By Father David Lupo, SS.CC., pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, Fairhaven
Editor’s note: This is part I of a two-part interview with Brother Bill Gural. The conclusion will run in the October 1 Anchor edition.
“The consecrated life, through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, ‘constitutes a closer imitation and an abiding re-enactment in the Church’ of the way of life which Jesus, the supreme Consecrated One and missionary of the Father for the sake of His Kingdom, embraced and proposed to His disciples” (cf. Mt. 4:18-22; Mk. 1:16-20; Lk. 5:10-11; Jn. 15:16).
[Vita Consecrata [25th Anniversary of the document!] Pope St. John Paul II #22]
Biography: I have been an English teacher, an advocate for the homeless and mentally ill, writer and seeker. I was raised as a Protestant Christian, had many positive experiences in these churches, and received much love. However, I was searching for a deeper relationship with Christ, and a more abundant life.
I lived in an intentional Christian community called Isaiah House. Our mission was to share a common life of prayer, practice hospitality and works of mercy. We hosted single moms and their children. I got to know Catholic Workers and was impressed by their courage, generosity, and witness.
I went back to theological school with the plan of becoming a Protestant minister, but fell in love with the Catholic Church and entered on Easter 2009.
Spending a year as Clinical Pastoral Education hospital chaplain confirmed my call to the priesthood and apostolic ministry. I found the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, whose Eucharistic Adoration, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outreach to the poor and outcasts, and connection to St. Damien of Molokai appealed to me.
Q1. Brother Bill, in light of the quote by Pope St. John Paul, there should be something fascinating about consecrated life. What, if so, do you find fascinating?
A. Jesus is fascinating. A life motivated to seek and emulate Him and be filled with the Holy Spirit, to love God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to assist others in finding and loving Him is interesting — not a boring, drab lifeless existence. It should not be if we are true to Jesus. It is such a wonderful mystery and privilege that God calls us in different ways to glorify and serve Him and build up His Kingdom of love and righteousness.
Through my consecration to God in religious life, I am given another path of loving God and neighbor than married couples, for instance. I am called to proclaim the love of God, and preach the Good News as a religious. My single-ness (without marital and family ties) allows me freedom to love and serve a broad group of people although clearly through our Baptism we all called to imitate Christ and serve our neighbors with generosity.
It has been fascinating to witness the transformation of others through their surrender to Christ. Through pastoral ministry, I am afforded the opportunity to enter into the lives of parishioners as they share their journey. It is fascinating to see God’s presence in His beautiful and varied people, young and old, wealthy to-do and humble, and from different cultures. Experiencing the Kingdom of God as a consecrated religious is an incredible blessing — as is being a parent and in other vocations. As it is said: “You can’t out-give God.”
Q2. Brother Bill, what was it like for a guy from Bedford, MA to get his theology done in Fiji? What is the school like?
A. God is a God of surprises; following Christ is a wonderful journey. I was in pre-novitiate in 2015 at our Wareham retreat house when our director, Father Stan Kossala, enthusiastically reported to us that our seminary was changing from California to Fiji. With my dad recently diagnosed with leukemia, I was lackluster about the news. However, Pacific Regional Seminary in Suva, Fiji turned into an excellent place for seminary as I was pushed out of my comfort zone (we’d periodically lose power and water at our formation house). I encountered Christ powerfully in these people from such different cultures.
People in Fiji in general have a stronger faith that we do in our modernized, more individualistic, and more secular culture. For instance, the ladies working in the seminary kitchen, who were called affectionately and respectfully the “Mothers of PRS” prepared our exit exam room with tea and many snacks, and more importantly assured us that they were all praying for us. The weekly seminary Mass always had beautiful and dynamic music and songs in different Pacific languages. Most of my lecturers were priests from the South Pacific who had a deep love of God and great compassion for the sheep of Jesus’ flock. I also learned that sitting cross-legged on the floor for hours drinking kava, singing and listening to music, joking and telling stories was “social.” Going where God calls demands that we be open to others’ way of life. Seminary was a close-knit community, a family in Christ. Overall, as a “missionary” seminarian I was learning that God provides, and that God calls us often to unexpected places to build up His Kingdom and for our ongoing conversion.
Q3. Brother Maiki has told us of the numerous religious communities at the school in Fiji. What are the ideas, dreams, and understandings of young religious men and women in Fiji?
The young religious in Fiji are hopeful, trusting in God’s Providence, adventurous, simple, joyful, communal, and faithful. They are pleased and happy to be in religious life and discerning God’s call. Some discern out, but at least they are seriously considering God’s call within the context of lived experience of religious life/seminary.
The Pacific religious seem to be dreaming of Christ’s presence transforming their society and welcoming them into eternal fellowship. For instance, Catholic schools are very prominent in the Pacific. Religious are doing much good there through the witness and service, and are content with the simplicity of their lives. A religious Brother and now priest described to me the process of building a new church dedicated to the Holy Spirit: “We need to trust in God; He will provide.” He was brimming with enthusiasm and hope.
Religious and seminarians there have a playfulness and joy. They express a lot of warmth and affection. In spite of the many challenges, religious are quite exuberant and hopeful.
Religion and faith are inextricably woven into the fabric of life. For instance, the Pacific people have elaborate grieving rituals which involve the whole community and can last for days. Perhaps this integration of religion into everyday life to life makes it easier to follow Christ as a religious; however, Jesus always is calling us to let go of what takes us away from abundant life in and through Him.
The culture in the Pacific Islands is more communal which is conducive for religious life. The Catholic sense of “We are not saved alone, but together,” is more palpable there. God can call us through community to cast into the deep.
Q4. What are some of the religious communities that brought Catholicism to the south Pacific?
A. The Sacred Hearts were unable to missionize the entire Pacific so the Marists were assigned the Western Pacific in 1835. The Sacred Hearts assisted them by hosting them in Chile and Tahiti before the Marists embarked for the Southwest Pacific. Marist Brothers founded by St. Marcellin Champagnat started many schools in Fiji which are considered the best. They have a wonderful fraternity of alumni called the Old Boys. Marist Sisters and Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary (SMSM) also have worked side by side with the Marists. Missionaries of the Sacred Heart were sent to missionize Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands) in the latter part of the 19th century. After the Columbans were kicked out of Communist China, they were invited to Fiji to evangelize the Indo-Fijians. My Columban Scripture teacher picked up his cell phone during a class on Zoom to speak Fijian; he also celebrated Mass in Hindi. The Salesians of Don Bosco are big in Samoa with several schools and churches. They were great in reaching out to the youth in settlements (squatter villages) and from there building up the community. The Vincentians also came to Fiji and have done terrific work with the poor. Cluny Sisters run schools. The Sisters of Our Lady of Nazareth is an indigenous Fijian congregation. These Catholic communities remarkably have quickly transitioned from receiving missionaries to sending them. A few of my seminary classmates are now priests serving in Peru, Pakistan, and other countries. How the Holy Spirit is working!
Q5. Fascinating stuff! Brother Bill, what is it that attracts you to religious life? Does it have anything to offer men and women today?
A. Jesus attracts me to religious life. It is a privilege to serve Him and get to know Him better as brother, friend, Lord and Savior. He is demanding in that He does not ascribe to cheap grace, and wants the best for us and from us. The way of the cross can be difficult, but His “grace is sufficient.”
Yes, religious life has much to offer men and women today. No one who has left spouse, family, property for the sake of the Kingdom of God will not receive back an overabundant return. I believe women religious can identify more with a spousal relation to Christ though I am grateful to experience a brotherhood and bonding with Christ through my consecration to His Sacred Heart. I am feeling closer to our Mother Mary through my consecration to her Immaculate Heart. These two hearts beat as one; it is a blessing to be close to their hearts. Though this vocation is often challenging, Jesus is carrying most of the load. I find this way of following Christ very fulfilling.
Part two of the interview with Brother William Gural, SS.CC., will appear in the October 1 Anchor.