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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Father Paul R. Fagan, C.P.

Gordon: When did you attend St. Louis University, what degree did you earn, and what is one of your favorite memories when you were there?


Father Paul: I attended St. Louis University from the Fall of 1972 until the Spring of 1976 when I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Social Work Degree (BSSW). I cannot say I have one favorite memory from my years at St. Louis University. It was a wonderful time in my life and the lasting memory that I have is the memory of the people I met. At the time I went to SLU it was a typical urban university. It is in mid-town St. Louis and at that time it had very little campus to speak of, just a cluster of buildings in the middle of the city. Today, it has a very beautiful campus. But back in the 1970's not so much. So, I often ask myself, "Why did I pick going there, when there were so many other places I could have gone with beautiful campuses and facilities. Well, my answer always is, "the people!" From my very first visit to the school with my parents I was impressed by the people and those whom I met during my time there were very important in molding me into the person I am today. So, you might say they are my favorite memory!


Gordon:  When did you attend Catholic Theological Union, what degree did you earn, who was your favorite teacher, and why was that teacher your favorite?    


Father Paul: I attended Catholic Theological Union from the Fall of 1982 until the Spring of 1986 when I graduated with a Master of Divinity Degree with a Specialization in  Word and Worship. The question of who my favorite teacher was and why is a hard one to answer. I had many wonderful teachers during my time there - Sr. Dianne Bergant, CSA; Sr. Kathleen Hughes, RSCJ; Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. and Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., just to name a few. They all had a significant impact on my life, but if I must pick one, I guess I would pick Fr. Carroll. He was a Passionist and a renown scripture scholar. I lived in a community with Fr. Carroll and had him for several scripture classes. During my third year of theology, I travel with Fr. Carroll to Greece, Turkey and the Holy Land spending three months studying under his direction. It was a program that Catholic Theological Union offers, and it was my good fortune to experience the program with Fr. Carroll. Our time together with many others continues to afford me many wonderful and lifegiving memories!


Gordon: When did you attend Aquinas Institute of Theology, what degree did you earn? What was your favorite course, and why was this course your favorite?


Father Paul: My time at the Aquinas Institute of Theology was broken up into two parts. I began my time at Aquinas in the Fall of 1999. I began a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Preaching. My time there was supposed to be three years. However, after my first two semesters, Fall of 1999 and the Winter/Spring of 2000, my provincial asked me to return to the province and become Retreat Director at our retreat house in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York. In the two semesters at Aquinas, I was able to finish the required courses except for two elective courses. Upon returning to the east coast I took one elective course in the Fall of 2000 and one in the Winter/Spring of 2001 and then I wrote my thesis proposal and had it approved by the program. However, I found it hard to multitask and withdrew from the program in the Spring of 2002. Now fast-forward to the Winter of 2011. The retreat house I had been director of since June of 2000 closed January 1, 2011. My provincial at the time asked me what I wanted to do, and I was considering asking for a sabbatical. However, before I could he suggested that I return and finish my degree. I was not sure Aquinas would allow me to do so being I had withdrawn for the program some ten years prior. But they did, so in May of 2012 I received a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Preaching from the Aquinas Institute of Theology.


Again, to pick a favorite course is a difficult process. I really enjoyed my on-campus time at Aquinas and my two elective courses, one that I took as an independent study course with Fr. Donald J. Goergen, O.P., a Dominican Theologian at the Dominican Ashram in Kenosha, WI and a Spirituality Course at Fordham University in New York. I also very much enjoy my work on my thesis project that was entitled Towards a Spirituality for Preaching: The Preacher as Friend of God. But if I must pick a favorite course, it would probably be the course I took that was entitled the History of Preaching. It was a very interesting study of the development of preaching and at one point in the course we had to pick a preacher from a particular period in history and make a presentation to the class. It was a fun and educational exercise!


Gordon: Why did you decide to become a Passionist?


Father Paul: I became a Passionist for several reasons and I will try to make my answer brief because on this topic I could go on forever! I grew up in the 1950?s and 60?s. I have gone to Catholic School all my life beginning with grade school and I think many Catholic men and women during this period of history gave a passing thought about religious life and priesthood. At least I did.


My brother, who was younger, and I often played mass as priest and server in our early years of life. When I was in the sixth grade, I mentioned to my father that I thought I might want to become a priest. This simple statement began my journey to priesthood and religious life. My great uncle had been a Passionist for many years and my father during his childhood, teenager and young adult years had lived near the Passionist Monastery in Pittsburgh, PA. St. Paul of the Cross Monastery and Retreat House was the Passionists first foundation in the United States. The Passionists had been very influential in my father life growing up so when I expressed a desire to become a priest, he took me to the monastery and I join the vocation club. The club met once a month on a Saturday and had a week-long program at Holy Cross Prep School every summer for boys interested in the Passionists. I went to two of these summer weeks while I was in grade school and two while I was in high school. The gift of a vocation had been planted within my heart.


To make a long school short after a little more than four years of working in the world after college as a social worker, I decided to test my vocation. The Passionists were the only religious order I seriously considered, and, in the Fall of 1980, I entered their residence program and have never looked back. I took my first vows as a Passionist in August of 1982, my final vows as a Passionist in September of 1985 and I was ordained a Passionist priest in June of 1986.


You might say the reasons why I am a Passionists are: family, community life, preaching, retreat and preaching ministries and a commitment in life to the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ!


Gordon: Please share with our readers some information on the Passionist order.


Father Paul: The Passionist were founded in 1720 in the town of Castellazzo, Italy, by a man named Paul Francis Danei, who later became known as St. Paul of the Cross. St. Paul found this religious community of brothers and priest with a purpose to keep alive the memory of Christ?s Passion, Death and Resurrection. Our focus has always been on the Passion. We take a special vow along with the three evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience, to keep alive the memory of Christ’s Passion.


We wear a special sign on our black habits that is a heart surmounted by a cross with the words inside the heart in Latin and Greek, Jeus XPI Passion, which mean The Passion of Jesus Christ. This sign sits on our habit over our own hearts. Our most recognizable saying is ? ?May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts.?


St. Paul of the Cross found us to be a contemplative and apostolic community of mainly itinerant preacher. Meaning we live in community, pray together but also go out into the world to preach the good news. Often if people know the Passionists it is because they have attended one of our parish missions, or have made a retreat at one of our retreat houses or have lived in a parish that we minister in. Today Passionist are involved in all kinds of ministries ? teaching, writing, i.e. books, plays, counseling, chaplaincies, ministries among the poor and those who experience the modern-day Passion, to name a few. All of our ministries involve preaching, prayer and a continued focus on the Passion of Jesus Christ as it remains alive today.


There are also Passionist Nuns and Passionist Sisters and groups a lay people who join us in keeping alive the memory of Christ’s Passion in their daily lives. You can find Passionists in 54 different countries around the world. We are international and the headquarters of the Passionists is in Rome.

Gordon: Thank you for a great interview.

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