Frs. Robert Kasun and Jack Gallagher in Edmonton's St. Alphonsus Church, one of two churches on 118th Avenue their Basilian order has administered since 2009.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Frs. Robert Kasun and Jack Gallagher in Edmonton's St. Alphonsus Church, one of two churches on 118th Avenue their Basilian order has administered since 2009.

June 15, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The Basilian Fathers, a teaching community launched in France almost 200 years ago, has been serving in the Edmonton Archdiocese for more than 50 years.

Known primarily as educators, Basilian priests also serve the Church as missionaries, parish priests, hospital chaplains, counselors and therapists, retreat directors, peacekeepers and more.

In the archdiocese, the Basilians are best known for their work at St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta, which they have run since their arrival here in 1963.

However, six years ago, the congregation agreed to take over the administration of St. Alphonsus and St. Clare's parishes on Edmonton's north side. Three Basilians currently live and work there: Fathers Robert Kasun, Mark Gazin and Jack Gallagher, a former St. Joseph's College professor.

There is also Father Brian Inglis, a former professor at St. Joseph's, who has quietly been pastor of Our Lady of the Foothills Parish in Hinton for about 17 years. Then there is Father Clair Watrin, who currently animates retreats at the Way of Holiness Retreat Centre in Hinton.

The Basilians are a teaching order but have also been involved in parish work from the beginning.

"Almost every single (member of the congregation) has been a teacher at some point but we've also desired to serve the Church in other ways," noted Kasun. "So we have a long history of parish work and other kinds of work."

The Basilian Fathers were founded by a committee of 10 diocesan priests immediately following the French Revolution, noted Gallagher, a former general superior of the worldwide order.

Consecrated Life

The group ran a clandestine junior seminary in the town of Annonay in southern France during the revolution. When the persecution against the Church stopped, the 10 priests started a religious community to continue the work they had been doing underground.

"Since they were working (under the auspices of) St. Basil's Parish, they named the community after St. Basil," related Gallagher. On Nov. 21, 1822, the founders chose Joseph Lapierre as the first superior general.

Members of the order first arrived in Canada in 1951, after a former student at the Basilian seminary in Annonay was appointed a bishop of Toronto. The bishop wanted to start a junior seminary in Toronto and so he asked the Basilians to send somebody over. That's how the now-famous University of St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto came to life.

Basilians came to Edmonton in 1963 to take over administration of St. Joseph's College from the Christian Brothers, who no longer had enough personnel to continue the operation. When Gallagher arrived at the college in 1978, nine Basilians were teaching there and at the University of Alberta.

Numbers held up well for many years but in the last couple of years they have dropped to three. Gallagher taught moral theology for four years. He returned to Toronto in 1982 to launch a bioethics centre there.

Kasun and Father Mark Gazin came to St. Alphonsus and St. Clare's in August 2009. Their superiors in Toronto wanted to consolidate Basilian personnel and resources in one city in Western Canada and chose Edmonton. Kasun had been stationed in Calgary for 20 years prior to coming to Edmonton.

"In my mind the main reason why we came to work in these two parishes in Edmonton was the desire to work with people in lower income areas of Edmonton and with immigrants to Edmonton," he said.

"Archbishop (Richard) Smith offered us several parishes to consider and we chose St. Alphonsus and St. Clare's."

Kasun, pastor of the two parishes, said the Basilians bring their interest in Catholic education to parish work. "That would be one reason why we started the English language school here for temporary foreign workers and other immigrants."

SASKATCHEWAN ROOTS

Professed a Basilian in 1973, Kasun was ordained a priest in 1978 in his hometown of Cudworth, Sask. He went to university an hour away at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon and that's where he met the Basilians.

At that time St. Thomas More was a Basilian college, founded by the order in 1936. Now it is under the auspices of the Diocese of Saskatoon.

Gallagher hails from Yorkton, Sask. He met the Basilians at St. Thomas More College in 1950. He was professed a Basilian in 1953 and ordained in 1960.

One of the best known Canadian Basilians is Father David Bauer, former coach of the Canadian Olympic team. Bauer is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and of the Order of Canada.

"He was one of the most remarkable people I have ever seen," Gallagher said.

Another outstanding Basilian is Father Tom Rosica, national director of Salt and Light Television and chief organizer of World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002. Currently Rosica is assistant to the Vatican press secretary for English-speaking press.

The Basilians still hold on to a number of universities and colleges across Canada and the U.S., including St. Joseph's in Edmonton, St. Michael's in Toronto, the University of St. Thomas in Houston and St. John Fisher in Rochester, N.Y.

They used to run 12 high schools in North and South America. Now they have four.

GROWING IN COLOMBIA

"Our growth area now is Colombia. That's where our numbers are expanding," said Gallagher. "In Cali, Colombia, we have an elementary and high school in a very poor area that gets national rankings."

There are about 25 Basilians in Colombia, including some in Medellin and Bogota. In Mexico, there are 12. In France, the birthplace of the order, only four or five Basilians remain.

"We have less than 200 Basilians in the world right now," noted Gallagher. "At the peak there were about 700. We are a small community."

The Basilians have novitiates in Colombia, Mexico and Texas. "We have a lot of men in formation but very few of them are in North America, (only two out of 24)," Kasun said.

Vatican II helped the order open up to more recent theology but did not have to force the Basilians to work with the laity.

"Close collaboration with the laity was a tradition from way back for the Basilians," Gallagher pointed out. "That tradition multiplied at the time of the Vatican Council but we were at ease doing that. We have always been at ease with collaboration." Lay people were teaching at Basilian colleges prior to Vatican II.

Vatican II also advised religious orders to focus their work, basically telling them not to try to be everything to everybody. "I think it was wise but I don't think we did it," lamented Gallagher.

"We became more unfocused, more defused," interjected Kasun. "More lately we have stepped up to the plate and said we are an educational community in every kind of work that we do. But that was well after Vatican II."

COMMUNITY LIFE

Added Gallagher: "When I joined there was more focus on community life and I experienced wonderful community life. But now everybody is so busy with their work. At the University of St. Thomas there was a wonderful community life; now after meals everybody is gone. The focus is on work."

What's the future of the order? "Well, certainly we have a future in Colombia," replied Gallagher. "It's growing there and it seems to be a healthy growth; to some extent in Mexico."

"It's not imminent that we are going to die out," said Kasun.

"We have to leave it to God, but it seems to me that if we do survive in Canada and the U.S., the work would be the same: the educational work and the work with the poor."