The 2016 General Chapter elected Br. Paul Bednarczyk, C.S.C., and Fr. K.J. Abraham, C.S.C., as the first two assistants who will form part of the new General Council under the leadership of the Superior General, Fr. Robert L. Epping, C.S.C., who was elected by the Chapter on Monday, July 18. As the First Assistant, Br. Bednarczyk will also serve as the Congregation’s Vicar.
Br. Bednarczyk comes to the General Council having served the past 14 years as the Executive Director of the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC), where he oversaw this professional organization of religious vocation directors consisting of over 900 members in 15 countries. His previous ministry included serving as Vocation Director and Formation Director for his Province. He also worked a dozen years as a teacher, administrator, and campus ministry at both Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, and Notre Dame International School in Rome, Italy.
Br. Bednarczyk actually joined Holy Cross after graduating from one of the Congregation’s high schools in 1975, as the witness of the brothers at Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Connecticut, inspired him. He professed First Vows in Holy Cross in 1979 and then later professed Final Vows in 1985. He holds both a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, and a Master’s Degree in Religion and Religious Education from Fordham University in New York, New York.
The 2016 General Chapter elected Br. Bednarczyk as Vicar and First General Assistant, even though he was not a capitulant at the Chapter. He is well-known for his service on several international commissions for the Congregation.
“I am humbled and honored, but admittedly a bit anxious. Having not been at the chapter, to accept this election is a total act of faith as I am unaware of the mandates for the next General Council. My experience tells me though that when we accept God's will in good faith and in the spirit of obedience, God gives us the grace to do what we have been called to do. I trust in this belief,” said Br. Bednarczyk.
“Humbled” was also the way that Fr. Abraham spoke about his reaction to his election as the Second Assistant by the General Chapter.
“I am humbled by the enormous trust the capitulants placed on me by electing me to serve the Congregation in the General Administration,” said Fr. Abraham. “I seek everyone's blessings on me and upon our General and his Council. It is an opportunity given to me to serve the Congregation with the training and the talents that God has blessed me with.”
“The weeks and months ahead are very significant as we will begin to act on the legislations that we made in the Chapter with regard to our structure, life and mission everywhere,” continued Fr. Abraham. “Certainly I hope to serve all jurisdictions with whatever responsibility that will be entrusted to me in the General Council.”
Fr. Abraham joined the Congregation in the summer of 1982, having been inspired by a presentation about the Holy Cross missions in North East India. After completing his college studies and then his novitiate year in Yercaud, Tamil Nadu, he professed First Vows in 1989. He professed Final Vows in the Congregation in 1996, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1997.
At the time of his election, Fr. Abraham was serving as the Superior of the Province of North East India, which is headquartered in Argatala, Tripura. He was elected to that leadership post by his confreres on May 23, 2012. Prior to his election as Provincial Superior, Fr. Abraham had worked in parish ministry and served seven years as the Director of Novices at the Holy Cross Novitiate in Yercaud, Tamil Nadu. He also has a Licentiate in Clinic Psychology and Vocational Counseling from the Greorgian University in Rome, Italy.
According to the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, “The superior general is assisted by a general council of four or six members. The first two assistants are elected by the general chapter, the others being appointed by the superior general according to Statute 103(a) as amended. All serve for terms co-extensive with that of the superior general. The assistants hold rank alternately by society [of religious brothers and religious priests], the first assistant always belonging to the society other than that of the superior general” (107).
The reason for the equal number of brothers and priests in the General Council, as well as their alternation in rank order on the Council, comes from the vision and the founding charism of the Congregation’s founder, Blessed Basile Moreau. In the words of the current Constitutions, Blessed Moreau envisioned “a religious Congregation composed of two distinct societies of religious, one of religious priests and one of religious brothers, bound together in one indivisible brotherhood” (6). Since the Congregation’s founding, the General Council has been one of the key manifestations and realizations of Holy Cross’s single brotherhood.
With the elections of the first two assistants completed, Fr. Epping is now in the process of appointing the rest of his General Council which will work with him in guiding and leading the Congregation. His first two assistants are hopeful and ready to get to work.
“Attending for the first time the General Chapter of the Congregation has been both an experience of our internationality—our unity and diversity—and an opportunity to look in unison to the future of the Congregation with prophetic faith and trust in the Lord,” said Fr. Abraham. “I think that the Chapter was conducted with utmost attentiveness to all the opinions expressed in the Chapter hall, lest we fail to heed to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The new structural plan envisaged for our Congregation tallies with the theme of the Chapter: ‘disciples with the competence to see and the courage to act.’ The presence of first timers for the General Chapter along with the experienced confreres gave much vitality, creativity, heritage and humor in the otherwise ‘serious sessions.’”
“The former general council has worked tirelessly in planning for our future in the midst of the challenges of a changing Church, world, and Congregation,” added Br. Bednarczyk. “We owe them a debt of gratitude. I hope and pray that the directions set by this Chapter will build upon our collective wisdom and move us into the future while strengthening us in our vowed commitment as Holy Cross religious and to the mission given to us by Father Moreau.
“Our Constitutions say that ‘for the Kingdom to come in this world, disciples must have the competence to see and the courage to act.’ We have demonstrated our competence in envisioning our future, but the next step is courageously to act upon it,” continued Br. Bednarczyk. “Holy Cross is a resilient group of men and I trust we will.”