"How I found the Augustinians" by Br. David Relstab, O.S.A.
Updated: Mar 13
My first direct interaction with the Augustinians came when I was a 7th grader at St. Patricia School in Hickory Hills, IL, and I saw this priest wearing a black habit who came for a parish mission. That was Fr. Tom McCarthy, O.S.A., who is now our Vocations Director. During the last day of the mission my brother and I were assigned to be his altar servers for the closing Mass.
Move forward eight years, and I am studying Automotive Engineering Technology at Ferris State University, Big Rapids, MI and attending the weekly events and retreats at the campus Newman Center. A calling to serve the Church entered into my prayer and thus began my restless search for God. Initially I began talking with the local priest, who then put me in contact with the Archdiocese of Chicago’s vocation director. After a few preliminary phone calls and meetings, I decided to attend the “Come and See weekend” held at Mundelein Seminary. As I recall it was a nice time, there were talks and opportunities to meet the different seminarians, but I left that weekend with the desire for something more.
Community life was that thing which I was attracted to, and, as I discerned from my interactions with different diocesan priests, community would not be part of that type of vocation. Sharing life with others in prayer and at meals is a part of life that I hold very closely, and I knew that diocesan priesthood would not sustain me in this way.
Just like Augustine, I turned to my mother to seek some clarity in this confusing world. She knew that community was important to me and suggested I look at some of the different religious orders in the area. As a young person who was trying to find a religious community, I found it surprisingly difficult to find one that held the hope of a sustainable future—where I would not have to be the one to “turn off the lights.” However, that very year the Augustinians professed 11 men, and that caught my attention for further inquiry. I began watching the different YouTube videos and viewed the website of the Midwest Augustinians, learning more about who they are and how they live out their religious life.
I soon made the decision to contact the vocation director, Fr. Tom McCarthy. I started out the email with, “I don’t know if you remember me, but I was your altar server many years ago when you came to my parish…and I am interested in learning about the Augustinians”. We ended up meeting one afternoon at St. Rita High School over some hot dogs, and that began my process with the Augustinians. What impressed me at first was their simplicity and frankness with people. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, they are going to treat you with the greatest level of love and respect. Their diversity of ministerial apostolates and their being an Order that is international also demonstrates the universal nature of the Church as a whole.
I was surprised to discover how the Augustinians have actually been a part of my family’s life for generations. My mother, who had grown up in Northern California was educated by the Augustinians at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, CA. She has very fond memories of the friars from her high school years and continues to keep in contact with some of the priests who taught her. Two of my uncles graduated from St. Rita High School, and one went on to teach there for a few years. Outside of education, in the 1980s I had some family members who belonged to St. Joseph’s Parish in Pekin, IL and still reminisce of having Fr. John Merkelis, O.S.A. back when he was the “Pekin-Deacon.” Even though I had not been personally a part of an Augustinian school or Parish the spirit of the Augustinians was imprinted in my family and upbringing.
Currently I am residing at St. Augustine Friary in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, where I am studying Theology at the Catholic Theological Union and will also begin a program in STEM Education at Illinois State University this summer. After completing my first two years of the Pre-Novitiate Program and Novitiate year in the Villanova Province, I took my first vows within the Order at the St. Rita Shrine Chapel on August 2, 2020. So far, I have not only been graced by living and growing with the Augustinians but have also been challenged as I come to know what it means to live as a follower of Christ. As I continue to journey in this path of life with the Augustinians, I am excited to see where the Lord will lead me and the Province in the years to come.
Learn more about what it means to be an Augustinian by checking out our other blog posts here