As an Augustinian, I am grateful for all the service opportunities that God has provided me. These experiences have refined my vocational calling and exposed me to the many ways that Augustinians serve the people of God. After two years of studying theology at Catholic Theological Union, Augustinian students in North America complete a ‘pastoral year’ consisting of full-time ministry. The Order also approved me to pursue a Master of Public Policy and Administration at Northwestern University. This preparation has been invaluable as I was exposed to complex policy problems with global impact.
I was assigned to the Bronx, New York where I worked at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish and Augustinians International. One half of the assignment was traditional – I ministered in our Augustinian parish and participated in regular sacramental ministry such as Baptisms, funerals, and Sunday Masses. The other component of my pastoral experience included ministry at the Order of St. Augustine’s non-governmental organization (NGO) to the United Nations. Augustinians International represents the Augustinian General Curia to the United Nations.
The day I received my badge to UN headquarters, I was thrilled. Representatives from Augustinians International are granted incredible access to important conferences, multilateral summits, and the influential Security Council. Our presence there matters: Ambassadors can be seen pacing the halls; their diplomatic staffs furiously exchanging emails. In remote corners of Headquarters, you can see delegations murmuring over the language of a joint resolution. These are critical moments of political and policy significance. Faith-based NGOs consult and advocate with civil leaders to ensure that government is accountable and representative.
Every day at Augustinians International was different. International politics often follows events on the news, so it’s impossible to know where diplomatic attention will focus. The UN is a dynamic environment where I had to learn about issues ranging from peacekeeping deployment, to human rights and disarmament. Sometimes, I attended routine budget briefings. Other times, member states displayed rare moments of tension; such as during an informal consultation on the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. I also had the honor to represent the Order of St. Augustine to multilateral consultations such as the Peacebuilding Commission.
During my pastoral year, I truly felt like an Ambassador for Christ (2 Cor 5:20). As I learned about the problems of the world, I began to understand Augustine’s response to the decline of the Roman Empire. He wrote the City of God to address the lack of moral values and the absence of public order. Amidst so much uncertainty, it is a great privilege for Augustinians to witness Christian values such as social justice, unity, and harmony. I also took advantage of informal opportunities to interact with diplomats. I invited a religious sister to join me for lunch in a UN cafeteria. It was rather exclusive because high-level officials and delegates eat lunch there. We prayed a blessing over our meal. Some of our neighbors noticed, and we shared an interesting discussion on faith and duty at the UN.
Why was I so excited about this pastoral assignment? It brought together two fields that I am passionate about: my faith and the public good. Thomas Jefferson wrote about the ‘wall of separation’ between Church and State. To many, his ‘wall’ divorces government from any reference to God. As an Augustinian seminarian, I had the opportunity to minister to people’s needs and reveal Christ wherever he is needed. Most would agree: politics is often where people need God’s presence more than anywhere else. It was a great honor to bring the Good News to the leaders of a broken and hurting world. I thank God for the unique pastoral assignment where I learned how to witness the Augustinian spirituality of friendship and communion to policymakers and diplomatic leaders.
Editors Note: this article was originally written in 2018 and published in Spring 2018 edition of The Midwest Augustinian magazine. Fr. Jack Tierney recently completed formation and was ordained to the Priesthood on July 25, 2020.