20 Questions with Fr. Mark Fortner, SCJ

Favorite color? What makes you happy? What are you good at? What is your greatest fear… “Twenty Questions” is a regular feature in which SCJs and those with whom they minister and collaborate share a bit about themselves in an informal Q&A. Participants are given the same list of questions and are invited to answer as many as they would like.

A missionary in Indonesia for over 30 years, Fr. Mark Fortner, SCJ, is now retired and living at Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake.

Before answering the questions, Fr. Mark wrote a short preface:

Fr. Mark

The photo of the sunflowers at the top of the page reminds me of our garden at SHML and offers me a good starting place to briefly answer the 20 Questions about my life and vocation. I don’t know what prompted me to plant sunflowers this year, but it seems to be associated with my fascination with light, especially sunrise and sunset. As many may know, I spent 30 years in the Far East, specifically in Indonesia as a foreign missionary. There the sun rises exactly 12 hours ahead of when it does here in Milwaukee. Since Indonesia is an archipelago (in fact, it is the largest archipelago in the world) consisting of many islands, I was never far from the beach. Whenever possible, I would walk on the beach either at sunrise or sunset watching in awe and wonder for that moment when the sun made itself visible or the reverse when it went over the horizon. And now, the 20 Questions:

Q: Where were you born and raised? Describe your family.

FR. MARK: I was born in St. Louis, MO. I am the third of five children with one sister, the oldest, and four brothers. For the first 12 years of my life we lived in Kirkwood, an inner ring suburb of St. Louis, before moving to a 250-acre farm some 40 miles west of St. Louis. Religion played an important role in our family. My father was Baptist before converting to Catholicism during my seminary years, and my mother was Roman Catholic. I always felt their deep love for us children.

Q: What is your favorite book or movie?

FR. MARK: Thomas Merton’s The Seven Story Mountain.

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world post-pandemic – without concern about the expense – where would you go and why?

FR. MARK: China as I knew many people of Chinese descent in Indonesia.

Q: What are you good at?

FR. MARK: Parish ministry and pastoral counseling.

Q: What is your favorite color?

FR. MARK: A toss up between blue and red.

Q: Do you have any hobbies or pastimes? If so, what are they and how did you get interested in them?

FR. MARK: To name a few: cycling (triking), swimming, hiking, reading, music, and gardening. Since a young age, I have always been interested in exercise and sports, reading and academics, art and music, and in growing and harvesting crops.

Q: What is your favorite food?

FR. MARK: Italian, especially pasta.

Q: What is your least favorite chore?

FR. MARK: Cleaning bathrooms.

Q: Who — living or deceased — do you most admire and why?

FR. MARK: Pope Francis because of the simple but profound way in which he embodies God’s mercy, the central theme of his papacy.

Q: What would surprise people to learn about you?

FR. MARK: As kids, my siblings and I sold apples door to door that we would pick from our orchard.

Q: What skill or talent would you like to have that you do not? Why?

FR. MARK: I would have liked to have learned to play a musical instrument as I was a pretty good singer.

Q: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

FR. MARK: An international pilot.

Q: What makes you happy?

FR. MARK: Traveling internationally with a couple of good friends.

Q: What is your greatest fear?

FR. MARK: Not becoming my true self, my best self.

Q: What trait or habit do you dislike in yourself?

FR. MARK: Perfectionism.

Q: What trait or habit do you dislike in others?

FR. MARK: Domineering, verbally aggressive behavior.

Q: List three words that describe you.

FR. MARK: Helpful, even-tempered, and prayerful

Q: How did you come to know of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians) and what interested you about them?

Celebrating his 50th anniversary of priesthood in Indonesia

FR. MARK: I have a college friend, Wil Baumker, to thank for showing me an SCJ vocation brochure, and then, for joining me as a seminarian at Dehon Seminary in Great Barrington, MA, when in 1960 we were both 20 years old. What interested me initially were four things: first, the idea of living as a priest in a religious community; secondly, the spirituality centered in the Heart of Christ; third, our founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon, SCJ, someone passionately committed to social justice issues; fourth, the possibility of becoming a foreign missionary. Now, I continue to feel the excitement of how the congregation continues to develop and expand around the world.

Q: Do you consider yourself a Dehonian? If so, what does that mean to you?

FR. MARK: For me, calling myself a Dehonian makes being a Priest of the Sacred Heart more personal and connects me not only with our founder, but also with the names and faces of all the members of our worldwide Dehonian family.

Q: What changes, adaptations or insights do you expect to stay with you from the pandemic? In other words, how do you expect to be changed by COVID-19?

FR. MARK: Four insights come to mind: first, the awareness of the fragility of life; second, the responsibility we have for the safety, care and support of one another; third, the necessity of thinking globally regarding issues affecting our human family and our planet; and finally, the importance of prayer and trusting in God’s help.

Fr. Mark with Bishop Sudarso in Indonesia