A person that I absolutely looked up to.

Father Joe McCormick, Father Mulner, Father Bernie Scianna, Father Tom McCormick.  I could just name many, many that stayed at our house.  They've been very, very good friends.  They've certainly served... the priests have served the St. Clare Parish for a long time and in other things.  I think that many of them were the absolute reason why I believe what I am today.

Gerrity: Thank you for that, Don.  I know the world is very secular today and some people question what orders do or what do any of these religious mean today.  In your own words, how relevant do you think the Augustinians are in today's society looking over the past 60 years?  Are they more necessary?  Are they as relevant today as they were when  you were younger?

Berschback: I clearly think they're more necessary.  As far as the relevancy, they should be more relevant but it's not their problem.  It's really the secular society.  I think there are a number of people, a lot of people, that are just yearning for the Word of God and the direction, the spiritual direction that especially Order priests can give. 

Here in our community we certainly have a lot of what we call diocesan priests.  They are not a member of the Order but they have and I've represented some of them, they have their own profit sharing plan or 401K, they live alone.  They don't have the kind of sense of community that the Augustinian Order, and others, have but specifically for my purposes, the Augustinians.

The camaraderie of an ordered priest or the Augustinian Order priest to me embellishes what spirituality and spiritual direction is all about.  I do think that they're relevant and they play an important part in at least.... certainly in my life time and in my life, but I think in many, many others.

Gerrity:  Thank you.  That was interesting and an excellent answer, in my view.  Don, you've really helped us quite a bit so far but I'd love you to share with the listeners.  Why are you helping this Continuing Our Journey of Faith campaign especially since you were one of the leaders of the first campaign over 20 years ago?

Berschback: Hopefully continuing the Lord's work, Michael.  Obviously we're doing as much as we can here in the Michigan area.  When I say the Michigan area, there are people that I'm reaching out to that were products of Austin Catholic High School, my compadres, the people that graduated with me and before me and after me.

There were six Berschback boys that graduated from Austin and, coincidentally, there were six Brecht boys including Father David Brecht and all of his brothers.  I think both of us share the total numbers of family that were related that graduated from Austin.

The need for Continuing Our Journey of Faith is great.  To me, the rewards are even greater than that, especially for our retired priests.  Obviously the campaign is most basically twofold or threefold but primarily it's to take care of the priests that have done so much for us over the many, many years.  Then, of course, the wonderful uplifting of the young men that we have or at least the men that we have in formation, most of which are way past college and they've had a discernment and they're really pretty much locked solid into becoming Augustinians.

That takes money.  It's just that simple.  It takes money to take care of older people.  Everybody that is our age, and I'm 72, that they know that.  They've had problems or at least challenges with their parents.  It's the same thing with our Order.  These are our brothers.   These are the people that helped us, whether it be in the parishes, in high schools, or in the missions.

I think it's really our obligation more than anything else, to take care of them.  I take umbrage sometimes with some of the people.  They'll give or not give.  I say, "Look, it is important from  the standpoint of times past and times future to continue this journey of faith.  We need the Augustinians."  That's really why I get involved.  I've also been told that I guess I have no problem asking people for money and so that's my gift.  That's the gift.

Gerrity: That is a great gift because it seems like you're properly inspired and it takes inspiration to do fundraising because like any worthy work, it's hard work but if your heart's into it, it's not as hard as it is if you're just not really motivated as you are.  I gather I can safely say you would encourage others to go the extra mile and make a gift to this campaign?

Berschback: That's certainly my focal point, Michael.  Capital campaign is not like, let's just say, you're putting your weekly envelope into your church or whatever.  It's a mission to try and build up a fund and to go the extra mile to say, "Look, I'd like to pledge a certain amount of money, not only what I can, not only from my surplus but maybe dipping in, making it hurt a little bit."  When it hurts, it helps.

I just think that if ... and I've provided the amount of money that I felt was necessary as a leader and I guess it did hurt a little bit.  It's not like, "Oh, wait a minute.  Here's some loose change in the drawer."  It was going the extra mile and I believe that those people that either have a commitment to the Augustinians, should have a commitment to the Augustinians for times past and forward, they need to give back.  I tell you what, it's certainly an easy adage but the more you give, the more you receive and that's kind of my mantra and my motto for this capital campaign for the Augustinians.

Gerrity: Thank you so much, Don.  I'd like to remind the listeners who are hearing Don's message today, to visit for more interviews, more information, ways to donate and ways to get involved in this very special and rare campaign.

Don, you're a very special and rare person.  We're very blessed to have you and I'm very grateful for your help today.  Thanks a lot.

Berschback: I appreciate your remarks, Michael.  Good luck to you and all the other people that are working very hard for this Journey of Faith campaign.

Posted on November 4, 2014 and filed under Don Berschback.