A religious brother is a layman who commits himself to a consecrated life through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He’s not ordained as a deacon or priest. Communities of brothers may be contemplative, monastic or apostolic. Many work in education and health care fields in the secular world. Some congregations are only brothers, and there also are mixed communities of brothers, priests and seminarians.
Vocation directors these days use social media to introduce young men to the life of a brother. They also offer personal encounters that appeal to young men seeking a challenging and rewarding life following Christ.
‘The whole experience’
One thing Brother Ronald Hingle noticed about millennials is that they’re “trying to amass as many different experiences as they can.”
As vocation director for the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he invites young men to spend time with the community before considering discernment.
“Commitment is a strong word, and even to commit to come and live with us is a big deal,” he said.
Potential candidates can volunteer to join the brothers on mission/discernment trips that have taken them to Africa and the Philippines. More recently, they have gone to St. Anne’s Navajo Mission in Arizona, with the next trip planned for later this month. The mission trips are optional but valuable to the discernment process.
“We spend hours together in community,” Brother Ronald said about the experience. “We work together, pray and worship together, go hiking in the mountains and explore the Navajo culture. It’s a wonderful opportunity all around. They get a chance to experience us, and we get a chance to see their generosity of spirituality in action. It’s a real solid time to get to know each other.”
The brothers changed their yearlong volunteer program to an open-ended time of volunteer discernment that gets candidates involved not only with working with the brothers (mostly in education), but also living with them.
“The whole purpose is to give them the whole experience, not just a 9-5 job in some social services agency,” Brother Ronald said.
‘I felt like I belonged’
The Franciscan Brothers of Peace, founded in 1982 by Brother Michael Gaworski, was the first religious brotherhood canonically established in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The community’s nine members are dedicated to pro-life causes and to serving the most vulnerable.
Vocation director Brother Conrad Richardson reaches out in many ways to be a visible witness to consecrated life. The brothers participate in Masses and other events sponsored by the National Evangelization Team (NET) in St. Paul, speak to college and high school students, and are increasing exposure through social media and videos.
The brothers have been invited to Catholic schools and CCD classes, and parish youth groups visit the friary.
“The most important thing is for them to be hearing our vocation stories, particularly our call to religious brotherhood. That’s a really valuable tool,” Brother Conrad said. “We’re really moved by the energy and enthusiasm of young people seeking holiness and virtue, and it’s a wonderful thing to behold.”
The brothers have two priories, both in Minnesota: the Queen of Peace Motherhouse in St. Paul and the novitiate, St. Crispin’s, a spiritual center and retreat house located in the Diocese of Duluth.
Brother Conrad was interested in the medical field and was a nursing assistant caring for AIDS patients with the Missionaries of Charity in Denver. He rediscovered his Catholic faith when he prayed with them, and he felt called “to something radical.”
“This was before the internet, and vocations information was available in books,” he said. “I sent out postcards and kept getting letters and mail. Then I heard about the Franciscan Brothers of Peace. I visited, and I felt the love, and I felt like I belonged here.”
He entered in 1997 and made final vows in 2001.
Brother Tom Leto of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers of North America works with a student
at Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle, N.Y. Courtesy photo
‘Not preach to them’
The Edmund Rice Christian Brothers of North America in New Orleans recently revamped their website and have a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. They show up on the vocations search through the National Religious Vocation Conference and on todaysbrother.com. The visibility through technology has been successful.
“Two weeks ago a young man in Tampa texted me and said he had been looking at our website and wondered if the vocation of brother was right for him,” vocation director Brother James McDonald said.
The brothers, whose charism is education and working with young people, stay active in the local community so they can meet and get to know young men. They attend “Brats & Burgers” events on a nearby campus and invite students to a “Chat & Chew” event.
|Finding the Right Vocation
There’s a lot to think about when considering a religious vocation. Parish priest, monk, friar or brother? Cloistered nun in full habit, apostolic sister in street clothes or the many charisms in between?
“God has something for everyone,” said Natalie Smith, founder of Vocations Placement Service in Miami. “That includes marriage. We’re here to help you to find a good fit for whatever you’re called to be. We don’t want you to rush into a lifelong commitment. We tell vocations directors, ‘You are looking for them, and they are looking for you.’”
The nonprofit organization (vocationsplacement.org
) is one of several online services that helps men and women explore vocation options. The 250-500 people who inquire every month can be connected to some of the 1,200-plus dioceses and religious communities in the database.
“We’re not just blasting out information,” Smith said. “Our main focus is to identify candidates, keep track of them and follow up with phone calls. Our conservative estimate is that about 10 percent of those seeking information will apply to enter a vocation.”
Technology broadens options and streamlines possibilities, but there are some things that haven’t changed.
“Most people want to be in a community, whether it’s the community of holy matrimony or a religious vocation,” Smith said. “People don’t want to be alone. They want that sense of belonging, loving and being loved.”
“I think the conversations have been good,” Brother James said.
Last year a group of students came to renovate a house for a family.
“You have to be with these young adults,” he said. “Not preach to them, but be with them.”
‘Come and See’
The vocations office of the Salesians of Don Bosco in Orange, New Jersey, are repeating their successful “Come and See” discernment event during Holy Week when men considering becoming a priest or brother can journey with Christ through the Triduum. They’ve had three other “Come and See” weekends so far this year.
The Salesian charism is to serve the young and the poor. Brothers take their gifts into the world while living a vowed life following the call of Christ.
“There tends to be more priests, but we do have a lot of brothers who are integral to our work,” said Father Dominic Tran, director of vocation ministry. “They are our coadjutor brothers who don’t wear the clericals, and they still carry the vow of poverty, chastity and obedience in the Salesian world. One of our coadjutors (in a vocations outreach) spoke about what it’s like to not completely be a priest but still have a love of God and a mission that they are fulfilling.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.