Interview with Fr. Tony Pizzo, O.S.A.

Patrick Murphy: Hello everyone this is Patrick Murphy with the Midwest Augustinians. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Father Tony Pizzo. Father Tony is the pastor of Saint Rita Parish in Chicago and is the very active in a lot of social justice issues in the local neighborhood community and as also that was recently announced Father Tony Pizzo is going to be honored as one of the Gala Honorees for the Augustinian Gala in 2015, so congratulations on that Father, and thank you once again for taking the time for this interview.

Fr. Tony Pizzo, O.S.A.: Thank you Patrick for your good wishes and not a problem I’m happy to be here talk to you.

Murphy: Wonderful, well the first that I’d like to ask to friars for our listeners, Father, is what was it that called you to be an Augustinian?

Pizzo: Probably one of the more frequently asked questions that we either asked one another or people asked us. I say that what called me to be an Augustinian certainly has to do with the inviting nature of the community of the Province way back when which is over thirty-five years ago, when I was first became acquainted with the Order at University level at the Villanova. However, I do remember that years ago as an altar server my home parish of Saint Rene, Father Dick Allen would come around and would celebrate weekend liturgies and I was always impressed with Father Allen. Just through talking I became a little bit more acquainted with what an Augustinian was and then I went away to seminarian week which was a custom several years ago of asking grade school, the boys to go away for the week at the town of Michigan where we used to have a minor seminary to experience it.

I was very impressed at the community kind of atmosphere. The friendship that was being offered and it follow through all the way from the beginning of my formation even until now. I really would have to say that community and that deep sense of connection and friendship is what contributed to my calling to be an Augustinian.

Murphy: Father, out of curiosity before you came into contact with the Augustinians were you discerning priesthood before that?

Pizzo: I was. It occurred to me as a grade school kid. I can say that my influences to at least think about priesthood came from a distant cousin who was a priest in Italy who came for a visit on a couple of occasions and kind of I guess targeted me out of all the other cousins. I said that he was going to pray that I become a priest and I think through the influence of my grandparents also who are very religious people, who with whom we lived. All of that kind of working together as I look back at it now was probably all part of maybe God’s Providence in my life and kind of paving the way for me to make a decision.

Eventually to become a priest, however there was a point in time where I considered becoming a Chicago police officer or a lawyer.

Murphy: Yeah?

Pizzo: However here I am thirty-five years later as an Augustinian and thirty years later as a priest.

Murphy: Well you also in addition to being the pastor at Saint Rita Parish I know you've done other parish work in the Archdiocese of Chicago. I believed you also were stationed at St. Clare of Montefalco in Chicago and other ministries. In those thirty five years what would you say the role is of the Augustinian Order today? And do you think that the Augustinian Order is still relevant as it was once was?

Pizzo: Well it’d better be relevant or I’d be out of a job, of course I believe it’s relevant. I believe that… In spite of our human condition collectively and individually as an Order and then of course as friars we still I believed contribute to the greater good of the Church wherever we are. I don’t want to sound kind of like "Hallmark-ish," but I believe that we do good work, good ministry and people appreciate our dedication. People see that we are living community or at least maybe in some case as we attempt to live in a community and what people see and what they experienced and what I hear actually are so very positive comments about who we are and what we are about.

I also always emphasize in all of my past ministries especially here at Saint Rita with this being our first foundation as a Province and having the Augustinians having served here for in over a century now. The importance of what it means to be an Augustinian friar--Augustinian a priest or a brother--because of the fact that our mission is to continue the message of the Gospel is to reach out, it’s to be relational, it’s to be social. It’s to bring to bring people together, it’s to convoke our prayer together, it’s to accompany people in their own journey. All of this is very relevant because people are hungry--I believe--people are hungry for a real connection with the Church on a level of our pastoral ministry, our preaching ministry.

With all that we do to reach out to the folks in the pews, not only on Sunday but everyday. Certainly I believed that what we have to offer is very relevant because we are all part of the Church as a whole.

Murphy: Yeah.

Pizzo: We’re here specifically to serve the needs of the Church and the gift that we bring ideally is of course creating a deep sense of community in welcoming and inviting people, and as I reflect on the vision of Pope Francis this is pretty much what he is preaching about, what he reflects on and what he calls all of us to do and to be.

Murphy: Great, that’s very well put, Father.  Thank you. About one of the other things that we wanted to talk about during this interview with the Continuing Our Journey of Faith campaign for the Augustinians. The campaign as you know it helps to build the Father Ray Ryan Trust for Vocations and the Journey of a Lifetime Trust for the retirement needs of the Order. Why do you think, given those two causes, why do you think of this campaign is particularly important right now?

Pizzo: Well, for one thing with our men in formation they are responding to a possible call to be an Augustinian, whether be a priest or as a brother but it’s to serve. The Church obviously needs well-formed individuals who are going to dedicate their lives to the service of the Church but as an Augustinian with living our charism.  In that sense at least from the beginning there the campaign is going to continue to help support these men who are coming to our formation programs to discern whether or not God is calling them to our life and of course to service of the Church.

In terms of our older men, we are seeing more of our men retiring.  We have to provide for them, these are men who have dedicated their entire life to the service of the Church living as Augustinians. Having gone through perhaps many transitions in their lives and accepting and to be able to keep focused on how best and how effectively can serve the Church so we have to take care of them as they get older. It’s like two book ends on a book shelves that supporting everything that takes place in between in that spectrum. That’s what I believed this campaign is supporting and certainly why it’s important.

Murphy: Since, we’re talking about one of the trust named after Father Ray Ryan, and Father Ray Ryan served three terms at the Provincial of the Midwest Province.

Pizzo: Yes he did.

Murphy: You knew Father Ray Ryan well?

Pizzo: I knew him very well. Father Ray Ryan was the Provincial when I first entered into formation.

Murphy: That’s right?

Pizzo: Yes, and Father Ray Ryan was an exceptional individual as anybody who knew him would say the same thing. He was a man who was open, and he would listen well and he responded effectively and even though I wasn't the close friend of Father Ray Ryan, I knew I could approach him at any point and he would give me his time and even some of his energy, and I always appreciated that about Father Ryan, wonderful, wonderful priest and Augustinian.

Murphy: Well, I've heard that from countless people especially during these interviews. I also like to get a perspective on the people that didn't know him, why they feel it’s… Why they think that it’s relevant that, that trust for formation and vocations is named after him? Do you have any thoughts on that?

Pizzo: Well, I’m not surprised that, that was that he was chosen as being basically the one whose name is on this trust because of his tremendous influence in this Province. Even in his third term I remember you know him even saying that he would be wiling to serve the Province again in that capacity in leadership but then again he didn't need it either. He wasn't that all an ambitious man, he truly sincerely wanted to serve and the campaign being named after him, or the trust being named after him, is certainly appropriate because I think, and I believed that Father Ray Ryan is one of the best examples of a priest and an Augustinian. The trust being named after him certainly in patronizing it through his name and his legacy is a positive thing for all of us.

Murphy: I think a lot of people would agree with that Father.

Pizzo: Yes.

Murphy: Well we’re hoping that some people that are discerning a religious vocation might be listening to some of these interviews as well. Do you have any advice for anybody that might be discerning a vocation?

Pizzo: Well, anybody who maybe discerning a vocation with the Order I would say:  First of all pray, that’s obviously essential, and it’s the foundation. Pray and not be afraid to reflect on the possibility. Speak to an Augustinian or maybe a few Augustinians. In the meantime, continue to serve Christ in whatever capacity you are able to at this particular point in your life. Get acquainted with the importance of a Gospel message the Mission of Jesus. Especially now what’s really relevant is the Pope Francis’s vision of a Church really reaching out to everybody, not being exclusive.

Pray that you can see the face of Christ in people. Read Saint Augustine, especially his Confessions, which really had a deep influence on my life and still does and see how one can identify with the struggle of an individual who really wanted to live life to its fullest as much as we are able to now and actually finding that and continuing to struggle and not being afraid of what we call the restlessness of our lives. That’s the adventure in all of this and to be happy and to have a grateful heart. That to me is transforming, pray for a grateful heart that opens you up to all kinds of things.

Murphy: I like that, that’s very good honest advice, Father.  Thank you.

Pizzo: Certainly.

Murphy: With the last question I have here, is to wrap it up and to conclude about the campaign we've talked about why it’s important for many reasons but if you can offer a summary or a summary as far as why people should consider a special gift to the campaign, what would that be?

Pizzo: Well, a gift to the campaign is helping to contribute to the good work of the Order and of the Province or particularly. In all of our ministries by associating oneself with the campaign in whatever way he or she can is a way of sharing in the mission of the Augustinians in the Church. It’s worth it to be able to participate and to associate oneself with the work of the Augustinians and the Church is a way of connecting and or reconnecting with the most practical elements of what it means to be a believer and to be a member of the Church. Hopefully that social capital that people will share and will continue to support, I’m sorry the financial capital will continue to support the social capital in everything that we're doing, and you know, if we by nature are social beings, and we're relational, what better way than to participate specifically in our ministries, and the mission of the Church, in sharing our life what we can, and also that extra help is necessary for us to continue on who we are and what we are about as Augustinians--and not only the professed Augustinians, but even the lay folk who love us and find some meaning in their life by working with us, living with us, serving with us... does that help?

Murphy: Yeah,  That certainly does, Father, thank you.  And if anybody listening has any questions or wants to learn more about the campaign, you can contact the campaign director Michael Gerrity at 773-595-4035 or find any other information here at  Thank you once again Father for taking out the time to speak with me.  I know you're busy.  We're all looking forward to Gala 2015, as well.

Pizzo:  Thank you, Patrick, and thank you for your good work and dedication.

Posted on November 28, 2014 and filed under Tony Pizzo O.S.A..