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Home WHO WE ARE Assumptionists Profiles Fr. ROBERT FORTIN, A.A. (1933-2015)

Fr. ROBERT FORTIN, A.A. (1933-2015)


Interviewer - Would you share with us a bit of your family's background and your early education?

Fr. Robert - I was born the eldest of four boys in Worcester, Massachusetts. I attended St. Joseph's parochial grammar school, Assumption High School and Assumption College. Years later, I earned an MA degree in English literature from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

- Where did your formation in the Congregation and theological studies take place?

- I did my novitiate in Quebec City and made my first profession there in September 1953. From 1955 to 1959, I studied at the Assumptionist Theological Seminary, Layrac, France, making my final profession in 1956. I was ordained a priest at the seminary in October 1958 and said my second Mass at the Grotto in Lourdes.  I returned to the U.S. in 1959 where I studied pastoral theology in Worcester for one year.

- Where have your ministerial assignments taken you over the years?

- I’ve had very interesting, varied and challenging assignments.  My first was in 1960 to Our Lady of Lourdes Minor Seminary in Cassadaga, NY where, for 3 years, I taught English at both the high school and college levels. From there I went to Assumption Preparatory School in Worcester where I also taught English.

From 1966 to 1976, I was assigned to our Assumptionist Provincial House in New York City where I was the local superior and the provincial treasurer of the North American Province.  I also translated official documents of the Congregation. From a pastoral point-of-view, I served for a while as chaplain to the immigrant Haitian community.

From 1977 to 1982, I found myself in Worcester as superior of the community at 50 Old English Road and as a trustee of Assumption College.  As chairman of the Board’s Bylaws and Nominating Committee, I played a key role in revising the College’s Bylaws.

Then, from 1983 to 1986, after a year’s sabbatical in Jerusalem, I was off to Moscow as chaplain at the US Embassy where for 3 years, I served not only the American but also the international community.

In 1986 I went to Paris to work at Bayard Press, the Assumptionist-sponsored publishing company, where I was project manager of Catholic International, an English-language equivalent of La documentation catholique. The project was eventually dropped for want of enough subscribers. After almost 3 years, I went to the provincial house in Milton/Brighton, MA for one year, during which time I did translations for the Assumptionists. 

I was then asked by the Superior General to go to Saint Peter in Gallicantu in East Jerusalem, a Holy Land shrine on Mount Zion which commemorates the denial and repentance of St. Peter.  I was the superior of the religious community and rector of the shrine.

The site was in very bad shape.  With the help of a very competent Palestinian architect, I renovated the entire plant, including the residence, church, shop, and annex.  I also built 3 new buildings: a lodge for young pilgrims, a convent for the sisters, with an observatory overlooking the Kidron Valley, and a cafeteria.  I obviously had to raise the money needed to pay for these very expensive projects.  From 1998 to 2000, while still at St. Peter’s, I was Secretary General of the Great Jubilee for the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land.  After 10 years, I returned to Brighton for a short stay.

At the request of the Holy See, I headed back to Jerusalem in 2001 as vice-rector of the Ratisbonne Pontifical Institute.  Along with the rector, I was asked to help find a solution to the institute’s long-standing financial and related problems, and was in charge of the administration, the plant, and finances.  After 3 years, the plant was turned over to the Salesian Fathers, at which time I moved to the Latin Patriarchate in the Old City.

At the Patriarchate, I translated from French to English a number of documents for the Patriarch and the chancery.  I accompanied him on several of his pastoral visits.  I also drafted several official reports, particularly one concerning visas which the Church was having difficulty obtaining from the Israeli government for the priests and religious of the diocese.

While living and working at the Patriarchate, I concurrently worked for the Apostolic Delegate, compiling and editing the Directory of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land (289 pages), and serving as secretary for 2 bilateral commissions between the Holy See and the State of Israel which were negotiating an Economic Treaty. In 2005, for health reasons, I returned to 50 Old English Road.

- What have been some of your most fulfilling and rewarding experiences in serving the Church?

- Over the years, I had several fulfilling and rewarding assignments which taught me, among other things, that there are many ways of working for the extension of God’s Kingdom.  In the process I discovered: the complicated world of finance during my years as provincial treasurer; in Moscow, the world of diplomacy and aspects of the Russian Orthodox Church and of Communism; in Paris, the world of publications; in Jerusalem, the world of the bible as well as aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the need to promote human rights and social justice.

Which assignments did I like best? By far, those I had in the Holy Land, despite the many problems I had to face.  Just living in the land where the mystery of salvation unfolded and where Jesus lived and died helped me to better understand the Scriptures and the context out of which they arose.

Also, I felt privileged to be able to make a positive contribution to a Church and a people truly in need; to be able to improve an important Holy Land shrine and, in so doing, to help pilgrims better profit from their pilgrimage; to participate in discussions with the Israeli government, discussions that will hopefully lead one day to a better situation for the church, its personnel, and its institutions; and to be able to give work to people who needed it very badly, both Christians and Muslims. All this and more was very fulfilling and rewarding.

- What is your latest work in progress?

- Since 2005 I have been living at the Assumptionist residence on Old English Road in Worcester, where I am translating and editing the Spiritual Writings of Emmanuel d’Alzon, the founder of the Augustinians of the Assumption. The work is long and arduous, but it permits me to continue being useful to the Congregation in my old age, for it will allow the religious, especially the novices, to become better acquainted with the thinking of the Founder.

NOTE: Since this interview took place, Fr. Robert Fortin, A.A. passed away on August 13, 2015. May he rest in peace.

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