Interview with Milann Siegfried

Patrick Murphy: Hello everyone, this is Patrick Murphy with the Midwest Augustinians. Today I am with Milann Siegfried. Milann Siegfried is the Chair of the capital campaign for Continuing Our Journey of Faith. She is also at an Augustinian affiliate, and has long been associated with Cascia Hall, which is the Augustinian High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

She is a big philanthropist. Not only in Tulsa and Oklahoma, but across the United States. Milann, it is a pleasure to have you with us today.

Milann Siegfried: Thank you, Patrick.

Murphy: The first thing I'd like to ask many of our donors is what was it that initially introduced you to the Augustinians? How did you first come to know them?

Siegfried: My brothers went to Cascia Hall. I had one uncle, my father's husband, I'm sorry, went to Cascia Hall. That is basically between my brothers, his... My husband's father. That's basically how I got first introduced to them.

Then I went to Monte Cassino, so we were affiliated with Cascia, the Cascia students. Because that was the boy's school, and we were the girl's school. That really was when I became independently familiar with the Augustinians.

Then of course, all of our children attended Cascia. All six of them went to Cascia. You get to know them pretty well when they're teaching your children.

Murphy: Yeah, so your relationship goes back quite a few years, it sounds like?

Siegfried: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Oh yeah, at least ... Well probably 75 years. Maybe longer.

Murphy: Really? Wow, you might hold one of the records for these interviews.

Siegfried: I'm very young. I'm very young, really.

Murphy: Okay. Well you know, through all of that experience, were there any particular Augustinians that have impacted your life? Or the lives of your children?

Siegfried: Sure. First of all I can't remember 75 years ago, because I'm not that old. But, I can remember my parents talking about it. Anyway, sure. Probably I'd say Father Perez. He was really instrumental in one child with her tennis. Also teaching them all Spanish. He was there, and Father Brecht.

Father Hamill was the football coach at Cascia. And he wasn't a priest when I was in high school. I think he was the football coach in 1961, when [my late husband] Ray played. I knew him then, in 1961 on.

He was always very instrumental, especially when we had one child that had learning disabilities. He told us, "You know they learn to sink or swim on their own. You don't have to do it for them."

That was great advice, and that was how we always treated him. We just said, "School is hard, so buck up and do what you can."

He was instrumental, and then of course Father Brecht. And Father Bernie has probably been who we have been the closest to, including my children. And all through Ray's illness.

Murphy: Yeah. I know that Father David Brecht and Father Bernie Scianna, they served as Headmasters there, so I'm sure you got to know them quite well.

Siegfried: We got to know them well. And then Ray raised the money, the first go round, for the Augustinians. And for Cascia, with Father Brecht. Then the two of us raised it with Bernie. Now I'm raising it for the whole group of the the priests.

Murphy: With all those encounters with all of those Augustinians, do you have any perspective on what the role is of the Augustinian Order today? Do think that they're still relevant?

Siegfried: Oh sure. My gosh, of course they're relevant. I can only speak about Cascia. I know that I have had the next generation of grandchildren going there. They have since moved to Singapore just recently.  I'm waiting for the next, the younger ones to come in. So that's the fourth generation, or maybe it's the fifth, that will end up being at Cascia. We may have to change those dates.

Anyway, they are teachers. Whether it be at Mass, or whether it be in the classroom. Or whether just being your friend. To me, that's their primary reason for existing, to teach us how to have faith.  To teach us how to learn our school work and prepare us for later on in life. Whether it be in class or in college. Or with your marriage, with your heartaches. With your becoming a priest or not becoming a priest. Or going through divorce. They're always there for you.  It's like an old friend. You may not talk to him for years, but once you get back with him it's like you've never skipped a beat.

Murphy: Yeah. You know many of the Augustinians, when I talk with them too they often talk about how friendship is just such a core underlining of the writings of St. Augustine, which all the Augustinians, they all follow.

Siegfried: Yes.

Murphy: And the unity and the community. That's really a big aspect of the Augustinians. Wouldn't you say you feel a sense of community with them?

Siegfried: I do feel a sense of community. And it's not just within their own four walls of their monastery. It's with all the people that they touch. It's a wonderful sense of community.

You know, I grew up in a parish. I would consider Cascia as our parish. Not so much because of Mass, but it's because of that sense of community. Caring and that they are always there for my family, and for any of the families that need them. They don't even have to go to their school.

I know that I go to Mass in the mornings, and I'll see people that are in the neighborhood that aren't even Catholic that will go there to Mass.

Murphy: Oh really?

Siegfried: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Murphy: Wow. After all that, I know that Father Bernie asked you to be a Chair for the capital campaign, and that's quite a commitment. The Augustinians are all grateful for it. What helped you make the decision to say yes, to chair the campaign?

Siegfried: Well, first of all Bernie asked me, and how was I ever going to turn him down? My goodness. I tried, I really tried to tell him no. I just couldn't do it. But you know, we owe them a lot for helping us in our faith and in our trusting God through Ray's illness. I just couldn't turn him down.

Murphy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. We know that you're a very busy woman. I know that you have worked before with the Tulsa Philharmonic. You're on the Board at NORDAM, Tulsa University, St. John Medical Center in Tulsa. The list can just go on and on and on.

But at the same time, fundraising isn't easy business. What helps you push through? For you to continue to ask people to participate in campaigns like this?

Siegfried: Well, like I said, if you don't give yourself, it's hard to ask for money. You have to set a good example. Because you live in a community, whether it's Tulsa or whether it's your kids are in a community at Cascia. Or at one of the other high schools, whether it's public or private. You want to make your community better.

Some people make it better by giving their time. Some people make it better by giving cash in order to do it. My feeling is is that if people understand that they can make their community better by giving, in no matter what way they do give, then we can always make everything better for the less fortunate.

We always taught our children that the more you receive, the more you have to give. We have been very blessed within our lives. And sure, we've had some ups and downs and heartaches. But basically God put us here for a reason. All of us, not just my family, but all of us.

Murphy: Yeah.

Siegfried: Most of it is to help His community, on Earth, flourish. The only way I know to do that is, I'm not really talented in many ways, but I don't mind asking people to give. No matter how small it is. Because it does make a difference in a lot more peoples' lives than they realize.

Murphy: Certainly. I also want to talk about this campaign isn't just about giving to the Augustinians, but why are we giving to the Augustinians?

This campaign hopes to raise funds for two trusts. One of them is the Father Ray Ryan Trust. The other is The Journey of a Lifetime. Those trusts are helping to build formation and vocations, as well as care for the retired Augustinians.

Do you see any particular importance to those two causes being fundraised for right now?

Siegfried: I think those are ... You know, when we first started talking about the fundraising, we had a big amount of money that we were going to ask for. We decided to focus on the most important things. First of all, we have to take care of those priests that are at the end of their journey. And have given so much of their lives to make our lives better, and our children's lives better.

Then the other is my gosh, we need to facilitate the young priests in their education, and the development in their ministry. I think those are two of the best reasons to give money and to raise money.

Father Bernie has really stokered the ministry with new young priests. Which, I remember when I went up for his inauguration? I looked around and I thought, "Holy cow." I thought I was at a nursing home.

I said to Bernie, "Are you sure you're going to be all right here?" He said, "No, I'm going to be just fine. We have a couple of young guys, and we are going to make that grow." And he has done that, with the help of all of his brother friars.

I can see it at Cascia. He has sent us some of the younger guys. And Mass is starting to pick up. The attendance at Mass has picked up immensely. The kids are excited.

And I think it's turned around the monastery. And I know it definitely has turned around here in our community, in our Catholic community.

I think by facilitating the growth of the young priests, and getting more priests and friars and brothers in the Order. Plus taking care of those who have taken care of us. I don't know how you could do anything better.

Murphy: Well you know, I was able to see a few photos of the guys that are over there in Cascia right now. I saw Brother Stephen Isley, he was over there with the kids. He was part of that Ice Bucket Challenge.

Siegfried: Oh yeah, he was great at the Ice Bucket Challenge. And you know, he runs with the kids. He's a big runner. He has the kids... I don't think it's a gym class that he does it with.  But after school I see him, with them all running. I saw them before school, before school started. He would have them all out there running too.

Murphy: Wow. See, I think that that's really what Father Bernie is talking about. You know, you have some of the young men that get involved, and they join. They're full of energy, they're full of hope, they're full of inspiration. Then more men join because they see like-minded men.

I mean I think we have 33-34 men across the United States right now.

Siegfried: Right. It has really, really taken off and grown. You know, Father Brian Barker, he has brought music back in, which Bernie brought in when he first came. I remember the first time he got his trumpet, or whatever it was he was playing, and the drums and stuff out at the football game. Well my gosh, that whole music part of the school, it just took off.  Father Brian at Mass, when he does Mass during the week, sometimes he has a concert, a piano concert, that he'll play 15 minutes before Mass starts.

I think that each one of them has their special talent, and it really has helped the community at Cascia grow. I know with 34 new guys coming in and going throughout the United States, that that will really increase vocations into the Augustinian Order.

Murphy: Yeah. Well, the last question I have here. We've been talking about it a lot, but the question is why should others consider making a special gift to the campaign? I know that we talked a lot about that already.

But if you can encapsulate it, of why it's important to give to the campaign? Whether if you went to Cascia, or you sent your kids to Cascia, or another high school. Or you're in a parish. Why is it so important to give to this campaign?

Siegfried: I think really, everybody should take heart. Because without priests, without brothers, without some of the people who help us remember our Maker, and why we're really here. I think without them, it would be a sad situation.

You can go in a lot of countries where they don't have the freedom of religion, and they don't have the right to have faith. And to go to church and to be around priests, etc. I think if you thought about all of these people being gone from our lives, you would see the suffering that we would have.

When everybody else is gone, the priests are always here. And the religious are always still there for you, and to listen to you and to help you through a time of turmoil in your life. You know most of us only pray when we're in trouble.

I think that people, if they would realize that every day isn't going to be a wonderful day. You need somebody that can help you through those days. We have to have special gifts, and we have to have capital campaigns in order to survive. If they would think of those things, I think that it would make a big difference in their lives and in the lives of others.

Murphy: That's very well put.

Siegfried: That's kind of a long way... I don't know if that's a very good way to put it.

Murphy: I think it's a fantastic way to put it. You know, sometimes people take for granted the priests and the brothers that are in our lives. And that have been there at our bedside, when our family members are in need. Or they've celebrated the Sacraments for us.  Or you know, just been that friend that you were talking about. And now is the time to say thank you.

Siegfried: It truly is the time to say thank you. And like I said, the only time that we really see everybody get on their knees, or say something about God or say a prayer for me, is really when they're in trouble. It would be much nicer if we just had prayers every day.  When you see priests, brothers, and all religious, it reminds you that they devote their lives to those things.

Murphy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Thank you again, Milann, for taking the time out.  If you have any other questions, feel free to learn more on augustiniancampaign.org. Or you can contact Campaign Director Michael Gerrity at 773-595-4035. Thank you again, Milann, and have a wonderful day.

Siegfried: You too, thank you, Patrick.

 

 

Posted on October 22, 2014 .