SALT LAKE CITY — Dominican Fr. Augustine Hilander is the new chaplain for the University of Utah Medical Center, Primary Children’s Hospital and the Huntsman Cancer Center. He is in residence at St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center.
Fr. Augustine, who celebrated the 10th anniversary of his priestly ordination on May 31, is a convert to the faith. He was born in Huntington Beach, Calif.; his mother explored various faith traditions and his father had a pessimistic view of religion, said Fr. Augustine, who nevertheless attended a non-denominational faith-based elementary school, then went on to a high school run by the Catholic Diocese of Orange.
“I went there for the education they provided,” he said, adding that the high school offered a music program as well as Latin. “Those were the two things that my mom wanted to pass on to me.”
For college he chose Thomas Aquinas College, a Roman Catholic liberal arts college in Ventura County, Calif., because of its curriculum, which centered on the Great Books. His father admired great historical figures like Aristotle and Plato, “so I sort of picked that up and wanted to study those figures,” Fr. Augustine said.
He had assumed that the college atmosphere would be like that of his high school, where a person’s faith was not an issue, but 95 percent of the college’s student population was Catholic and he soon was drawn into conversations about morals and values. His roommate and friends invited him to join them at Mass and for devotions such as the rosary. He absorbed the faith by “osmosis of sorts,” he said; he was baptized at the Easter vigil of 1997.
Mary, the Mother of God, played a role in his conversion and the rosary was powerful as he prepared for baptism, he said. “The Virgin Mother is very powerful” and knows the problems people face because she lived the life of a wife, a mother, a widow, he said. “Whether we’re single or married, whether we have children or are widowed, she is there for us.”
While he was still in college, various people asked if he had considered a religious vocation, so he looked into becoming a diocesan priest while also investigating the religious orders represented by the four chaplains at his college. Of them, the Dominicans practiced what he had enjoyed in college, such as ongoing education, “talking about the better and higher and greater things,” and passing on the faith, he said. He also enjoys the community: “the praying together, the living together, sort of entrusting our lives to each other, talking about the faith and then preaching it.”
Since entering religious life, religion has become a lived experience rather than simply an intellectual one, he said.
When he entered the Order of Preachers in 2000, his parents originally had difficulty with his decision, but since then his mother has become Catholic and his father has begun to return to his old faith practice, he said.
As a student brother, he was assigned to Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle, Wash. After ordination he did campus ministry in Eugene, Ore.; then was assigned to Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska; St. Raymond Parish in Menlo Park, Calif., and St. Dominic Parish in San Francisco. The length of his assignments ranged from one to four years.
In his ministry as chaplain at the local hospitals, he will offer Mass at each during the week and also fill in at parishes when asked, he said. He has already celebrated Mass at St. Andrew Parish and is scheduled for St. Ann Parish at the end of July.
Fr. Augustine’s hospital ministry will overlap with that of St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center because many parishioners work at the medical centers, said the pastor, Dominican Fr. Jacek Buda.
“This is a natural expansion of the ministry of St. Catherine,” Fr. Jacek said, adding that Fr. Augustine will be involved in the parish life to the extent that his duties to the hospital community allows.
“One of the limitations on my end is that I don’t speak Spanish,” Fr. Augustine said. “That’s one thing I’m looking forward to learning.”
In addition to his duties as chaplain he has been assigned by the Western Dominican Province as Promoter of the Confraternity of the Holy Name Society. As Promoter he is the link between the Dominican province and the HNS, which in the 1900s had a million members in the United States but since the 1960s has declined, along with other devotional fraternities. Part of Fr. Augustine’s work is to increase awareness of the HNS to encourage people to “love Jesus in a stronger way,” he said.
In his free time, Fr. Augustine likes visiting museums and “places where there’s beauty,” he said. He also enjoys reading. His current book is Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West by Wallace Stegner.