Basilian Fr. Kevin Storey was elected general superior in July. Photo by Michael Swan

New Basilian superior general faces tough challenges

  • October 15, 2018

As lofty and august as the title superior general may sound, Basilian Fr. Kevin Storey has no illusions about his next four years leading 154 men who teach and preach in Basilian parishes, universities and high schools from Colombia to Canada. 

His job is to face problems.

First among the problems Storey names is the global sex abuse crisis within the Church. Even if screening candidates seeking to join the congregation has improved and the formation process includes more intensive preparation for life-long celibacy, the Basilians cannot escape the stain left by the Church’s accumulated stories of sexual abuse and coverups.

“You can pretend like it’s not there, but it would be stupid to do so,” Storey, who was elected to his position in July, told The Catholic Register at the Basilian curia in downtown Toronto. “We do think we’ve made some strides in terms of screening and in terms of ensuring our formation is strong. We just know more today than we did 30 years ago.”

Storey is also faced with a demographic time bomb. At 54, Storey estimates that 10 per cent of his brother Basilians are younger than him. Over his term in office the inevitable will catch up with an older generation of men. If things go according to plan, new vocations will begin to balance against the deaths over the next decade and the Basilians can settle on a sustainable number of 100 members, or just under that.

“We may end up dying out. That’s a real possibility.” 

The vocations crisis that looms for Storey is no different in the larger Church of lay Catholics, said St. Peter’s Seminary theologian Bernardine Ketelaars.

“Like all who minister in the Church, I suspect that there is a concern around the lack of vocations to the priesthood and the increasing number of Catholics who are withdrawing from the Church,” Ketelaars wrote in an e-mail. “With an aging community, Fr. Kevin will not only need to ensure their care but seek to encourage the ordained to empower the laity to live their missionary call, received at baptism.”

Ketelaars is a Basilian Associate, a lay association in Canada and the United States that attaches itself to the spirituality and works of the Basilian Fathers. She remembers first meeting Storey when both were in graduate school at St. Michael’s College.

“He is a man of great faith who envisions and desires only the best for his confreres and those to whom he is ministering or serving,” she said.

While Storey is hatching plans to amp up the Basilian vocations office, especially in North America, he knows a future of plentiful vocations is beyond his control. The next generation of Basilian priests are being formed at Keon House, the Basilian house of discernment and formation in Houston, Tex. It now houses 16 men, nine of them in formation.

Many of the new vocations are coming from Colombia and Mexico, countries where the Basilians have been missionaries. Storey was himself a missionary in Colombia from 2000 to 2004.

“Our colour is changing. We’re much browner now,” said Storey, who was born in Chennai, India, and raised in Toronto. 

But Storey is clear that he doesn’t want Latin American vocations to save the Basilians in North America. He wants them to serve the Church in Colombia and Mexico. The anglophone Church in North America will have to produce its own vocations.

“I don’t really care if we have 2,000 Basilians or 20 Basilians. I really do care that we’re living the Gospel and that we’re living it with joy,” he said. “I find joy is the great equalizer.”

Perhaps Storey has learned about joy running triathlons and swimming from Alcatraz to a San Francisco beach. Getting through the pain to elation and triumph on the other side of an endurance event is never predictable, in the sense that you don’t know when it will happen or what it will feel like. But it is certain.

“The thing that I would like to direct our congregation to is embracing the fullness of the Gospel,” he said. “Which is the cross, but also the resurrection is a done deal.”

When Storey was ordained in 1992, he was part of a wave of smart, young Basilians.

“There were a lot of guys, talented guys,” he recalls. “I really thought it was part of a resurgence in the Church. Why else would God be calling me to the priesthood?”

It took a couple of years of work in the trenches before Storey confronted what he calls “sober reality.” He looks back on his missionary days, struggling to preach in Spanish in Colombia, and thinks it’s time to rethink how Basilians are missionaries.

“In many ways, Canada and the States, English-speaking North America, is much more missionary in terms of needing priests.” 

He finds it impossible to deny how fear — or at least caution — have crept into religious life as it sits uneasily amid a consumerist culture. 

Still, Storey is a man with a smile. He starts all his meetings with prayer. He laughs easily. He also works constantly, and draws energy from his conversations and relationships.

“I’m a happy person. I love being a Basilian,” he said. 

Work, the mission, the apostolate defines Basilian life, but not the grindstone of grim duty, said Storey.

“The work is something that we do and we really are committed to and all the rest,” he said. “But I think it’s the richness of our personalities that becomes that ‘in’ with people.”

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