New job, same home

Fr. Claudio Siebenaler speaks at the European Conference held at Clairefontaine, Belgium, last year. What is now a conference center in the small Belgian town was once his high school.

“Availability is a part of our charism. It is who we are as SCJs.”

-Fr. Claudio Siebenaler, SCJ

“It’s not so important what you are doing but how you are doing it. If you do a job with love and joy, that’s what is important. Not the particular job itself.”

The quote comes from Fr. Claude (“Claudio”) Siebenaler, SCJ, as he reflected on his 30 years in Rome. It has been 30 years in a place he never expected to find himself, in jobs he never considered as a young priest getting ready for the missions.

Originally from Luxembourg, Fr. Claudio was ordained in 1972 and soon after, began Spanish studies in preparation for ministry in Chile. He expected to spend most of his religious life there.

Fr. Claudio, 66, arrived in Chile in 1973 and for the first five years was based in the rural south doing parish ministry. “It was very interesting, I loved it,” he said. “We were in areas where there were no other priests or religious. We worked together as a team, each helping the other in several parishes. It was a very good time for me.”

Fr. Claudio in his office at the Generalate.

After five years among the poor, Fr. Claudio did a 180-degree turn and went to Santiago where he was at one of the wealthiest parishes in Chile. “It was very different for me but also good to find balance in the extremes,” he said.

A longer detour than planned

In December, 1981, Fr. Claudio went home to Luxembourg for a vacation. On the way he made what he thought would be a short detour to Rome to visit friends. Little did he know that he would be making a more permanent detour to the Generalate.

“The general secretary at the time asked me to work with him for a year and then take his place,” said Fr. Claudio. Doing so was the furthest thing from Fr. Claudio’s thoughts but then Fr. General made the same request. Fr. Claudio went back to Chile after his vacation, but only to pack up his belongings and say good-bye.

In January, 1982, he moved to Rome. Except for vacations and work-related travels, he has been there ever since.

“It was hard to leave a place I enjoyed; the people and ministries in Chile,” said Fr. Claudio. “But availability is a part of our charism. It is who we are as SCJs. If you are needed, well ok, that is good. Being where I am needed is where I should be.

“In some ways I am still a missionary just as I was in Chile. But now I am a missionary to the Generalate.”

Another good-bye

Once again Fr. Claudio is saying good-bye. But this time it isn’t to a place, but to a job. For the past 13 years Fr. Claudio has been the SCJs’ procurator to the Holy See. It is the job he assumed after serving as general secretary for 16 years. As of January 1, Fr. José Carlos Briñón Domínguez, SCJ, a member of the Region of Venezuela, took on the job of procurator, as well as postulator.

[For those not familiar with the job titles, a “procurator” deals with the Vatican’s Secretary of State and various departments of the Roman Curia on behalf of a religious order. The “postulator” is the person who guides the cause for the beautification or canonization of a person. The Priests of the Sacred Heart have had one person named “blessed” (Fr. Juan Maria de la Cruz, SCJ) and Fr. Leo John Dehon, SCJ founder, has been named venerable.]

Fr. Claudio is also saying good-bye to another job that he has held for many years while in Rome: ecclesiastical councilor of the embassy of Luxembourg to the Holy See. Luxembourg does not have a full-time ambassador to the Vatican. As ecclesiastical councilor, Fr. Claudio not only advised Luxembourg government officials about questions regarding the Catholic Church, but also attended to some of the more mundane administrative tasks of an embassy.

Fr. Claudio talks about the history of Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls during a visit there with general chapter delegaters in 2009.

For many years, Fr. Claudio’s office served as the mailbox for Luxembourg’s embassy to the Vatican. “I would open the mail, answer what I could and then forward anything of importance to the ambassador,” said Fr. Claudio. [The part-time ambassador does not live in Rome] The archives of the Luxembourg embassy? “It’s right there,” said Fr. Claudio, pointing to a file cabinet in the corner of his office at the Generalate.

Being a member of the diplomatic corps came with a few perks, including diplomatic license plates (allowing Fr. Claudio far more parking options than most Romans), and attendance at state events, often with a front seat to significant ceremonies and events at the Vatican.

And when the grand duke of Luxembourg made a visit, it was Fr. Claudio who did the preparations and then escorted Luxembourg’s head of state to the Vatican. Periodically, the visits were with the pope.

Through his years of service Fr. Claudio became not only a dependable employee of Luxembourg’s diplomatic service, but a good friend to the grand duke’s family. Fr. Claudio’s office is filled with photos of Crown Prince Henri, his wife and their children. You’ll find Fr. Claudio in a few of them.

Now, as Fr. Claudio steps down from the job of procurator to the Holy See, he also leaves the diplomatic corps. After months of searching, another person was finally found to assume Fr. Claudio’s duties with the Luxembourg embassy. Without even a hint of boastfulness Fr. Claudio noted that it wasn’t an easy position to fill. There are not a lot of unemployed Luxembourg diplomats with extensive knowledge of the Catholic Church living in Rome. It’s not exaggeration to say that Fr. Claudio has a unique skill set.

A new role

As noted, Fr. Claudio is leaving jobs that he has held for many years in Rome, but not the Generalate itself. He will remain in Rome to help complete the electronic version of the writings of Fr. Dehon.

“It would be a loss to the community if he were to leave,” said a member of the General Council. “He has an encyclopedic knowledge of Rome and is the first person one consults at the Generalate on the history, people, popes, buildings, streets, piazzas and the events of Rome.”

He is also a walking handbook on church administration, often serving as a reference for the general secretaries who have followed him, including the current secretary, Fr. Heru Ismadi, SCJ.

“I am always grateful for his availability,” said Fr. Heru of his predecessor.

Fr. Claudio has served three superior generals (Frs. Antonio Panthegini, Virginio Bressanelli and José Ornelas Carvalho). Through his years of ministry in Chile, and then Rome, he has learned at least a half dozen languages (though he claims –– in perfect English –– that he only really speaks his native Luxembourgish). And as noted earlier, he has developed a unique and diverse set of skills that few could replicate.

“My time here has been very good,” concluded Fr. Claudio. “Just as in Chile we have very good teamwork here. There is a sense of support. I need community and the people here carry me. I have been very lucky.”