I found Fr. Gus' dogma lectures (which I took for years from him) like listening to a meditation that you would hear in a chapel. The other 60 men in the class seemed to feel the same way too. He was 24 years old and had just obtained his S.T.D. at Catholic University. He wasn’t much older than some of us and actually younger than some of the other students. He was a man who knew his dogma. He inspired us so much that when we became priests we wanted to follow in his footsteps. For all the years he taught at the seminary, he must have preached at least 100 first Masses for both diocesan and TOR priests. He was so much in demand. He had a personality that was attractive to the young men. I was taken by the clarity with which he was able to talk about the profound. He was bright, witty and dedicated. I looked upon him as a holy man who was always willing to help one out when needed. I look upon him with great love and respect. He was a great example for all of us. He was always a priest. ~Fr. Coleman McGarril, TOR, '54
I met Fr. Gus in 1988 when he served as a chaplain on a two-week pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi and Medjugorje. We hit it off almost immediately when the two of us tried to walk from a restaurant in Assisi back to our hotel. It was dark and we ended up walking clear across Assisi before we realized that we were lost. We laughed about our predicament and figured Assisi was small enough that we could eventually find our way home. I was thankful when we saw Sr. Isabel Bettwy sitting on a wall outside of our hotel to help us not walk past it inadvertently. When she saw us, she commented to Fr. Gus, “You were lost, weren’t you.” Fr. Gus wouldn’t admit it but gave a response that dodged answering the question. It was then that I learned that he had a long-term friendship with her, and this was one more comic situation we all laughed about later.
When we arrived at Medjugorje toward the end of the trip, I eventually ended up sleeping out in the hallway so I could get away from my roommate’s snoring and get some sleep. When Fr. Gus saw me there, and despite his initial hesitation he admitted to me later, he offered to allow me to sleep in the second bed in his quarters. This enabled us to pray the Divine Office and walk around Medjugorje together. This exposure to religious life helped me eventually decide to join the TORs. He would repeatedly say later that by doing this act of generosity, I became the gift of his old age and became “his other self.”
When I was assigned to Holy Spirit Friary, we were able to deepen our relationship. This included praying the Office of Readings together most mornings and sharing on different things in life. He eventually took me up on my offer to take him with me on vacation to visit with my friends in Rochester, New York, spend five days at the Abbey of the Genesee, and some time with my family in New Hampshire. We also made arrangements that allowed him to visit with two good friends who were former seminarians and were priests ministering in Connecticut and Vermont. One of the two years we made this trip, we even made the point of visiting with his sister-in-law and some of his 12 nephews and nieces in south Jersey. This turned out to be the last time he ever went back to where he grew up.
He did like to eat and he started to put on some extra weight. He then made me his coach and asked me to prevent him from eating too much. We would have a running comedy show go on each evening as I would try to curb his portions and he would use all sorts of diversionary phrases in an effort to deflect me trying to fulfill the role he had given me. For example, when I would challenge him on how much he had taken, he would say, “Don’t you trust me?” I would reply, “It’s not a matter of trust, Padre, it is a matter of temperance,” after which he would just smile and go ahead and eat it anyway. The whole community came to know about this arrangement, was humored by it and would chime in at different times. The funniest time occurred one night around 9:00 pm. He was in the kitchen with most of the lights out and was looking at the contents of the cookie jar. He knew he wanted a cookie but he feared that if I showed up, he would be in trouble. He looked to see if the coast was clear, debated with himself some more and then gave in to his temptation. Wouldn’t you know it, I came around the corner at just the right time to see his hand in the jar. I couldn’t have planned it better if I had tried. We both died laughing at the whole thing. I thought later that this was God’s way of getting him the same way he had caught so many others at the just the right time when they were doing something they were not supposed to be doing.
He is someone, who like St. Francis, deeply loved our Lady and contemplative prayer. He was also someone who deeply loved his priesthood. I also said to him that he put the “m” in mischief. His claiming to have had a birthday and no one remembered was a classic line he used with different students who would then bake him cookies and deliver them to the friary. He was also fond of putting the guys in headlocks. He and Fr. Sam Tiesi would burn up the roller rink floor when they were younger.
During these last years, we would tease each other about who would beat who to the next life. In one of our last conversations, I did ask him that if I was asked by the provincial to preach at his wake or funeral, what would he want me to share with those who were in attendance. He said, “We take so much for granted with each other. We don’t realize the treasure we have in each other. It is in visiting, love grows. Mary visited Elizabeth. Love grows when we make sacrifices for each other. Sacrifice makes love grow. Love fades when sacrifices are not made.” ~Fr. David Morrier, TOR
I always looked forward to his homilies; he had a good blend of humor and tough love. For instance, he chastised playfully that if you looked at your watch during his homily, “then may you fail your next exam.” He also challenged us to make daily prayer a priority by saying, “If you don’t pray, don’t eat,” realizing that we’ll do it once we get hungry enough.
When my younger brother, who was about 10 years old at the time, came to visit, we thought we’d have some fun throwing snowballs at Fr. Gus after Mass. After throwing a few, Father came over to us and I introduced him to my brother. While Father greeted him with a smile (although a mischievous one) putting one arm around him, he quickly downloaded a snowball he had hidden up his other sleeve and smashed it in my brother’s face. However, he did follow this up by giving him a hug and a playful, warm smile. But then, without losing a beat, Father told him, “Now, say goodbye to your brother, we’re going up to the monastery to make you a monk,” and he began to escort him up the hill while my brother looked back at me with a slightly panicked expression. To his relief, Fr. Gus released him, upon which he ran back to me and we both laughed.
I remember one occasion of meeting with Fr. Gus for spiritual direction in which he shared that he had been walking back to the monastery when a car stopped in the middle of the road that he was walking on with its bright lights shining on him, somewhat blinding him. Then, all of a sudden, he said all four doors flew open and four religious sisters popped out assaulting him with a barrage of snowballs (most likely retribution for some previous playful prank of his).
Besides the humorous, playful side of Fr. Gus, I also remember his very tender, fatherly heart. He frequently asked me how my father was doing, who suffered regularly with kidney problems. He was always very warm, yet tough with me. He truly lived out the axiom to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” being quick to give a hug or whack me with his cord (such as the time he made a surprise visit to my dorm room only to discover an eyesore of a mess and then decided to whip some discipline into me). Yet, he was also very real and vulnerable about his own suffering – not only his own physical suffering, which he admitted to enduring daily, but even the mental suffering he shared that he experienced every time he would hear an ambulance siren. ~Michael Jarecki, ’90, ’93
Once when walking around the track surrounding the baseball field, I noticed two guys rolling around on the grass wrestling. I thought that it was a couple frat guys going at it. The taller guy then got a hold of the shorter one’s hat and held it above him, taunting him playfully while the shorter one kept jumping to get the hat back. It wasn’t until I got a little closer that I realized it was the very tall Fr. Jim Angert, TOR getting the best out of good ol' Fr. Gus. ~Kristine (Lamy) Jarecki, '93
I attended the university from 1985-1989. Fr. Gus met with me a number of times over those four years to help me, listen to me, and counsel me. I remember him with much fondness and am sad that he is gone, but he is not forgotten. He helped me so much. He had such wisdom. He has been in my thoughts and prayers over the years and will remain so now.
Rest In Peace, Fr. Gus! ~Cheryl Riley, '90
I remember Fr. Gus as a deeply holy and playful man.
Fr. Gus gave wonderful counsel regarding prayer to probably countless dozens of us (I believe it is from St. Teresa of Avila): "Pray 15 minutes every day. Lengthen it if you can, shorten it if you must, but never omit it." It has stuck with me to this day and I have often used it myself when talking with others.
I will never, to my dying day, forget the look on my friend's faces when Fr. Gus would come up behind them and smack them with his habit cord. Priceless! ~Dave Erwin, '88
I first had Father Augustine as one who helped me translate the Divine Office from Latin at what was then the Saint Francis College every day during summer school. He said that I would not get credit for the class. In the fall he was my instructor in theology for one year and then for three more years after I was a novice. The priests' board turned me down for solemn vows, so I went to another seminary as a teacher. The last time I saw Father Augustine was at Cambridge, Ohio where a conference for men of the diocese was held about 10 years ago. He heard my confession, gave spiritual direction and called me Brother Sylvester, my former religious name. ~John P. Romanoski, '51
One of my favorite memories of Fr. Gus is when I was a little girl. I would often come up to visit my Grandpa Dave, who worked on the campus grounds, or to attend noon Mass with my Grandma Mary. Father was always joking around with them, and he always told us kids that it was his birthday whenever we saw him--this happened so often, that I never really knew when his real birthday was!
Also in my younger days, he was initially intimidating to go to for confession because of his holy and profoundly solemn presence, but he was a wonderful and patient confessor, and an outstanding father figure.
I treasure the gift of Fr. Gus and pray for his continual intercession from Heaven for all the Franciscan University community throughout the years and for all of our families!
We will never forget you, Fr. Gus! ~Amy Nelson
I am very sad, but very happy for Fr. Gus. We know where he is going to end up, but I will miss him.
I have three short reminiscences about Fr. Gus.
In general, like everyone, I always loved to happen upon him when I was on campus, before and after graduating. I think everyone did. He always made a point to say hello and talk to you for a minute, and you could tell it was no façade—he really loved us.
Once, in confession, I was having trouble putting various things together, saying what I was trying to say—-I was a bit frazzled-—and he stopped me, saying, “Hold on, you’re all over the beach!” I always remember that, not because it was deep as such (though it did help me learn to be more clear), but because it was funny, helpful, and just Fr. Gus-ish.
Walking across campus, I met him one day and he greeted me and then said, “What is wrong with all these young kids? Look how they shave their hair off, they look like criminals!” I could only agree.
Finally-—Thanks, Fr. Gus-—I’ll be praying for you, and do pray for us. ~Keith Berube, '98
Father Gus was a gentle, holy, loving soul and I loved to listen to his inspiring and powerful homilies. I remember seeing him at the chapel after Mass walking with his cane, and I'd ask, "How are you Fr. Gus?" He would look at me and his eyes would open wide and with a big smile he'd say, "I'm OK!" He would ask how I was doing and then say, "Have a nice day," and give me a little punch on the chin and say, "God bless you." Sometimes I would walk by him and he'd hit me with his cane. I can recall when I first came to the university I heard about his famous homily about the "chill on the hill" and his passionate stands of life on campus. He will be greatly missed. May his soul and the souls of all faithful departed rest in peace. ~Brian Engo
About 10 years ago, when I was working at FUS and while I was a student at FUS, I injured my knee. One day when I was going to Mass, I was walking on my crutches to the chapel. Fr. Gus saw me and raised his umbrella as if he were going to try to knock me over. I said, “Fr. Gus, you can’t do that.” He replied, “Who will see me?” I looked around and saw no one. I said to Father, “God will see you.” Never missing a beat, Fr. Gus, with his usual impish grin and twinkle in his eye, said, “He’s my friend.” We both chuckled and went into the chapel. When it was time to receive communion, Fr. Gus brought the chalice to me at my seat. I said to him, “It’s okay, I can go up.” He shook his head “No.” Fr. Gus was a man of faith, service, and humor. My memory of him will always remain as a wonderful testament of just that – Fr. Gus at his finest. ~Carole Scheerbaum, '97, '02
To me Father Gus was a strong, dominant, quiet presence on campus. He epitomized wisdom and always gave me a sense of stability, sort of like: "Life is okay. God knows what He is about. Trust. Be at peace."
Though it is sad to think of Father Gus as absent from the body, I rejoice that I can now call upon him as an intercessor and I do expect to see things happen. ~Patty Harrison, '91
As I’m sure many others will write, one of my favorite memories of Fr. Gus was when you always had to be watchful after a good snowfall. You never knew when he was going to jump out from hiding and throw a snowball at you. This he found humorous and to watch him laugh was such a joy! How could anyone get mad or upset at him? May his soul rest in the peace of our Lord and Savior! ~Christina L. Theriot, '94
I was blessed to study abroad in Gaming during the fall of 1995. Fr. Gus, Fr. Tony Mastroni, and Fr. Jim were on campus during that time. Fr. Gus always caused a stir whenever he was present with the students. After a week of inappropriate behavior by the students in the Gaming campus, we were all called together by the dean, Gene Wallace. After hearing about the events of the week followed by a discussion of consequences, Fr. Gus politely asked his fellow priests and all staff to leave the room. Only Fr. Gus could do that, really! Fr. Gus started off telling us how much he truly loved each and every one of us, and then he proceeded to get down to the facts (need I say more). Another story in Gaming that got all the students in a tizzy was when Fr. Gus told us during lunch in the Mensa that French kissing was a sin.
And finally, this is my personal favorite ... Fr. Gus and his love of chocolate! Some friends and I were walking from the staff residences in Gaming back to the Kartause and saw Fr. Gus walking off in the distance a bit. We loudly waved and called out to him. We thought he saw us but he continued to look down and walk. Then suddenly, he looked up at us and gave us one of his BEAMING smiles... it was then that we noticed his teeth were covered in Milka chocolate!
Fr. Gus was influential and showed me love in the dimension of the cross! ~Christy (Williamson) Hilz, '97
I have so many memories of Fr. Gus. A couple come to mind:
I was attending Mass with my household (Prince of Peace), and Fr. Gus was speaking during his homily on the culture of instant gratification. Then, in his perfect deadpan he says, "If you want to feel good, tickle yourself!"
Also, John Wallace and I would attempt to ambush him when he would walk down from the friary toward the church. When we'd see him coming, we would come at him from both sides. Fr. Gus would then attempt (usually successfully) to beat us off with the rope of his habit. Man, those knots hurt! If he ever caught me alone, we would say, "All alone, Danny? Where's Wally, Danny, where's Wally?"
He was a giant in our world. He will forever be remembered, as will so many of the spiritual fathers that graced that campus and our lives.
Well done, good and faithful servant! ~Dan Drennen, '92
Father Gus was definitely unforgettable. Whenever we crossed paths on campus, he would immediately block my path, scowl and "put up his dukes." I was rendered helpless most of the time, struck by the incongruity of a Franciscan wanting to fight! It was all in good fun, but he was such a good actor that I was never completely sure. He undoubtedly sensed that I was struggling within, and wanted to find a way to reach me. At one of our "chance meetings" he asked me to write him, and tell him about myself and what I was going through. I regretfully never did write that letter. Perhaps now I can ask for his intercession. Father Gus will be missed dearly. May he enjoy eternal rest. ~David Alcott, '01
He did the thing I needed most. He was patient, but firm, he was kind and understanding, but wasn't willing to let me stay the way I was. As my first real spiritual director, he told me the truth and always held me to a higher standard. I could have avoided so many problems if I had listened more than I did. When I did listen he was always right. ~David Darois, '95
I would like to share one experience that Benjamin Moll and I had with Fr. Gus. At the beginning of each year the friars bless the halls. At the time, Marian Hall was still a guys' dorm. I was an RA. Aron Little, our RD, gave pet fish to all his RAs. When Fr. Gus came to my room to bless it, Ben and I were there. We asked Fr. Gus to bless my fish and he said, "I never blessed a fish before. God bless you, fish." That experience was simple, touching and a little humorous for Ben and me. It put a smile on our faces. ~David Maciborski, '02
As a cradle Catholic, there have been many homilies from both Sunday and weekday Masses that I can remember. The most memorable, however, came from Fr. Gus. This comes as no surprise to those who knew him. After reading the Gospel, he paused to wait for silence after we had all sat down. Looking down, Fr. Gus said, “Negative humor comes from the pits of hell. Leave it there.” He turned and returned to his seat. Fr. Gus was never one to mince words. He was always straightforward and to the point. That homily is one I will remember forever. ~David Pipp, '97
The most memorable homily I ever heard was given by Fr. Gus. During that Mass, he shuffled to the pulpit, glared out into the congregation in his own inimitable way, and then growled, "Negative humor is from the pits of hell. Keep it there!" Then he shuffled back to the altar and Mass continued. Short and to the point, and no one who was there ever forgot it. ~Domenico Bettinelli, Jr., '94
While walking between Egan Hall and Marian Hall (when it was a men's dorm and Fr. Gus was its spiritual advisor), I would often encounter Father making his slow meander up the hill in front of Francis Hall. One particular time I was passing him and he went out of his way to bump me into the grass. (For as old as he was, that man was strong). I said jokingly, "You better watch yourself, Padre!" Then I felt this tremendous snap to the back of my calves. I turned around and the little Friar had his chin up, eyes big, holding his umbrella like a thug, and he says, "What was that, Punk?"
He was also an incredible confessor. Partly because of his compassion and love for all of us, but also in the way that if you didn't offer all your sins he would offer them to you. He was incredibly gifted and I am so happy for his passing. It's funny to say that, but I mean it in the way you're happy when your friend the ball player grows up to play professionally and one day wins the Series. Thank you, Fr. Gus. Pray for us. ~Dominic Polito, '03
Father Gus, with a hurt look -- "Aren't you going to wish me a Happy Birthday?"
And again, three weeks later, then a month later, then whatever day of the year, -- "Aren't you going to wish me a Happy Birthday?" Always, with that seemingly hurt look.
Solution? Whenever I approached Father Gus, I would wish him a Happy Birthday.
Leprechauns, ordained or lay, enjoy their mischief. My wife and I learned to delight in every encounter with Father Gus. Surely Heaven will delight in him too. ~Doug Lowry, Department of Business (retired)
For years Fr. Gus was the faithful celebrant of the early morning Saturday Mass before the weekly prayer vigil at the Pittsburgh abortion clinics. He loved offering Mass, delivering a vigorous homily and praying over each sidewalk counselor. His prayers and sacrifices were undoubtedly an enormous contribution to the fruitful efforts of Students for Life.
In April 2005, FUS students hosted a baby shower at Heavenly Grounds for a woman who had chosen life for her second child after originally heading to the abortion clinic. The most touching moment was when Fr. Gus was able to pray over the mother, amidst stacks of baby gifts and dozens of students. It struck me at the time that Fr. Gus, although so dedicated to the pro-life cause, was unable to witness the fruits of his labors. Here, one of the beautiful fruits came to him, and he was able to pray in person with one of his spiritual daughters. ~Emily Bissonnette, '06
Erla Knowlten used to keep a large donation jar on the switchboard counter to help a needy student. On this particular day her jar was stuffed full of money. About five students were mobbing the counter talking to Erla when sly old Fr. Gus came meandering up to the counter, short and unseen in the crowd. As the students talked, he began to stuff his hood, sleeves, and waist with money from the jar, unnoticed by the whole crowd. He then turned and walked away packed with money, letting it fall freely on the floor as he made his break. I shouted to Erla that I thought she should watch her money a little better. The whole bunch saw the empty jar. Erla jumped up alarmed, and saw Fr. Gus rounding the corner. "Come back here, you hooligan!" she hollered. Fr. Gus feigned anger and disgust and, keeping a straight face the whole time, refilled the jar. The students laughed with great gusto. ~Jeff Harris, Assistant Director of Business Services
Fr. Gus kept me smiling and humble, whenever he spoke.
The first time I ever met him face to face without any prior conversation, I told him I went to Medjugorje. He asked me where I stayed, and I told him that we stayed in a little private home without any further description. He asked me if my bedroom in that house had a certain painting in it--he had stayed in that same room/same house!
Fr. Gus just always knew, before you had a chance to tell him!
Wow! Can you imagine being Fr. Gus?
May he be ever enrobed in God's heavenly light, love and joy! ~Mary Jennett, '91
Father Gus gave a homily once that I can still remember verbatim. He walked up to the lectionary, stood up on his tiptoes, leaned into the microphone and sternly gave his homily. "Negative humor is from hell. Leave it there." After those two sentences, he then returned to his seat, giving time for his words to sink in. The fact that I can remember it 13 years later demonstrates the power of his teaching and the sincerity of his kindness. ~Katherine (Karas) Hopper, '97
We will certainly miss Father Gus, but we know that he is rejoicing with the angels and saints, and probably playing some practical jokes too.
I was a student in the graduate theology program from 1987-1989, when Father Gus served as our spiritual director. In the spring of that first year, we had a retreat at the Glenmary Sisters, near Pittsburgh. Although it was early April, there was a snowstorm with enough accumulation for a snowball fight. When Father Gus was getting the best of one of the boys, the young man jumped into the back seat of my car, thinking he might escape. Father Gus just kept coming at him and I sat in the driver's seat laughing, as the back seat of my car filled with snow.
I have many other memories of his wonderful sermons and teaching, but this particular memory always brings a smile to my face. ~Judith (Pocivanik) Koveleskie, '89
I was a student at FUS from '94-'97. One day I went to confession with Father Gus. I had been planning on going out that night to a party. Later on that same day, Father Gus saw me on campus, came up to me and said sternly, "Promise me that you will stay home tonight." I reluctantly but immediately said, "OK, I promise." I really wanted to go to that party, but knew that I wouldn't, because Father Gus wouldn't let me. I'm sure that he prevented me from committing some kind of sin that day. ~Katrina Kimeda, '97
No matter how hard I tried I could never get one up on Father Gus! One day I ran into him in the hall in Gaming and he asked me if I was looking for my brother. I said no, that he was in class. He got a mischievous twinkle in his eye and said, "Nope, he's out drinkin'!" In mock horror, I asked, "Why didn't you stop him?" He shook his head sadly. "Mark is beyond hope." "Father," I chided, "ALL things are possible with God!" I thought I had him there. But he looked at me with the sad air of a man breaking some bad news and said, "Kim, your brother isn't God!" ~Kim Frei, '01
It was February 1993 and my grandfather had been ill with prostate cancer since the May before. Right around the New Year, he took a turn for the worse and by late January had slipped into a coma. I was at school and the word from home was over and over: he'll probably die tomorrow. My grandfather and I were very close and I wanted to be there for him, but what if I flew home and he didn't die? I couldn't stay home forever; I had classes. I was torn inside, anguishing over when to go home, because I knew that going home twice would be close to impossible. For several weeks I had been praying about this, spending many an hour at the Port seeking God's will, seeking some guidance - a clear answer. It was after one of those visits to the Port that the answer came. After praying I headed back to my dorm, Marian. I was quite depressed, so desperately wanting to see my grandfather alive one more time and be there to bury him but beginning to feel like this would be impossible. Fr. Gus at this time had an office in Marian Hall. (I had not shared my situation with many and I am sure I had not shared it with Fr. Gus.) As I entered the dorm, Fr. Gus was standing in the hallway twirling his cord as he so often did. I started to walk by him and he blocked my path. "Go home, Bernie," he said and then went back into his office, without another word. "Go home, Bernie." Those words rang in my head as I made my way to my dorm room.
Once at my room I still heard his words, "Go home, Bernie." I picked up the phone and booked a flight for the next morning. I went home, saw my grandfather one last time and was able to be there when he died. Losing my grandfather was one of the hardest things I've ever experienced. I can't imagine if I had not had that opportunity to see him one last time before he died. And I owe it all to "Go home, Bernie." I am so happy that Fr. Gus heard what I could not hear. And I am happy that he is now with our Lord, responding to the call "Come home, good and faithful servant." Thank you, Fr. Gus. ~Bernard Hassan, '94
I first met Father Gus my freshman year at Franciscan as I was walking into the cafeteria. There beside the caf doors was a friar who was looking down at the concrete floor pitifully, as if he had just seen his favorite dog get run over.
“What’s wrong, Father?” I questioned.
He quickly responded that it was his birthday and no one had remembered. As he was finishing his story, another student walking out of the cafeteria stopped beside us. I was running over in my head what I could do to make this friar’s birthday, when, overhearing our conversation, the girl interrupted.
“Father, you’re awful!” I looked at her, surprised, as she explained, “Fr. Gus did this to me when I was a freshman and I made him a cake and took it to the friary only to find out, by another friar, that I was the fourth person that day to do so, which the friars thought unusual because Fr. Gus’ birthday was four months before. ”
Fr. Gus smiled looking at me and said, “I'm Father Gus. You can't believe a word I say. Was worth a try." And then he said to the other student, "Those cakes were delicious by the way!” ~Maggie Mosher, '05
I couldn't pass up this opportunity to share my love for Fr. Gus. He was always so gentle with the ladies and rough with the guys. It was all done in a playful manner but I won't forget how he would whip the guys with his white-corded rope when they'd get to teasing him. He was often so smiley and it would just brighten my day.
One thing I will never forget is a homily he gave. I have shared the message with many others since then. The gist of his message was that women should be modest and not be an occasion of sin to men. So many times I have thought back to his message and recalled how absolutely true and right his words are. Women should be helpers to men and not be a cause of sin to them. This is a message the whole world needs to be reminded of.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let Thy perpetual light shine upon him. May he eternally rest in Thy peace. ~Richard ('95) & Margaret (Mazurek '93) George & family
Fr. Augustine would come up to you with a very sad, puppy-dog looking face and when you asked him how he was, he would respond: Not so good, Margaret, not so good." When asked what was wrong, he would say: "Well, it is my birthday, and no one remembered."
Of course, it would NOT be his birthday, but if you didn't know him well enough, you immediately got caught up in this "injustice" and in many cases, folks would buy him cupcakes, or make a cake, or buy a gift, or surprise him at the friary, ANYTHING to turn his sadness into joy. ~Margaret J. Weber, '62, Director of Admissions
Father Augustine was a wonderful confessor, and introduced me to the Divine Mercy devotion when he gave me the chaplet for a penance. When I told him I had never heard of it, his eyes grew big, and he said, "Oh, Mary, it's a bee-YOU-dee-ful prayer! Go to the bookstore and get it." I did, and have been praying it ever since.
Father Gus often was our retreat master when the theology grad students made their off-campus weekend retreat each semester. He once confided that, although the friars had an excellent cook at the monastery, he greatly enjoyed the meals on retreat because "We get a CHOICE." It was on one of these retreats that his 'choice' resulted in a chicken bone getting stuck in his throat that necessitated a trip to the local emergency room. Everything turned out fine, but no one on that retreat ever forgot it. ~Mary (Bazzett) Nadeau, '92
I think one of my favorite memories of Fr. Gus was my first confession at Steubenville. I was having problems with scrupulosity, and when I explained that to him, his first question was "Did you murder your mother?" "No," I replied. His next question was similar: "Did you murder your uncle?" Again, my answer was no. He then told me: "Then you're not in mortal sin." He went to tell me how mortal sin is very, very serious, and it was a very helpful confession - and those two questions have always stuck with me! ~MaryBeth O'Connor, '04
Please know of my family's prayers for the whole university community as we mourn the passing of Fr. Gus. He was a very special friar and priest, and I am glad that the Lord blessed me with the opportunity to know him when I was a Franciscan student from 1998-2001.
What I remember about Fr. Gus was how kind and frank he could be when you would have the opportunity to go to him for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He was always consoling and gave wonderful spiritual advice, which you knew was straight from the heart.
I also remember that whenever I would see him on campus, he was always ready to be there with a cheerful greeting and a smile. His wit and sense of humor was infectious, which made his homilies very edifying for the students and for all who had the opportunity to hear him preach. He was like a grandfather to almost everyone on campus, and he will be missed. ~Melissa (Rouse) Hagen, '01
When I saw the news that Fr. Gus had passed from this life, I felt very much the way I did in 2000 when Cardinal O'Connor died, and even in 2005 when the Holy Father died: a saint has just left our midst, and the Church--at least on earth--has suffered a great loss.
I remember Fr. Gus very clearly from my days at Franciscan. I remember especially his homilies, and his reputation as a confessor. He epitomized the traditional ideal of "a lion in the pulpit, and a lamb in the confessional." He was always available to dispense God's mercy, he preached the truth of the Gospel without compromise, and we loved him for it. If I can be a priest like Fr. Gus, I'll be very happy. ~Fr. Michael J. Houser, '03
The following are remembrances of how Father Augustine, TOR, made life sweeter and much more spiritual and holy. I wish I could express in words what his friendship and spiritual direction meant to me. I think everyone understands.
I shall always remember how when Father Augustine was chaplain at the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George Provincial House and Novitiate, I was a novice, and more often than not, when no one else was around, he would mischievously call out my baptismal name, Marie, with a grand twinkle in his eyes.
The first time I ever met Father Augustine was after Holy Mass at Franciscan University of Steubenville in the fall of 1994. He was standing with Father Giles, OP. Oh how wonderful he is, too! I came up and said something like, "So, you are Father Gus?" He became sooo serious and said, "I am Father Augustine!" My poor little freshman eyes and ears had no idea he was laughing hysterically on the inside! How I shall miss his laugh but it seems to remain in my memory, somehow.
One of the things I clearly hear Father Augustine telling me in spiritual direction was, "Never tell anyone you will miss them." I have only slipped a few times in the last 15 years.
"May the Heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored and loved, with grateful affection, at every moment, in every tabernacle in the world, even until the end of time. Amen"
I have always associated this prayer with Father Augustine. He prayed it after the end of every Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. ~Marie A. Mowery, '97
Father Gus always had a smile on his face. You could feel the Holy Spirit just by being in his presence. Every time I saw him, he brought a smile to my face. I loved how he used to hit students with his cord. He had a great sense of humor and was a joy to be around. ~Nadina (Cognata) Furness, '02
It was never an uncommon thing at Franciscan University to hear someone call Father Gus their 'favorite.' It was during my freshman year that I was first introduced to the legendary Father Gus, whereupon he wasted no time in becoming mine too.
His love for his priesthood and for his University family were more than evident, and of course his qualities and accomplishments could easily fill several pages. But Father Gus' humor is what I loved best.
One day, on the way to the caf for dinner, two friends and I were joined by the legend himself, on his way from the chapel to the friary. The four of us--three guys and Father Gus--had barely walked twenty feet when three girls heading in the opposite direction caught sight of Father Gus, ran over to him, and practically suffocated him with affection.
"How are you?" one of them sighed. "Well," Father whispered, poverty and humility oozing from his voice, "Today's my birthday..." To which all three girls reacted by aaaawwwwing in unison and covering him with more hugs and kisses than I think I have ever seen bestowed on any one man.
At long last, the sappy affair ended with well wishes from each of the three admirers as they waved their goodbyes and continued on down the hill. The four of us silently resumed our journey, my companions and I feeling quite stunned--not to mention invisible--until one of my friends finally looked at Father Gus and said with a puzzled look on his face, "It's not your birthday..." At this, Father turned and grinned from ear to ear, "That's how it's done, boys." ~Phil Rosensteel
My memory of Fr. Gus is my one-time personal encounter with him during a life-changing confession I had. When I was beginning my senior year at Franciscan University, I attended the all-campus reconciliation service, and when my turn came I sat down across from Fr. Gus and started crying. He immediately reached out and put his hand on my head, saying, "What's wrong, my daughter?" He continued to console me throughout my confession and gave me advice that to this day I still consider a turning point in my life, most especially in my spiritual life. ~Rita Demboski
I have one very clear memory of Fr. Donegan. Seems like it happened yesterday. I was a freshman and Marine Lance Corporal. I believe I was in pretty good shape at the time. I often saw Fr. Gus on my morning runs. One day I remember running past Father Gus without fear on the track around the baseball field. As I made my smooth move to dash by him, I suddenly felt the air under my feet as I was being absorbed by the chain link fence, only then to bounce back out on my feet. I would never underestimate the secret power of Fr. Gus again. Yes, somehow Fr. Gus knew about pressure points and hapkido hand holds. You never really knew when Father was going to strike, so I was always in a state of ready alert. I am sad to hear about his passing. When I think of FUS I will always think of him. ~Robert E. Campbell, '90
The news of Fr. Gus' passing has moved me very deeply, as I am sure it has moved many Steubenville grads. I hope this reflection serves as testament to the holiness of this wonderful priest.
Fr. Gus was my spiritual director for a year. Once, I was complaining about a difficulty I was experiencing, and I asked Father how I was going to deal with it. Fr. Gus walked over to me, looked me straight in the eye, and pointing to a crucifix, he said to me, "Young man, you don't deal with it, you accept it!" These words are etched in my soul until this very day. When I am in the midst of trials, I will often remember these words, which give me solace and remind me how I am called to take up my cross and follow Jesus. I hope one day I will meet Fr. Gus in the Church Triumphant so I can thank him for the many ways in which he has strengthened my faith! ~Robert Miller, '93, '97
Fr. Gus genuinely loved God, people, and life. He advised Ahim Adonai household, beginning around 1983, so we were warmly blessed by his wisdom and playfulness. When he helped me discern my vocation, he said: "The first question is 'How is God going to save you—as a single person, dedicated to His service, or as a married person, in the context of a committed relationship with another person?' Answer that first, and then pursue your specific calling." So simple and so right. His pastoral guidance was like that: prayerful, practical, insightful, and humane.
He delighted in exploiting the prerogatives of age to release his impish sense of humor. I'll remember him hiding behind trees, pelting passing students with snowballs, or flagellating unsuspecting students with his cord, and then adopting a pose of exaggerated innocence as if we shouldn't believe our own eyes, as if someone as old as he couldn't possibly have done what he just did. He loved practical jokes. Once, a young Franciscan kept forgetting to water the plants in the brothers' house. Fr. Gus would wait until the pots were nearly dry, water them all to saturation, and then helpfully remind the young friar of his chore. ~Mark Schultz, '87
He will be greatly missed and was such a blessing to us all.
I was a student at Franciscan University from 1988-1992. Fr. Gus was a jolly yet convicting presence on campus. We even had T-shirts featuring this favorite friar of ours and he was frequently featured in The Troubadour, the student paper, in the cartoons.
One of my favorite memories comes from one of Fr. Gus's homilies. Something he said was so amusing and yet so powerful that it has stayed with me all of these years. Leaning up on the podium (he was a bit short in stature), his voice boomed from the pulpit, filling Christ the King Chapel brimming with students.
"If you go to sleep, but do not pray, may you have insomnia! If you go to the cafeteria and eat, but do not pray, may you get sick!" This message always gave me a chuckle in its remembrance, yet it shows Father's deep commitment to prayer and his burning desire to instill this in us.
I also remember when I was discerning to be a sister with The Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, present on campus in the dorms at the time. I went to confession to Fr. Gus. After confession, he asked me if I had talked to Mother and told her my decision, and like any good perpetual discerner at Steubenville I told him, "I'm still discerning." He looked me firmly in the eye and said, "You need to tell them a decision. Either 'I am entering.' or 'I am not entering' or 'I am taking three months to discern and I will let you know at the end what I decide.'" Soon after, I joined our community, thanks to Fr. Gus's fire under me! Father had been to our Sisters' provincial house and given days of recollection. It was always great to hear his words of wisdom blended with humor again. ~Sr. M. Immaculata FSGM (Stacey Ann Biskner), '92
I went to Austria in fall ‘93. I found him so gentle and loving. He became one of my best friends there. I could tell he missed his brothers back in the states, but he pushed through and found solace in the Eucharist and the students.
One day just before coming back from Austria, my household brothers and I went to Fr. Gus and asked him what we thought was an important question. We were returning to the states and were underage. We had learned the value of alcohol in life as part of the culture. We didn’t abuse it. We asked Father, “What will we do when we get back, Father? We have one more year before we are legal in the states.” He turned and answered, “Boys, it’s important to obey God’s law above Man’s.” Honestly, we weren’t entirely sure what he meant but took those words with us back to the states. We waited our year, then toasted on the porch of a house when we were all legal.
May the Lord go with you, Father Gus. You were a mentor, a friend and a true spiritual leader. ~Thomas Deliduka, ‘95
I have a few memories of Fr. Gus that stand out, which I would like to share. I remember Fr. Gus fondly for his smile and mischievous faces. He was the director of Koinonia Household when I joined during my sophomore year (1994-95). I remember him advising us on celibacy: "Gentlemen, you are not refrigerators." He also helped us to understand that, theologically, a priest weds the Church, the Kingdom of God. In practical terms, it is the person of Christ whom one loves intimately as a priest. Shortly after the devastation of not being accepted into the seminary by my archdiocese (St. Louis) after graduation in 1997, I drove to visit Fr. Gus, who, at that time, was stationed just across the river in Illinois as a chaplain for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George. He was very kind and understanding of my pain.
I still carry one memory of him that I find very perplexing to this day. Once, while a sophomore, I went to him for spiritual direction and confession. He actually refused to grant me absolution after hearing my confession! He is the only priest in my entire life who has ever refused to grant me absolution and I really regretted my sins! I don't carry any grudges, though. I loved him! I prefer to remember him most for his smile, his mischief toward other students, and his kindness to me during that visit after graduation. ~Trevor Huster, '97
I was very sad to see that Fr. Gus had passed away. I have a lot of happy memories of him.
I used to work out in the gym at the same time as Fr. Gus did when he fell and broke his hip. I would usually be pushing myself and sweating up a storm when Fr. Gus would enter the room in his workout outfit, accompanied by Chris Ledyard. He would come in, wave to the people in the room, and then step very slowly onto the treadmill. He did a very slow walk, continuing to smile, wave and chat with people in the room, and they would try to respond despite being out of breath. He really cheered me up, and I'm sure that everyone else loved to see him too. ~Holly Harden
During a hot summer day my first year of working at Franciscan University, Father Gus came to the St. Joseph Center and I was introduced to him. After some pleasantries he surprised me by shaking my hand and then taking that arm and twisting it behind my back and putting me in a very tight headlock. I was surprised at the strength of a man his age. I thought that was the end of my initiation into his humorous ways, but then he ushered me into my office and quickly closed the door and walked out. He held on to the door handle and in effect held me prisoner in my own office, and then quietly left.
I took it all in good sport, enjoying the many dimensions of these TOR friars I was getting to know. But what really surprised me was what happened a few days later. It was a stifling hot and humid day, the hottest day of the year, and Fr. Gus walked all the way from the friary to my office and in the most sincere, humble manner, begged my forgiveness for his shenanigans. I'm certain it was the first time a priest ever confessed to me. I was humbled by his unneeded gesture.
During his last year at Franciscan, Fr. Gus helped hear confessions at my parish during Lent. By this time Father Gus was 86 or 87, the same age as my father, who I brought with me. At this point in his life my dad was suffering from dementia and I held my breath wondering how his confession would go. Off he went to a chair at the front of church to go to confession to Fr. Gus. Thankfully they had recorded Gregorian chant music playing, because both of them were hard of hearing and they were talking loudly. Afterwards, as we left the church my dad was in a great mood. I thought it was from the sacrament he received, but no, he said, "That was great. I made a new friend today." It was such a precious, child-like comment. As my dad's dementia worsened it became too difficult to bring him to confession. He died earlier this year and it was comforting to know that Fr. Gus heard his last confession. ~Tom Sofio, Public Relations Department
We've had Fr. Gus a number of times over at our home for meals and we've never known him to turn down a good meal, especially dessert. When we visited him at the home for retired priests in Pittsburgh (during the short stay there because of his fall), he gave our then 3-year-old son John Paul a little stuffed brown dog. John Paul named the dog "Fr Gus Doggy" and still has it with him in bed. We've been praying for Fr. Gus and now ask for his prayers. ~Dr. Eugene Gan, Communication Arts professor
Class of 1994
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