Mother Assumpta: We are so delighted to have Father Peter John Cameron with us today. Father, you have so many accomplishments; the Dominicans must have seen your talents because you have done so many things in the Dominican Order. What fascinates me are the theatrical accomplishments.
Fr. Cameron: It’s a great joy to be with you, Mother. It’s strange because I’ve always been interested in the theater. In fact, when I went to Providence College, Father Terry Keegan who was a great priest and a big help to me asked what I was studying. I said theology. He said, “Don’t do that, study something that you really like.” I was a theater major at Providence College and loved it. I learned that the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, my Dominican Province, for thirty-two years operated an Off-Broadway theater company called Blackfriars Theater. In fact, I think it still has the distinction of being the longest continuously operated Off-Broadway theater in American stage history.
I have a Master of Fine Arts in playwriting, and my mentor was the famous Father Gilbert Hearty. When I finished that degree and my License in Sacred Theology, I was sent to Providence College as my first priestly assignment to teach in the theater department and manage the theater there. I never really gave it up. I worked for a couple of years for a Catholic film company. Then in 1998, I had a play that I wanted to produce in honor of the Centenary of the death or the birth of St. Thérèse, I can’t remember. I thought it’d be good if we could do it under the auspices of an actual theater, so my provincial gave me permission to found Blackfriars Repertory Theater.
Mother Assumpta: This goes into homiletics. I was so impressed when I saw you taught homiletics in four different seminaries. How important it is for the young priest.
Fr. Cameron: There aren’t a whole lot of homiletic professors out there. I was only a priest maybe seven years and I had to teach myself some of the principles for teaching homiletics, but my background in the theater helped a lot, especially in terms of how to structure a homily and how to deliver a homily. I began at [St. Joseph’s Seminary of Dunwoodie] in 1994, and actually lived there until 2003. In 2010, I was asked to go to the seminary on Long Island that serves the dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, and that merged with St. Joseph’s. I love teaching homiletics.
Mother Assumpta: I think the Order was blessed to have you to do this. I think what’s made you most well-known is the ‘Magnificat’. It has meant so much to so many people. Tell us the beginnings.
Fr. Cameron: It really is providential, Mother. I was on a pilgrimage in 1993 with Father [Romanus] Cessario in France. At the end of it, we visited the Dominican Priory of Fribourg, Switzerland, where we had originally met in 1978. While I was there, he handed me this beautiful little prayer journal called Magnificat in French. When I saw it, I immediately said, “This needs to be in English.”
Fast forward to 1998. I had been working freelance for the National Catholic Register. I was a contributing editor to the newspaper, and I had a column on Sunday Scriptures. I did a number of series for them. The publisher of Magnificat was looking to assemble a team of journalists and writers from the United States to launch Magnificat in English for America. He was close friends with the editor of the National Catholic Register. He recommended me to help in some way. I remember having lunch with the publisher, and it went very well. He took Magnificat out and showed it to me and began to explain the contents. I stopped him and said, “You don’t have to explain it to me. I can explain it to you, and I’ll tell you why I love it.” With that, he offered me the position.
Mother Assumpta: There are so many appealing things about the ‘Magnificat’.
Fr. Cameron: We try to use a good smattering of ancient sources, but then also some contemporary sources, some deliberately English writings so not everything is a translation. There are different criteria we use for choosing the meditations.
Mother Assumpta: What about the Saints? Some of the most unique Saints are in there. Who does that?
Fr. Cameron: At the moment, those are being done by one laywoman, a mother of eight children [Lisa Lickona], who also holds a License in Sacred Theology. She’s excellent at research and has a great gift for writing and loves it.
Mother Assumpta: I always appreciated your letter in the front. It was personal, and you felt connected. Now, Father Sebastian is doing a great job. I thank God that went to another Dominican. How many work on the ‘Magnificat’?
Fr. Cameron: Father Sebastian has a managing editor who’s full-time, and then there’s a part-time secretary who does all of the hard labor in terms of scanning the meditations and formatting them and getting them ready to put into the master document, and then there is a proofreader who also helps out with the other editorial tasks for us. Basically, that’s the whole editorial team.
Mother Assumpta: One of the most exciting things now to me is your new ministry. Tell us about this.
Fr. Cameron: I work now full-time with an apostolate called Hard As Nails Ministries. The name refers to the fact that the ministry exists to go out to the hardest of hearts where we will try to bring Jesus to those who are most resistant to the Gospel. We do it united with the mystery of Christ and His passion, especially at the moment of our Lord being nailed to the Cross because it was literally an excruciating moment for Him, but it was the moment that released into the world the greatest force of love that the planet has ever known because it was then that Jesus declared, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
Hard as Nails lives from the conviction that every moment of suffering contains the same promise and possibility, but sometimes you need somebody to help you see how powerful and valuable and productive or fruitful an experience of suffering can be, so the Hard as Nails missionaries travel around the country on a bus offering confirmation retreats, campus events, parish missions, but especially reaching out to young people and their suffering, whether it’s from depression or anxiety or broken family or addictions or self-harming behavior, whatever might be drawing them to the Cross so that the power that’s unleashed at that Cross can take hold of their suffering so that young people especially can see the value of their suffering and to help them to suffer well, even to the point of drawing them to be grateful for their suffering.
Once we know we’re going to be [somewhere], if there are different requests to speak in a school whether it’s a Catholic school or public school – we have programs designed for both of those – or in a parish, we try to book as many events in the locale for the duration of our stay. We are typically in an area for seven to ten days. Sometimes the booking manager might have to call certain places to say we’re coming and ask if they’re interested in having us.
Mother Assumpta: Is this also a ministry to older people?
Fr. Cameron: It is, but I would say more indirectly because our charism is to evangelize with a special focus on young people with particular attention to being sensitive to suffering, all of this with the goal of creating community. We will evangelize to older people, for example at a parish mission that’s for all age groups, and if we do, we’ll do evangelization trainings. For example, for many years Hard as Nails has helped out the Apostolate for Family Consecration, which sponsors Catholic Family Land every year.
Mother Assumpta: This is so exciting. Our sisters work a lot with youth, and we’ve got to get to the youth. There is so much suffering, and they don’t even know sometimes what is going on in their life because they’re so bombarded with distractions. Everything is taking them away from God and the Church. Thank you for this ministry. Is there some way we could keep up with it and see what’s going on?
The website is easy to remember: rememberyoureamazing.com. We are going to be producing our own podcast soon because one of the great strengths of Hard as Nails is the follow-up program that we provide. We want to make sure the people are continuing to grow in holiness and that they’re staying close to the people that have helped them grow close to Jesus Christ, so there are many different programs that are offered, especially through the website, to keep people on the path. We want to catechize the young people so we’re going to do a program to help systematically lead young people to a greater understanding and appreciation of the Catholic Faith.
Mother Assumpta: I am so glad they got you involved in this. I think the Dominicans see that this would be a wonderful apostolate. It’s so Dominican. Thank you for coming to us. We feel so honored because you are so busy, and we’re privileged to have you with us. God bless you.