Our interview this week is with St. Augustine as he celebrates his 1656th birthday on November 13th!
Fresh @ News: Well happy birthday St. Augustine! Why don’t you tell us a little about the first few decades of your life.
I was born on November 13, 354 in the town of Thagaste (North Africa), and had your typical childhood I guess…studied Latin, enjoyed healthy competition, struggled in some subjects like Greek. I did well in school overall, and was sent to spread my wings and experience a stronger academic life. But after a year, my family couldn’t afford to keep me in school, so I returned home. I did get a scholarship to study in Carthage and I set out to sow my proverbial oats. I was a successful student in the 3 R’s: rhetoric, reading and relationships—at one point I thought I fell in love, but I realized that I was actually in love with loving. After school, I had a drive within me, and I felt restless. So I taught in Rome for a year, then decided to move to Milan to learn from Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan. Having a strong interest in rhetoric, I wanted to learn more from the master, and Ambrose was known for being the best for delivering sermons and speeches. Once I starting listening to him, I realized I was not only interested in his manner of speaking, but also got hooked on the content-Christ, the gospels. His talks and teachings really opened my eyes and stirred within me a feeling for something more in life. It was a process and took some time, but I had the experience of being called to turn my life around. Eventually I was baptized by Ambrose in Milan and then felt a need to head back home to North Africa. It was back in North Africa where I lived with friends as a community of “servants of God” and we discussed many topics and theories, including philosophy and theology. In 391 I was called to be a priest, and although I wasn’t thrilled about it, accepted the leadership position that I was chosen for and then eventually became a Bishop. Some of my interests while being a priest and bishop include: teaching, preaching, community life, caring for the poor, defending human rights and promoting Christ’s teachings.
Fresh: What values and ideals do you think best represent your life?
Let’s see…what do I value in life? That’s pretty simple…Some that immediately come to mind are friendship and a sincere search for the truth. Another would have to be the scriptures. They taught me so much and are valuable to everyone in many ways. Another aspect that I value would be a sense of community and all that entails.
Fresh: How is Villanova University expressing those values today?
Villanova does a great job of embodying and truly living these values in so many ways.
These values are a realized when students first come to campus for Orientation and then reinforced through their Augustine and Culture Seminar. These two areas build a strong foundation for first year students to learn about the life and values of Augustine as woven through art, philosophy, theology, literature, history and campus culture.
Villanova students are living, learning and leading both in and outside of the classroom within this strong-rooted community at Villanova. They are the shining examples of the everyday opportunity for a community to flourish in dining halls, residence halls, the library, and athletic fields. The various service opportunities and trips that Villanova sponsors are something that I see as so important to support the strong appreciation for the value of community and the responsibility of that community to each other individually and as a larger society.
Fresh: What have been your significant lifetime achievements?
Well, there have been a lot of achievements made in my name, so to speak, so it I hard to pick a few. One of the most meaningful is inspiration for the creation of the Order of St. Augustine. Although this religious order was established in 1256, well after my time, I have to say it was really moving to know that my teachings, values and Rule for living in community had inspired such a foundation. The Order of St. Augustine, priests and brothers professing vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, or OSA’s for short, live their lives reflective of the values I mentioned before and look to my life experiences for insight. It is wonderful to see the aspects I valued most are active and flourishing at Augustinian schools like Villanova, not just in the OSAs but in the lives of those students and the faculty and staff who work within that community. To learn more about me and the Augustinians you might also visit this website: http://www.villanova.edu/mission/spirituality/. In fact, that website has a feature where each day they give a different quote from something I wrote in one of my books or sermons. Also, the beautiful stained glass windows in the St. Thomas of Villanova Church tell the story of my life in pictures, you can see them at: http://www.villanova.edu/homepage/artofvillanova/stvchurch.htm
One of the achievements I am most proud of is getting a residence hall at Villanova named after my mom, Monica. Maybe someday your son or daughter will honor you that way too.
Fresh: What advice do you have for parents of students at Villanova?
I would give parents the same advice that a wise priest once gave my mother when she was worried about me because I was making some poor choices: sometimes young people have to find their own way and learn for themselves. But he reminded her to keep me in her thoughts and prayers, and told her that eventually I would find my way back to a better place, which I did.
Fresh: How do you plan on celebrating your big day?
A few OSAs are taking me to dinner and then we will probably just hang out at the St. Thomas of Villanova Monastery. I hope someone gets me a cake, although 1,656 candles might be a bit much!
Special Thanks to Fr. Joe Farrell, OSA, of the Office of Mission and Ministry for his “contributions” to this article.
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