By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 8, 2011
ROSWELL–Father Paul Berny is the new chaplain at Blessed Trinity High School, Roswell.
This assignment is another chapter in his long service to the church, which started when he was ordained in 1972. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., Father Berny has served in parishes around the Atlanta Archdiocese and retired as pastor of Prince of Peace Church, Flowery Branch, in November 2010. He began this school year as chaplain and theology teacher at Blessed Trinity.
Known for his love of and skill in cooking gourmet food, there is no word on whether he’ll be helping out the school chef preparing meals between ministering to students and staff and teaching theology. But Father Berny did say he will strive to lead by example. He answered a few questions by email about serving as a campus chaplain.
GB: What are two differences in serving as parish priest versus a high school chaplain?
Father Berny: One important difference is that there is very little to distract me from pastoral duties: I don’t have to worry about a leaking roof or give a sermon about finances among other things that must concern pastors in parishes.
The fact that over 90 percent of the school population is between the ages of 14 and 18 is also significant, since in a parish the ages of the parishioners would reflect the general population. I had recently been in residence at St. George Village, recuperating from surgery, where I was the youngest resident. Now, I am one of the oldest. I hope the kids will keep me young.
GB: How do you see your job of a school chaplain in a Catholic setting: Convert young people who may not be Catholic to the Catholic faith, or help them on their own faith journey?
Father Berny: About a quarter of the student population is not Catholic and about half the faculty and staff. There is no attempt, overt or covert, to be converting the non-Catholic population. How we live our lives here as a Catholic institution of education and formation is witness enough and a proper kind of evangelization. My task, as I see it, is simply to be a good Catholic priest in this community of learning and faith and let God do the rest.
GB: What role did your high school or college chaplain play in your faith life?
Father Berny: My guidance counselor in Catholic high school was a diocesan priest (as were most of the teachers). When we sat down after standardized vocational testing, he shared with me how high my inclination to the clerical life was. My senior class was a little over 200 boys. Six of us became priests, and five of us are still in active ministry (one died).
GB: A question I often asked in school was how a subject was going to help me later in life. How do you hope to make the Catholic faith relevant to young people’s lives?
Father Berny: The theology department here at BT is fantastic, and the curriculum is well-balanced. What the kids do with their advanced education in the Catholic faith and the opportunities here and, more importantly in their parishes, will be their decision. What I can do as a chaplain is to give them some exposure to the importance of my Catholic faith by my example and presence.
GB: Many of the students are listening to the music of artists like Beyonce, Drake, Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne. Who were you listening to back in the day when you were in high school?
Father Berny: I was a big fan of Peter, Paul & Mary (attending all their concerts when they came to town). Their music was geared to the social concerns of the ‘60s, including the Civil Rights Movement and opposition to war. But I also became a big fan of classical music, opera and musical theater while in high school, which continues to feed and nourish me.