Meet Father Paul English, CSB
Father Paul English, CSB became pastor of the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish as it was transitioning from five former parishes to form the largest parish in the Diocese of Rochester, New York. Leading people through change may be difficult, but as a Basilian he is prepared for the challenge and he can always count on his brothers for support.
“I found that this particular assignment draws on everything I’ve done in my Basilian life. Random experiences have come to focus here and allowed me to lead this community toward realizing its vision,” he said.
His fond experiences of living in a community began as a child. Born in Syracuse, New York to Robert and Rosemary English, Paul was the second oldest of seven siblings. “It was a happy family with many playmates and opportunities to enjoy one another.” As a member of the strong Catholic family, he always knew he was a part of the greater Church family. “Jesus was my brother; I belonged and I was loved,” he said.
After high school, Paul attended St. John Fisher College to study Spanish. Before classes began he met with Father Norman Tanck, CSB, who helped him select his courses and orient him to the college.
Through his involvement with campus ministry and leading Liturgical music at St. John Fisher, he also became familiar Father Joseph Trovato, CSB. Paul witnessed how naturally these men ministered to young people on campus. When he was invited for dinner at their home he gained insight into their lives. “They lived and prayed together and despite all their differences they were brothers,” said Paul.
Throughout his life, Paul was open to the possibility of a religious vocation and during his last month at St. John Fisher College he let the Basilians know of his desire to join the Congregation.
He was welcomed into the associate programme and spent two years teaching Spanish at Andrean High School in Indiana, then a Basilian-run high school. “The biggest surprise was that I did so well. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching and community life. That combination made it easy to move forward,” said Paul.
The formation process that had allowed Paul move safely, step by step, now required a leap of faith.
In 1980, as a novice he moved into the Detroit novitiate. “It was a whole new world; Detroit was undergoing so many difficulties and trials. Yet despite the poverty, people maintained their dignity. It was a learning experience and the direct contact with people who were poor was a tremendous help for someone who was considering taking a vow of poverty for the rest of his life,” said Paul.
In addition to doing apostolic work at a nursing home for the poor, he spent a great deal of time in prayer in mediation. “Creating quiet within myself caused me to look inward, confront what was inside. I asked a lot of questions about whether I was making right decision,” he said.
As a scholastic, Paul attended St. Michael’s College for his Master of Divinity and was permitted to live and study his second year of theology with the Basilian community in Mexico. This experience gave him a new perspective as he was studying theology not only in Spanish, but in the Latin milieu.
Reading the works of South American theologians while witnessing the upheaval and unrest in nearby Central America at the time gave Paul a different perspective. “It opened my eyes. I was able to see my own country in a different way. To understand the influence that my country had on a good part of the world was painful and challenging. With eyes wide open it helped me understand myself, the world, and God more clearly,” he said.
After he was ordained, he served in Hispanic ministry at Ste. Anne de Detroit parish before following in the footsteps of his early mentor, Father Trovato, working in campus ministry at St. John Fisher College for 10 years. “I found it to be a tremendous ministry and helpful to me and hopefully the young people,” he said.
Following this, he worked once again in Hispanic ministry at St. Anne parish in Houston, where he was elected as a member of the Basilian General Council, a positon in which he served for eight years. As he came to know the Congregation more fully, his affection grew. “I’m so honoured to be associated with this group of men. Knowing them personally, their achievements and common history makes me feel both proud and humbled to be a part of the Basilians,” he said.
Having successfully shepherded the St. Kateri flock through its initial change, he now sees the need for the parish to look outward, inviting and welcoming others into the life of the Church. “There are others who don’t benefit from the ministry of the Church and that is our responsibility,” he said.