A bicentennial pilgrimage by five Basilian priests, from left, Frs. Morgan Rice, John Huber, superior general Kevin Storey, Pedro Mora and Laejandro Estrada, led them to Rome and a meeting with Pope Francis. Photo courtesy the Basilians

200th anniversary takes Basilians to Rome

  • June 25, 2022

The  Basilian Fathers are praying for the Pope’s knee — not just because Pope Francis’ trip to Canada next month hangs in the balance and not merely because they are papists, loyal to His Holiness and the magisterium. The Pope personally asked the Basilians to pray for his knee.

In a sort of exchange among vowed religious, Pope Francis promised to pray for the Basilians.

“He told us he doesn’t want to have surgery. He just does not want to do that,” said Basilian superior general Fr. Kevin Storey. “But his knee is really bothering him. He said, ‘Can you say a prayer for my knee that it will be more comfortable without surgery.’ ”

The Basilians didn’t just happen by the Vatican and drop in on Pope Francis. Five Basilian priests were in Rome at the culmination of a bicentennial pilgrimage through France, ending in Rome. All this year Basilians in Canada, the United States, Mexico and Colombia have been celebrating their 200th anniversary — celebrations that will be capped off with a 200th birthday Mass at St. Basil’s Church, on the campus of the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto Nov. 21.

On their bicentennial pilgrimage, Storey, Fr. Alejandro Estrada, Fr. Pedro Mora, Fr. Morgan Rice and Fr. John Huber celebrated Masses at the College Sacré Coeur in Annonay and at the 13th-century chapel of St. Basile more than 500 km south of Paris. After meeting with Francis, the Basilians celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving in St. Peter’s Basilica, where they read out the names of every novice, priest, lay associate and Basilian in formation for priesthood.

Basilian history didn’t just start with a few teaching priests holed up in rural France. The Basilians risked their lives, refusing to bend to a Napoleonic conception of the French Church as somehow separate from the pope. They were papists from the beginning.

“Ordinarily, to say you’re a papist and a Catholic would be ridiculous,” said Storey. “But today it becomes politically charged.”

The Basilians are papists, they know who they are and they’re happy with who they are, said the Canadian leader of the order.

In 15 minutes of private time with Pope Francis, Storey and his companions fell into a kind of easy, conversational intimacy with the pontiff — a result, said Storey, of their shared commitment as vowed religious.

As a Jesuit, Pope Francis has in common with the Basilians vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Over a lifetime, those vows become a shared frame of reference, a common world view among religious priests, brothers and sisters, Storey said.

“It (meeting with Pope Francis) was just so lovingly casual and matter-of-fact and ordinary,” he said. “That made it that much more significant, I think, for all of us.”

The group was able to speak directly to Pope Francis in Spanish. The future of the Basilians is likely more Hispanic than English, just as it became more English than French after the Basilians came to Toronto to found the University of St. Michael’s College in 1852.

“We recognize who we are. We are an aging community in Canada and the United States. We are a more youthful community in Colombia and Mexico,” Storey said. “We are embracing that reality with hope and with joy and with celebration.”

The Basilians are convoking a chapter meeting this year — an occasion for the fathers to collectively review their ministries and select a new superior general.

“The newness of our congregation, the new birth and the new life in our congregation, is going to pass through the example and the testimony and the embrace of our old people,” Storey said.

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