by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you attend the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, what was your favorite course, and why was it your favorite?
Brother Gilberto: I can answer the first part of your question with no problem, the second part of the question however has me going down memory lane. I was an MDiv student at CTU from the fall of 1981 till the Spring of 1985.
As for my favorite course, it is hard to choose just one. I enjoyed my New Testament courses, especially John, the Maverick Gospel with Robert Karris, OFM. I liked my preaching classes and I remember fondly my course on the Sacrament of Reconciliation by Gilbert Ostdiek, OFM. I especially liked my courses on Latino/a theology with Dr. Andres Guerrero. There are lectures and moments in a variety of courses that I remember fondly and that still influence my research and ministry, but I would be hard pressed to choose one course over another as my favorite.
Gordon: When and where did you serve as Parochial Vicar and Pastor and what were your primary responsibilities?
Brother Gilberto: After ordination I was sent to Nuestra Señora de los Angeles/Our Lady of Angels (OLA) in San Antonio Tx to work with Herb Jones, OFM who was pastor at the time. Working with Herbie was the best experience a newly ordained friar could ask for. He challenged and encouraged me in ways that made me the friar I am today. My main responsibility was youth ministry and eventually the training of lay ministers in the leadership of home based Christian Communities and Evangelization.
Now you need to understand that I have always been afraid of High School students, even when I was in High School 😉. Still where we are weak, Jesus is strong and my fear of young people made me an effective youth minister. I trained youth evangelizers to preach so that I would not have to face a young congregation by myself. What started as a fluke became a Spirit filled blessing for the ministry I shared with young and adult lay preachers and ministers.
Gordon: When did you work as a Youth Evangelizer and what did you enjoy most about your work?
Brother Gilberto: I began to work with youth as previously mentioned when I was assigned to OLA. I was also sent by Herbie to Mexico City to be trained in Evangelization ministry by the Sistema Integral de la Nueva Evangelización (SINE). Back at the parish some young preachers of SINE helped me do our first youth retreat. They recruited some of our youth and trained them to help.
Word got around the Diocese that I was doing youth retreats and the calls started coming. Long story short that is how La Tropa de Cristo was born in 1987 and before I knew it, I had a group of about 40 young people ages 15 to 25 going around doing youth retreats and conferences in South Texas and the Mid West.
My favorite part was seeing the young preachers shine and grow in their own faith, inspiring other young people to follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That was many years ago and some of these young people now have children of their own. I stay in touch with some of them and feel blessed to have been a part of their lives and faith journey.
I have always believed that young Catholics are not the Church of tomorrow, they are here already and need to be respected and involved as part of the Church of today!!
Gordon: When did you attend Pontificio Ateneo Antonianum, and what was the subject of your license thesis and doctoral dissertation?
Brother Gilberto: I went from being Parochial Vicar to Pastor of OLA for 2 years. In total, I spent 8 wonderful years at that parish (1985-1993). While there, I learned that I had a knack for teaching and I was encouraged by the youth to follow a new vocation, that of being a teacher/professor so my Province sent me to Rome to study Franciscan Spirituality in 1993 at the Franciscan School: Pontificia Ateneo Antonianum where I lived with about 210 friars from 38 or so different nations.
My provincial encouraged me not to let school get in the way of my education, so I spent time with my brothers learning about their different cultures and variations of Franciscan Life. I also made several Italian friends outside the convent, that are still very much a part of my life.
I finished my License in Sacred Theology with a specialization in Spirituality in 1996 with my License Thesis on Liberation Spirituality in the Process of Canonization of St. Clare of Assisi entitled La relación con Dios, fuente de liberación en Clara (Relationship with God: Source of Clare’s Liberation).
I then began my doctoral studies and wrote my dissertation on kinship language and images found in the writings of Francis and Clare of Assisi. I began to teach at the Catholic Theological Union in 1999 and still managed to return to Rome to defend my dissertation in 2000. My Dissertation title is Greater than a Mother’s Love. Kinship in the Spirituality of Francis and Clare of Assisi.
I spent the next few years (1999-2014) teaching at the Catholic Theological Union. Eventually I was put in charge of the Spirituality and Pastoral Ministry Department as well as the Hispanic Theology (and Ministry) Program. Both of these are now in the very capable hands of Dr. Carmen Nanko-Fernández. In time I was elected to serve on the board and became president of ACTHUS (Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the U.S. 2011-2012).
These experiences helped to solidify my being a Franciscan Spiritualogian (Scholar of the theological study of Christian spirituality) and a Latino/a theologian. My Latino/a method for the study of Christian spirituality got me invited to speak in Brazil, Chile and elsewhere, giving me the international notoriety I needed to be promoted to Full Professor by CTU.
Once promoted, I was invited by my Order (the Friars Minor) to go to Rome and work for our university. The Ateneo I where had received my degrees had become the Pontificia Università Antgonianum (PUA).
Unfortunately, the PUA already had many spirituality professors so rather than teach I was made director of educational technology.
Gordon: What did you enjoy most when you served as Director Office of Educational Technology at Pontificia Università Antonianum?
Brother Gilberto: Not being able to teach, which is my passion was a frustrating experience. However, when life gives you lemons, make limoncello 😊. I spent my time in PUA trying to teach the professors how to use educational technology and how to teach asynchronously online. Professors do not make the best students, myself included, so I spent most of my time doing ongoing formation courses in Christian Spirituality for the Franciscan familia. I had students in Spanish, Italian and English from the Holy Land over to California, from Canada down to Argentina and South Africa. It was a wonderful experience of helping create communities of learners.
At the PUA I offered courses to the students on the proper use of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint for writing essays, theses, etc. and for doing presentations. I also taught them how to create their own websites. It was very fulfilling to see the students learn how to use Microsoft for enhancing their education and how to create websites for future ministries.
Gordon: When did you serve as Secretary of Pontifical Academy of Mary International (PAMI) and what were your primary responsibilities?
Brother Gilberto: While at PUA, I was invited by Dr. Stefano Cecchin, OFM the President of the Pontificia Academia Mariana Internationalis (PAMI) to join the staff as economo in 2018. In March of 2020 Pope Francisco named me the Segretario of PAMI. I continued to serve as economo and segretario till the summer of 2022, when the Pope released me from my commitment to PAMI so I could return to CTU in Chicago.
As secretary of PAMI, I mainly assisted the President around the office, took care of finances and attended PAMI’s various gatherings. I also helped organize a virtual international congress during the time of the pandemic.
When family and friends would ask what I did, I would jokingly say I was the Virgin Mary’s personal secretary, I would make her coffee in the morning and schedule her appearances and take her pictures for Facebook and Twitter. Jokingly I was making light of my situation. I enjoyed working with Br. Stefano and being a pontifically appointed secretary has its privileges and honor, but my heart has always been in teaching. So even as secretary I managed to do some ongoing formation work by way of asynchronous online courses for the Franciscan Conceptionist sisters of Spain, Portugal and much of Latin America.
Gordon: Please provide an overview of your work as John Duns Scotus Chair of Franciscan Spirituality.
Brother Gilberto: It is my understanding that the J.D. Scotus Chair was endowed for promoting Franciscan Spirituality at CTU with at least one or two annual conferences. Having been in Rome and at the Antonianum has broadened my horizons and I can see that the Scotus Chair can do so much more to serve the Franciscan Family and the Church by providing a program in Franciscan Spirituality. The USA has programs in Franciscan Studies and in Franciscan Theology but nothing (that I know of) in the academic and theological study of Franciscan Spirituality. I need to do some digging but I think that the only place worldwide that offers Graduate level degrees in Franciscan Spirituality is the PUA. The Scotus Chair at CTU can help fill in the gap for the English Speaking world.
I am happy to announce that as Chair in my first semester, I have managed to organize a Post Graduate level Franciscan Study Tourgrimage in Italy (June 2023) and CTU has approved a new graduate Certificate in Franciscan Spirituality. The general and research MA’s in Spirituality can also now be focused on Franciscan Spirituality as well.
I have begun a Facebook Page and Twitter account for the JDScotus Chair and have begun the CTU J.D.Scotus Page of Franciscan Spirituality. I have a very small program budget for the Chair, but I learned at PAMI that a lot can be done on little money if we put it in God’s hands. So, I have put the Scotus Chair in God’s capable and generous hands.
Gordon: Please provide an overview of your work at the Catholic Theological Union.
Brother Gilberto: I am a graduate of CTU (1985) where I got my MDiv. I never as a student dreamed of one day coming back as a professor. I did just that in 1999 when I returned to teach Christian Spirituality. I was not allowed to teach Franciscan courses in my first four years. I did not understand why at the beginning but thanks to my prevalent use of a hermeneutics of appreciation, I am grateful that I was pushed to broaden my theological study of Spirituality and not focus simply on Franciscanism.
As I mentioned earlier, I left CTU in 2014 and have only been back since August of 2022 (this year). Besides being the JD Scotus Chair, I am working with the Spirituality and Pastoral Ministry Department focusing my attention on approaches and methods for the theological Study of Christian Spirituality. In fact Dr. Rossano Zaz Friz de Col, SJ and I have edited a book on evolving methodologies for the study of spirituality for Peeter’s which should be in print early 2023. It collects the presentations given by some thirty scholars that gathered in 2019 at the PUA to share insights into the study of spirituality and spiritual theology. It was organized by the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality and the Forum of Professors of Spiritual Theology in Italy.
It has been a great gift to reflect on how I got to be where I am. I am so used to being myself as brother to my blood brothers and the friars that I forget I am an accomplished Spiritualogian, a Doctor in the Theological Study of Christian Spirituality. Thank you for inviting me to do this interview with you.
Gordon: Thank you for this beautiful interview.