Father Robert Susann, M.S. is Appointed to Governing Board of NCCAC

Father Robert Susann, M.S. is appointed to the Governing Board of the National Conference of Catholic Airport Chaplains (NCCAC), http://www.nccac.us/AboutUs.htm.  

FATHER ROBERT SUSANN, M.S. IS APPOINTED TO GOVERNING BOARD OF NCCAC

Father Robert Susann, M.S. is appointed to the Governing Board of the National Conference of Catholic Airport Chaplains (NCCAC), http://www.nccac.us/AboutUs.htm. The organization’s president, Fr. Michael G. Zaniolo, STL, CAC is currently headquartered in Chicago, IL.

The following is provide courtesy of The Florida Catholic Newspaper. This story was covered in issue dated Dec. 18, 2009 – Jan. 14, 2010, and was written and photographed by Karen Osborne.

Airport chaplain serves travelers at OIA

ORLANDO — At the Orlando International Airport, kindness can be as easy as pressing a button. Stressed and apprehensive about making their flight and going through security, passengers will press the buttons in the elevator four or five times. If Father Robert Susann sees that a traveler is nervous or scared on his way in from the parking lot, he’ll simply ask where they’re going, and press the button for them. Those small kindnesses — making it easier for people to fly and just being there when he’s needed — are at the center of Father Susann’s ministry as an airport chaplain, he said. 

Before he came to the airport, Father Susann studied at Rome’s Gregorian University; ran a LaSalette shrine in Ipswitch, Mass.; directed the LaSalette order’s junior college; and was a parish pastor for 12 years in Marietta, Ga., where he was also active with Life Teen. Growing up in upstate New York, Father Susann knew he wanted to be a priest during his senior year in high school. After a vocations retreat, he knew he “wanted to make a difference in the world. As I developed and discerned,” he said, “I realized there was a lot of missionary work to be done here at home.” He chose the LaSalette order, which runs missionary shrines across the world.

Now, the world comes to him. “The airport is a wonderful ministry,” Father Susann said. “The basic premise is that the Church goes where the people are. I’m here because the people are here.” Annually, Orlando International Airport plays host to nearly 33 million passengers, including 18 percent to 20 percent being international travelers, according to Ron Lewis, director of airport operations. Father Susann is part of the Orlando diocesan tourist ministry, which was developed more than a decade ago to respond to the needs of the millions of tourists who visit Central Florida each year, he said. He celebrates Mass twice every Sunday. In addition to tourists and business travelers, Father Susann serves as a spiritual adviser to the airport’s 17,000 employees, whether they are Catholic or not. When he is asked, he attends families’ wakes, refers them to outside agencies if they need assistance, and is there for advice and spiritual guidance. Sometimes, airport security will call him for help with a traveler who seems depressed, or information staff will call him to pray with groups of youths who come through the airport for competitions or tourism.

Father Susann can’t walk more than 10 feet without saying hello to someone he knows — whether they’re TSA screeners, information desk employees, food service workers or police. “They call me everything: chaplain, Reverend, Father,” he said. “They bring me to God. You make a relationship with people. They know you support them and we have a lot of fun together. It is a community.” “Father Bob has become an integral part of the airport,” Lewis said. “When people are stressed, he always goes to visit them, to comfort them. We’ve had it all: major cancers, car accidents, difficult medical procedures. He goes to visit (employees). Everyone knows who Father Bob is.”

As airport chaplain, Father Susann likes to “be proactive” when it comes to talking with tourists — stopping people who look like they’re in distress, offering a listening ear and a blessing or two to people in the security line. He also hears confessions in the quieter parts of the airport. Every Ash Wednesday, he’ll spend hours giving ashes to travelers. As a priest, or just an unbiased third party, people often tell him they’re grateful for his presence. But in this noisy world, Father Susann said, sometimes that’s just what people need: someone who listens. “Travelers tell me stories they’ll tell no one else. They’re surprised to see me. I get this every day: ‘I didn’t know airports had chaplains!’ If things are going badly, or they’re under a lot of stress, my job is to be with people and help them pray,” said Father Susann.

The airport’s small interfaith chapel, located behind gates 1-59 in the main terminal, was built in 1983 as a place where people could go to escape from the hubbub of the airport, but Father Susann — its first chaplain — arrived in 2005. He keeps the chapel stacked with Bibles, prayer books and a place for people to write their intentions. Decorated with a stained-glass “tree of life” — a symbol that “we are all sons and daughters of Abraham,” according to Father Susann — the chapel also has a small sign pointing to Mecca. And that’s how he wants to treat everyone, he said. Waiting in the chapel on a recent December morning was an airport ticket agent in a white jacket. She was about to have a hard day, she told Father Susann. Could he pray with her? “Of course,” he said.