by Gordon Nary
Gordon: Where did you attend seminary and what was the most challenging course that you took and why was it so challenging?
Father Frank: I attended all my education with the Paulists in College and post-Graduate studies in theology. Most challenging course: Physics simply because we had so little orientation to anything outside the humanities.
Gordon: Why did you decide to be a Paulist?
Father Frank: I grew up with the Paulists in my grade-school parish on the West Side of Manhattan so I was exposed to many great preachers and role models. As I went through the seminary I asked myself if the Paulists would be best for me and the answer kept coming back “yes” simply because of their very modern, very concrete and pastoral focus.
Gordon: What was you first assignment and what are some of your memories from there?
Father Frank: My first assignment was Portland, OR, and, apart from New York, it’s the city where I still feel most at home. I made life-long friends there. As a New Yorker, I never thought a place could be as beautiful as Portland, nor had I met people so open and accepting in my life before. Portland had a great role in tamping down my innate New York cynicism.
Gordon: When did you serve as director of formation for your seminary and superior of the Paulist Fathers, and what were our primary responsibilities?
Father Frank: I became Director of Formation in 2016 at a time of great transition. We moved from our 110,000 square foot building to the Josephite house where we were wonderfully welcomed and could form community life. We were caught between being homesick for the old building and waiting for our new, smaller building, to be constructed. My main preoccupation was affirming the students in their discernment, keeping the strength of community life clear, holding up mission in our complicated, modern world, and trying to inspire people to a deep spiritual and intellectual life.
Gordon: When did you serve as president of the Paulist Fathers and what were your primary responsibilities?
Father Frank: I served as President of the Paulists from 1994-2002. At this time it was becoming clear that no religious order was going to continue growing; we had already reluctantly left some of our foundations due to lack of personnel. However, the underlying thrust at that time was to strengthen community life and to sharpen our identity as missionaries. We continued to move from our assumptions of 1950 to the less-predictable 2000s. With my team, I wanted to emphasize optimism about the future as much as realism about the present.
Gordon: You are a popular evangelist. What are some of the challenges of evangelization?
Father Frank: I became aware of evangelization when I was Pastor of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City, my home-parish. It was a difficult time in New York—crack, crime, AIDS—and the West Side was far from its now more-glamorous state. But I felt myself to be a successor of our first pastor, Paulist Founder Isaac Hecker, and kept asking myself, “How can someone be a pastor, with non-stop responsibilities, and a missionary, with energy to look beyond the everyday.” That’s when I became committed to the idea that evangelization is crucial for vital Catholic parishes. I was happy to help with the USCCB document, “Go and Make Disciples,” because it challenged ordinary parishes to be parishes to always reached out to others, especially the unchurched an inactive.
Our biggest challenge today is being Church in a very changed world, one that does not have the ethnic and social structures that held the church up throughout the 1990s, one in which people live in a culture of choice. Another huge challenge is a healthy self-confidence (which is different from arrogance) that we have much to offer todays’ world which they are not going to get anywhere else. Somewhere in the 1990s I feel Catholics began to feel that we were a closed world shoring ourselves up rather than a missionary disciples with an essential message for today.
Gordon: Please share with our readers and overview of your work in prisons.
Father Frank: Our prison ministry began in 1991 when Fr. Tom Comber began writing prisoners who wanted to correspond with us. He organized this ministry into a network of Catholic Chaplains who would share religious information with their Catholic prisoners. This became distribution to tens of thousands of prisoners—newsletters, bibles, pamphlets, prayer cards and occasional books. We believe this bring a needed hope to prisoners who are so often isolated with their values challenged.
Gordon: Please share with our readers an overview of the books that you have written.
Father Frank: I have mostly written “popular” books about evangelization and parish life. I wanted to explain the Catholic faith in simpler terms, to show its most attractive qualities, and to create ways in which modern people could see themselves attracted to, and enriched by, our Catholic faith. In the 2000s I began writing about discipleship (“The Seven Commandments of Discipleship”) and developing programs to reach Inactive Catholics (“Awakening Faith” and “The Journey.”) I produced very how-to books on discipleship and evangelization: “Catholic Discipleship” and “Beyond the Pews,” both of which are in Spanish as well. My latest book, “Discipleship for the Future: A Spirituality of the Kingdom”) is different: an invitation to change our Catholic perspective on our faith from looking back to a past that must be corrected to looking forward to a future that Christ sends us to transform by the Holy Spirit. There is no “cross” without “resurrection” and the future of humankind was revealed on Easter Sunday. That is the cue for believers, to continue Christ’s mission of transforming humankind by committing ourselves to shaping, in the Spirit, the Kingdom.
Gordon: What social media platforms do you use and what are some examples of your work?
Father Frank: I have a website: www.fpdesiano.com
I am on Facebook: Frank DeSiano.
Our office has a website: www.pemdc.org where one can find many examples of webinars, video and other media.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview.