Mario Biscardi with his Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal. Photo by Michael Swan

Recipient of papal medal banks on Serra's future as oncoming president

  • April 11, 2018

Of course Mario Biscardi was given prior notice that he was to receive the highest honour the Vatican bestows on any layperson. 

Cardinal Thomas Collins told the retired banker and Serra Club member almost a whole hour before presenting  him the papal medal honouring service to the Church at last month’s ordinandi dinner.

No preparation was necessary, other than his 78 years of life as a faithful, prayerful Catholic, and 37 years as a Serran. Besides, Biscardi has the future to think about.

Later this year he will take over as president of Serra International, the “Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations” established by Pope Pius XII in 1941. This simple fellowship of lay Catholics exists for just three purposes — to pray for vocations to the priesthood, to pray for vocations to consecrated life and to grow in holiness. Over its eight decades in existence it has spread to 46 countries and 1,100 clubs with nearly 20,000 members, but Biscardi believes more needs to be done.

“My number one concern is membership in Serra. Membership is declining,” he told The Catholic Register.

The number of Serra Clubs, especially in Canada, has blossomed. In June the Archdiocese of Toronto will welcome its sixth Serra Club, based in Brampton, Ont. But like many other Catholic lay associations, the membership is getting older and thinner on the ground. Ten years ago there were 12 Serra Clubs across Canada comprising about 420 members. Today there are 16 and soon to be 17 clubs, but under 400 members.

During his one-year term as president of Serra International, Biscardi plans to challenge individual club members to invite their friends and families to join.

“We need more members. We haven’t done well in facing ourselves, spreading the word and getting people — young people — involved,” said Biscardi.

Born in southern Italy, Biscardi emigrated to Toronto at age seven and wound up working at CIBC, retiring in 2008 after 40 years. The former altar boy joined Serra in 1981.

While boosting Serra membership is Biscardi’s focus, it’s not all gloom for Serra in Canada and especially in Toronto. The annual Archdiocese of Toronto ordinandi dinner put on by Toronto Serra Clubs has grown immensely. This year the 28th annual ordinandi dinner had 1,700 attendees, including about 300 university-aged guests of parishes and youth ministries. A separate high school event in the morning brought in over 800 students from more than 70 Catholic schools in the GTA and beyond.

Biscardi believes the Toronto ordinandi day program — both the youth event and the dinner — can be exported around the world.

While Serrans pray for vocations, they know prayer without works is dead, Biscardi said. 

“What we do is plant the seeds,” he said. “Do we see the plant take root and grow? We’ve had likely five or six priests who have told us it was at the ordinandi dinner when they heard the ordinandi talk and decided, ‘Yes, I do want to enter the seminary.’ ”

Friendship with seminarians, manifested in everything from a gift of a breviary when they enter the seminary to birthday cards and invitations to Serra Club members’ homes for dinner, is the primary way Serra Clubs turn their prayers into action.

“It is good for us to reflect on what friends do,” Pope Francis told members of Serra International at an audience Biscardi attended last June. 

“They stand at our side, gently and tenderly, along our journey. They are merciful when faced with our faults. They are non-judgmental. They are able to walk with us, helping us to feel joy in knowing we are not alone.”

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