by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: Would you please share with us your early Catholic formation.
Father Brad: I am the oldest of 7 children, and we all attended Nativity of Mary Parish in Janesville, Wisconsin. From a very young age I had an interest in priesthood, and was involved as server, lector and sacristan in grade school. Being involved in the parish, going to Mass regularly helped me understand the formal religion class instruction even better.
Dr. Knight: Please tell us the significance of your high school years in formation.
Father Brad: After graduating 8th grade from St. Mary’s I discerned, with the help of a wise deacon, not to go to the high school seminary I went to public high school from 9th through 12th grade, and continued to be active in the parish. I was actually hired as a sacristan, still served Masses (as did my father), but more and more I was lectoring at Masses.
Dr. Knight: You went to college and joined the seminary. How did you make that decision?
Father Brad: I actually went to college seminary, Holy Name College in the Diocese of Madison. I longed to be a priest, so it was not a difficult decision. It seemed to be where God was calling me. However, with declining numbers, Holy Name Seminary College closed after my first year. I then transferred to St. Francis de Sales College Seminary in Milwaukee, where I completed my bachelor's degree in theology.
After college, I continued to study for the Diocese of Madison, and transferred to St. John’s Seminary in Collegeville, MN for one year. Part of that year was spent in Jerusalem, Israel. It was when I returned from Israel that I realized there were parts of my life and personality that I had not fully explored, so I left the seminary to look at my life, God’s call, and my own expectations.
I discovered, I could live without being a priest, but could not live without my faith life and God. For the next 15 years, I was an active engaged Catholic, in my home parish, but also as a Catholic High School Campus minister and then a parish director of faith formation and RCIA.
In all that time, I first let go of the thought of priesthood and tried to live as an active faithful Catholic. In my prayer times, I eventually discerned to go a different route than diocesan priesthood. Circumstances led me to three particular calls: to be in a community (I did not feel I would do well on my own), to be in a community where dialog and reflection would be part of the experience, and I discern that whatever community I was part of would also involve cross cultural communication.
I considered Dominicans, because they were at my grade school, considered the Benedictines because of my experiences in Collegeville, and considered the Norbertines because they were a Wisconsin based groups that I had good experiences with. But in terms of what I felt called to… the Paulist Fathers seemed the best fit for me.
Dr. Knight: You were called by God to be a Paulist priest. What is the significance of your call to be a follower of Christ in this community?
Father Brad Paulist Mission, has three directions these days, evangelization, reconciliation and ecumenism/interfaith dialog. Within those directions, we try to preach the solid core of the Gospel in words and styles of the people of today. No surprise at all that our earliest forays into sharing the Gospel in American culture were through the printing press and radio, later television and these days internet and social media. But we are trying to give the word a voice by reading the signs of the times and discerning God’s call. We do our best to try and connect with people on the margins as well as connect those who feel left out to the truth 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 Brad: As I indicated above, I sought out community because I did not like living on my own. A community checks on you, challenges and affirms you. Being more of an introvert, to have other voices in my life was so important.
Initially I thought I was drawn to the Paulists because of their media savie, but in my formation process I realized that wasn’t it, as much as using different styles and tools to connect with different cultures. And I define cultures very broadly, not just social cultures, but different ages, different technology capabilities, different approaches – realizing Jesus is in the midst of it all. I want to be where Jesus is.
I have also found the Paulists an insight group of men to engage with. Our discussion of contemporary topics, Church theology, ministry tools and resources are very wide ranging. The fact that we like exchanging information and love reaching out to find out more and then share even more about it is exhilarating. At the same time, the community is both supportive and challenging, and my voice is heard among the many.
Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that your life is somewhat a mosaic of your different gifts?
Father Brad:: My life is definitely a mosaic of my past experiences in the Church, personal life, current interests and love for Christ and his people. Layer being a pastor on top of that, and at any moment I can be called to have time for myself to recreate, time for myself to pray, attend to the sick or dying, say Mass, prepare for a wedding, talk about faith and religion with school age kids or adults, and so forth, mosaic with an awful lot of pieces.
Dr. Knight: What do you want the readers to understand after reading this interview about being a Paulist priest? About living in community?
Father Brad: Paulists are a community of priests that stand in the middle. I do not think we are fearful about the future because we believe the Holy Spirit is solidly at work in our midst (of the world, not just the Paulists). Being in the middle means, some people think we’re liberal, others too conservative, but we want to listen and hear what they are saying and using our backgrounds with life experience and education make some sense of what is being said and respond. We will try to work with people to find their God connection, because we know God is trying to connect with them. Are we always right or completely on target? No. Ae we willing to learn, and grow from our mistakes? Yes. Are we willing to apologize on behalf of the Church to people who have been wronged in some way? Definitely. Are we working for the Church of the future? Always, by working knowingly in the present.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the challenges of the future Church?
Father Brad: The Church is caught in the same quagmire of extremism that the rest of the world is dealing with these days. How to bring people together is intertwined with our connection to Christ. In the Second Eucharistic Prayer of Reconciliation, with the help of Christ, and guided by the Spirit, it says “hatred is overcome by love, revenge gives way to forgiveness, and discord is changed to mutual respect.” The challenge for the future Church is the same as for the past and present, see each person in the light of Christ, and connecting with Christ ultimately brings us together.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys you’ve experienced as a Paulist priest follower of Christ?
Father: Brad: I love celebrating the Mass and Sacraments, and doing so by recognizing who is present with me, their stories and faith insights and questions and knowing Christ is pulling us together. Every now and then at Mass, the celebration itself goes to a different level, the prayers, the music the participation are more poignant and seem to reflect God’s glory. It is amplified if the homily feels in tune with all that.
When Paulists get the opportunity to come together (locally), there is long and good conversation about wide ranges of topics. When the whole community comes together (and we have not been together in person in two years, for obvious reasons) the prayer, the music, camaraderie, sense of belonging, sense of play, and curiosity and sharing of thoughts and experiences is remarkable. You feel the Spirit at work.
Our founder, Servant of God, Fr. Isaac Thomas Hecker, CSP, in the spirit of St. Paul certainly gives the community joy when we reflect on the Holy Spirit at work in the world. He wrote: “One soul actuated by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, who breathes an air of peace, who acts with holy liberty and resistless energy, does more to advance the Kingdom of God than tens of thousands without those gifts.” [1886, The Church and the Age, pp.27-28]
In looking for the workings of the Holy Spirit, and discovering the Spirit at work in so many unexpected places at unexpected times, I find great joy.
Dr. Knight: As a Paulist priest what are some of the duties that you perform/pray?
Father Brad: In the community, I’m a member of our jubilee ordination class of 2000. I am the Paulist local superior in Chicago. I am the Pastor of Old St. Mary’s Parish, the original Catholic Parish in Chicago. The Paulists have been there over 120 years and continued the tradition of looking to keep changing the needs of the time. Along the other parishioners and the whole parish, we are involved with the Archdiocesan process of Renew My Church, and having conversations in the synod process. We also have a great (Blue Ribbon) Catholic School that I am involved with.
I am constantly praying that we call can see Christ and have the confidence to share our beliefs in a respectful manner, and after sharing, discern what is God’s way. That usually involves giving up some of our own agenda because God’s is better.
Dr. Knight: Thank you so much for offering us this interview and letting us see all the good works that the Paulist priests do for us all.