This article first appeared in the Spiritu newsletter of the California Augustinian Province
Prior to joining the Augustinians as a pre-novice, Br. Robert Baiocco was a world traveler. He had lived, worked and studied across the U.S. and in such far-flung locales as Europe, Jamaica, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, Morocco, the Philippines and India.
But his journey of Augustinian spiritual formation in the last five years has been as exciting, and even more life-changing and fulfilling, he says.
“I can describe my experiences during my Novitiate year as privileged, destructive and reconstructive,” he reflects. “I feel as though God broke me into pieces, in order to put me back together in a way that would enable me to become the Christian man that I was created to be; the type of man who could help continue the mission of Jesus and the Church. God used numerous and diverse people to perform this process in my life.”
Mutual support in community
For Br. Robert, known as Bobby to his brother friars, the Augustinian emphasis on living in community has been pivotal in his spiritual growth. He recalls that before entering religious life and Augustinian formation, his interior life had stagnated to a degree. “But now living in community with my brothers, our prayer life, celebration of the Eucharist and communal experiences have helped me return to a place where the events of my life and God’s creation are once again special and surprising,” he reflects. “Augustinian interiority has introduced me to parts of myself that I never knew existed.”
After his Novitiate year, Br. Robert enrolled as an undergraduate at DePaul University, where he was able to create a personalized curriculum in missionary studies, philosophy and pre-theology. His missionary studies courses included nutrition with an emphasis on health issues in underdeveloped countries; spirituality and homelessness; and development and management of nonprofit organizations.
For his Advanced Research Project, motivated by his devotion to the cause of caring for abandoned and disabled children, he created an adoption program that is intended to work in coordination with the new, emerging style of orphanage such as SOS Children’s Villages. He calls it “The New Branch: Helping Families to Flourish and Children to Find a Home”.
He graduated from DePaul with honors earning a Liberal Arts/Missionary Studies Bachelor’s degree, and was recipient of the Student Excellence Award.
A burgeoning option for the poor
As a layman several years ago, Br. Robert was a manager in the hospitality industry working in hotels across the globe. “I was drawn to this field because I enjoy taking care of others, but I came to realize I was taking care of people who didn’t necessarily need me to do so,” he recalls.
The draw continued as his world travels introduced him to people who really did need his help. As a lay missionary, he began to realize he had a passion and gift for serving the poor that seemed to transcend all else in his life. For two years, he had the amazing opportunity to work with Mother Teresa’s congregation, the Missionaries of Charity.
“When I live, work, eat, sleep, play, laugh and cry with the poor, they know that I am not poor,” he says. “But they also know that I am truly there — with them. And that knowledge helps alleviate the painful part of their poverty that has left them feeling disconnected from humanity. As an Augustinian, this gift helps me enter into solidarity with our less fortunate brothers and sisters. It helps me make the sacrifices necessary to maintain harmony in my community and it helps me to more fully distinguish between my needs and my wants.”
Putting his education and passion into practice
For his pastoral year, a standard part of the curriculum for all seminarians, Br. Robert chose to serve with the Augustinians in Peru. Prior to his departure this September, he spent two months during the summer studying at a Spanish immersion school. When he arrived in Peru, be began a three-month TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) online certification course among other ministerial activities. Then he will teach English classes at the Augustinian school in Trujillo and other locations throughout the Augustinian Peruvian missions.
Before he departed for his pastoral year, he was joyful and enthusiastic about going to Peru. “After spending the past five years in formation in the U.S., I am especially excited to have the opportunity to return to a third world country. I first recognized my call to serve God, the Church, and our brothers and sisters in a similar environment. I get nourishment and comfort living and serving in undeveloped or underdeveloped areas.”
What the future holds
Br. Robert, now a simply professed Augustinian brother for the past three years, has completed his first year of theology at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He is on the educational and formation track to be ordained to the priesthood. However, he and his spiritual and formation directors have identified the benefit of keeping open the brotherhood as a viable option.
“For the remainder of my life,” he says, “whether I become a priest or remain a brother, I think and hope that my future ministerial assignments will be aligned with serving our brothers and sisters living on the margins of U.S. or foreign societies.”