On Monday afternoon, July 18, the 2016 General Chapter of the Congregation of Holy Cross elected Fr. Robert L. Epping, C.S.C., as Superior General. Fr. Epping is the 13th Superior General in the history of the Congregation. He succeeds Fr. Richard V. Warner, C.S.C.
“When Fr. Warner asked if I would let my name stand for election, I responded it must not be my will, but God’s,” said Fr. Epping. “Then when the first ballot was taken and the first name called was mine, my heart sunk. By the end of the counting of the first ballot and I had more votes than any of the other four nominees, my heart started to pound. After a couple more rounds with the calling of my name over and over, Fr. Warner requested me to stand and asked me if I would accept election.
“I responded ‘I do’,” continued Fr. Epping, “meaning to add something like, ‘as God’s will for me.’ But those words never came out of my mouth. I was stunned as the Chapter room rose to their feet with prolonged applause.”
According to the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, “The congregation is guided and governed by the superior general, who holds personal authority over all provinces, houses and members” (VII, 107). He is elected by the General Chapter, in which is vested “the highest authority of the Congregation” (VII, 99).
To assist him in his leadership of the Congregation, the Superior General has a council comprised of elected and appointed members. These elections and appointments will take place this week.
Monday, the day of election of the Superior General, began with Morning Prayer and then the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, presided by Fr. Warner. After a quick procedural meeting, the capitulants met in small groups to discuss the qualities and characteristics desirable in the next Superior General. The rest of the morning was dedicated to personal reflection and prayer. The election itself took place after lunch.
“Some of my Holy Cross friends had told me not to be surprised if my life changed. I couldn’t imagine this happening, but it has. Now I must form a team to lead the men of Holy Cross as the Spirit wishes to lead us,” said Fr. Epping.
Fr. Epping is a member of the United States Province. He professed Final Vows in the Congregation on May 18, 1970, and was ordained a priest on December 19, 1970.
Most recently, Fr. Epping has served the past six years as the Sixth General Assistant in Fr. Warner’s General Council. Since 2013, he has also served as Pastor of Holy Cross and St. Stanislaus Parish in South Bend, Indiana.
For much of his priesthood, Fr. Epping has worked in parish ministry, serving as Pastor at four different parishes: St. Bernard’s Parish, in Watertown, Wisconsin; Christ the King Parish in South Bend, Indiana; Sacred Heart Parish, in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and now Holy Cross and St. Stanislaus Parish.
Fr. Epping also spent nine years working as an Assistant Provincial in the then Indiana Province. He also has an S.T.L. from the Institute of Spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy.
Fr. Warner, who Fr. Epping succeeds, was elected in the 2010 General Chapter. Along with Fr. Warner, the 2010 General Chapter elected Br. Thomas Dziekan, C.S.C., as the Vicar and First General Assistant, and Fr. Roy Thalackan, C.S.C., as the Second General Assistant.
Rounding out Fr. Warner’s General Council were Br. Subal Lawrence Rosario, C.S.C., Third General Assistant; Fr. Joseph Gaspar Selvaraj, C.S.C., Fourth General Assistant (who replaced Fr. Jorge Izaguirre, C.S.C. when he was appointed bishop); Br. George Schimtz, C.S.C., Fifth General Assistant; and Fr. Robert Epping, C.S.C., Sixth General Assistant.
During their six years in office, Fr. Warner and his General Council have overseen the structural and financial planning process that was initiated by the 2010 General Chapter. The planning process involved two special task forces, spearheaded by Br. Patrick Sopher, C.S.C., the Executive Director of Congregational Planning, and Br. Schmitz. During the six years, there were several consultations with the Congregation’s membership, as well as the various jurisdictional chapters, to discern together and build consensus. The results of this planning process have been presented to the current General Chapter and have been a key basis for its discussions and discernments about the Congregation’s future.
Coupled with the discernment on the Congregation’s structure and finances, Fr. Warner and his Council emphasized the need for a renewal in the Congregation’s religious life and founding charism.
Perhaps the most visible initiative in this area was the founding of the International Shrine of Basile Moreau at the Church of Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix in Le Mans, France, on September 21, 2014. Fr. Warner gave the vision that the shrine could be a place to deepen devotion to and study of the Congregation's founding charism. Br. Dziekan played a critical role in the efforts to establish the Shrine in coordination with the Church in France. The Shrine, under the leadership of the Rector, Fr. John DeRiso, C.S.C., is starting to attract more pilgrims both locally and internationally and giving them an immersion in the history and spirituality of Holy Cross in the places where it all began.
Spearheaded by Fr. Thalackan, who served as the Chairman of the Religious Life Comission, the General Council also published two series of reflections, one on Moreau and the Congregation’s charism and another on the Congregation’s Constitutions. These reflections sought to take advantage of the Year of Consecrated Life and draw Holy Cross members into deeper personal and communal reflection.
Among other key priorities of Fr. Warner’s Administration was increasing the involvement and participation of all sectors in the Congregation's governance as part of the efforts to create a congregational perspective. One of their major initiatives in this regard was the Holy Cross Forums that drew together in Rome young Holy Cross brothers and priests from across the world. A number of the young religious serving and working in the 2016 General Chapter are alumni of one of the three Holy Cross Forums coordinated by the General Administration.
With a clear view of the Congregation’s growing international diversity, Fr. Warner and his Council also advanced the idea of International Houses of Formation as key centers in shaping and sustaining the Holy Cross’s international mission. The first of these officially recognized International Houses of Formation is Casa Santa Cruz in Santiago, Chile.
Fr. Warner and his Council also oversaw the renovation of the Holy Cross Generalate in Rome. Fr. Gaspar and Br. Dziekan worked extensively on the project. The renovated Generalate was inaugurated on Tuesday, November 11, 2014, and now is capable of hosting the international commissions and committees that help guide the Congregation. There is also space to house Holy Cross religious who are studying in Rome.
Fr. Warner and his General Council also took particular concern for the vocation of the brothers in Holy Cross. Led by Br. Dziekan, the General Council coordinated several renewal programs in Asia that brought together Holy Cross brothers from India and Bangladesh. The third Holy Cross Forum also was dedicated specifically to the question of the brothers’ vocation in Holy Cross.
“We owe a debt of gratitude for some significant strides the Congregation has made during the term of Fr. Warner as Superior General,” said Fr. Epping. “His insistence that we must cultivate a ‘Congregational viewpoint’ rather than a local or provincial mindset has begun a paradigm shift toward greater awareness of our internationality and our need to help each other live out our mission wherever we are called to go. We are fundamental ‘missionary’ in spirit.”
“Fr. Warner’s term of office as Superior General has set the course which we must now develop further. We are extremely grateful,” added Fr. Epping.
That future course continues to be developed and refined by the 2016 General Chapter as it enters its final days. As he listens to the discussions at the Chapter, Fr. Epping identified three principal hopes as he begins his leadership of the Congregation: “1) to complete the work of being outlined by the Chapter for a simplified congregational structure of authority and responsibility; 2) to discover a path to renewal of our religious and community life; and 3) to find ways to support the vocation of the religious Brother in the Congregation and see it flourish while strengthening Blessed Basil Moreau’s desire for the spirit of union and unity between all our brothers and priests.”
While surprised it will be himself at the helm, Fr. Epping draws strength from seeing, as did the Congregation’s founder, Blessed Basile Moreau, that Holy Cross continues to be “God’s work.”
“Our Chapter motto is ‘Disciples with the Competence to See and the Courage to Act.’ Once again, as we were at the 2010 Chapter, we are being surprised what God is doing with us. It has not been anticipated, but clearly it’s the impulse of the Spirit, ready to move us forward. We must muster the courage to keep our hand to the plow and not look backwards,” said Fr. Epping.
Special thanks to Mr. Brogan Ryan, C.S.C., for assisting with the publication of this article, as well as pictures provided by Br. Nich Perez, C.S.C.