by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: Would you please share with us your early Catholic formation.
Father Tierney: I was blessed to be raised in a family with a strong emphasis on practicing faith. My two younger brothers and I would cause a fair disturbance in church, but my parents brought us there every week. In fact, they would drag the three of us red headed boys to the front row so the whole Church could see if we caused any trouble! Our Pastor Fr. Bill Key would often come down and ask us questions about the Gospel, so we made sure to pay attention!
We were fortunate to attend Catholic grade school at St. Katherine Drexel in Beaver Dam, WI. These experiences gave me a sound introduction to the faith and helped me grow in my awareness of God.
Dr. Knight: Please tell us the significance of your high school years in formation.
Father Tierney: I attended St. Lawrence Seminary High School near Fond du Lac, WI. The Capuchin Franciscans provided an excellent model of community life. As a boarding school, St. Lawrence gives strong faith formation and provided a lifelong bond with my classmates. It was during this formative time at St. Lawrence that I first felt the call to religious life.
Dr. Knight: You went to college and joined the seminary. How did you make that decision?
Father Tierney: In college, I studied political science and international relations. I was preparing for a career in public service. However, as much as I enjoyed working in politics and government, I felt that the interest was still too narrow. I felt a call to something larger - I felt the need to serve the entire People of God in the Church. I began to browse vocation materials on the internet and was repeatedly drawn to the life and example of Saint Augustine. I read the Confessions and it transformed how I understood the spiritual journey. As a result, I was drawn to the Order of St. Augustine.
Dr. Knight: You were called by God to be an Augustinian. What is the significance of your call to be a follower of Augustine and Christ?
Father Tierney: Augustine was always drawn to friendship and community life. First as a searcher for truth, then as a cleric and a Bishop, Augustine was always enriched by a common life. This is a gift and a challenge! I found that I had a similar twofold calling .... To live with friends in restless pursuit of God and to serve the Church. Our community life provides the foundation of our spiritual life. Its contemplative dimension focuses on common prayer, celebrating Mass as a community, and sharing our lives as brothers. The active component of our life focuses outward to proclaim the Gospel, sacramental ministry, and serving the needs of the Church.
Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally?
Father Tierney: The role of discernment in religious life is crucial. First is the discernment of what it means to follow Jesus. I have been changed as a result of the encounters, experiences, and challenges of my life. I didn’t just want to be a Christian in principle - I discovered that my calling was to live an integrated life of prayer and service. Second is the discernment of what God is calling each one of us to - the Catholic tradition offers various ways to practice the faith and living it in a variety of forms. Discernment is ultimately about how to follow Jesus - it is a matter of deciding which calling is most fitting. Lastly, discernment of gifts and talents is important to discover a satisfying ministry and to be effective. I have been encouraged and challenged to consider new ministry assignments. I am currently assigned to St. Rita High School as a Chaplain and teacher. There were many challenges in the High School through COVID, but we have grown together as a community of faith as we provided the best educational experience that we possibly could to our students.
Dr. Knight: What do you want the readers to understand after reading this interview about being an Augustinian? About living in community?
Father Tierney: Saint Augustine left the Church a legacy of building community. The mendicant Order dedicated to his example has both contemplative and active dimensions. Augustinian spirituality is centered on our restlessness as human beings - we are always searching, striving, looking for satisfaction. St. Augustine knew that ultimate and eternal rest only comes from God. And so we join together as a community to be one in mind on heart on the way to God. The common life helps cultivate our interior spirit as we simultaneously serve the needs of the Church.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the challenges of the future Church?
Father Tierney: First is the critical importance of the New Evangelization. We have to make the Good News of Jesus Christ accessible, available, and widely understood. This involves creating comprehensive education and programs of faith formation. Young people deserve special attention and effort.
Second, attention and care for the spiritual life. Our lives have become unbelievably busy, overextended, and distracted. The Church is no exception. I hope that we can integrate the needs of the mission with the joys of abiding in the Lord's presence in prayer.
Third, the trends of disassociation from identification with the church. We know the trends and numbers about lower Mass attendance, decreased annual giving, or how many people read the Bible. As a Church, we must find new ways to support each other on the journey of faith.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys you’ve experienced as a Augustinian follower of Christ?
Father Tierney: I love religious life as an Augustinian friar. I find support and fraternity within the community itself, helping to keep me on track with what is essential to our mission. As Augustinians, we promote the charism of the Order as we witness the Good News of Jesus Christ. We have the responsibility to share the Patristic tradition of the Church and make it relevant to the next generation of believers. St. Augustine said “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new” - and that is the great task before us.
It is also a great privilege to serve as a priest. We get to touch people at special moments in their life of faith - a humbling and thrilling experience. As a High School Chaplain, it’s a joy to journey with students as they discover themselves and discover the role of God in their lives.
Dr. Knight: As an Augustinian what are some of the duties that you perform/pray?
Father Tierney: As a community, we pray the Divine Office and celebrate Mass each day. Our residence is attached to our apostolate, St. Rita of CasciaHigh School. So our community generally follows the daily school schedule in terms of Masses and prayer times. I also help coordinate all the faith activities of our Campus Ministry office. We celebrate all-school Masses, retreats, and faith-based activities. An important form of our ministry is education itself - I teach moral theology to juniors - it’s quite a challenge to teach 17 year olds about good & evil / right & wrong! It is satisfying to see them grow in understanding and how they apply moral principles to the decisions they make in everyday life.
Dr. Knight: Thank you so much for offering us this interview and letting us see all the good works that the Augustinians do for us all.