My journey to being a Brother of Mary
I remember it as if it were yesterday: Move-in day for freshmen at the University of Dayton. It was a day full of anticipation and nervous excitement for all that was to be of my college career. There was something unique about the university that drew me there, a family spirit that was like none other I had experienced in previous educational settings. I knew this would be a place that would enrich my soul and my mind with new ideas and insights into my faith and the world in which I would engage it.
As I entered Stuart Hall with a bag of clothes in tow, I was greeted by a warm smile and an outstretched hand: “Welcome to U.D. I’m Brother Tom. Where’re you from?” We exchanged greetings and I explained I was from Kentucky, and so was Brother Tom. Thus began a unique relationship that would challenge me to explore God’s call in my life to service in the church. There were many more conversations with Brother Tom, some in the context of small faith communities in the hall chapel and other one-on-one exchanges about priesthood and religious life. Eventually Brother Tom invited me to the Marianist community for Mass and dinner, and that began a long path of discerning Marianist religious life.
A journey of relationships
My passage to being a religious brother was first and foremost about relationships. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit was at work helping to bring individuals in and out of my life who challenged me to think beyond myself and to see that I could use my gifts and talents at the service of the gospel.
There was Father Britt, an associate pastor at my parish, who gently encouraged my exploration of the priesthood when I was an acolyte in elementary school. There were many voices among the parishioners urging me to explore this life-option after they witnessed my engagement with the youth and liturgy activities in the parish as well as other efforts. These relationships and promptings of the Spirit led me on a journey to search for the best way to serve others.
As I developed a relationship with the Marianist brothers and priests as a student at the University of Dayton, it became clear to me that this life could be a real option for me. Never did I seriously consider religious life prior to this exposure, most likely because I wasn’t really sure what it looked like. For the first time I was invited inside to see for myself the life of the community. I saw how the brothers loved and cared for each other, how they celebrated feast days and birthdays together. I witnessed disagreements at the dinner table yet a willingness to stay and keep the dialogue going. I observed a communal prayer life that was rich and clearly meaningful to the members of the community. I saw playfulness and camaraderie among the brothers that helped me understand they were human like me and not people who were disconnected or out of touch with the world around them. All of these observations led me to believe that I, too, could one day be a religious brother.
After four years of discernment as a college student, a six-month live-in with one of the communities, and a few years working in a diocesan religious education office, I finally decided to formally enter the novitiate with the Society of Mary (Marianists). In all it was a seven-year process of building relationships and embracing a call that took me a while to admit was real and was not going away.
A distinct and full vocation
As I learned more about church history, the vowed life, and the charism of the community, the distinct role of the religious brother within the church became clearer to me. It is a vocation that is often overshadowed by the priesthood and misunderstood by clergy and laity alike. I have lost track how many times I have been asked, “So are you going all the way?”—meaning: Isn’t a brother on his way to being ordained a priest?
|In Mexico Brother Brian Halderman, S.M. helps prepare stuffed peppers with Brother Ed Longbottom, S.M. for the community in Puebla.|
As one who professes the “evangelical counsels” of poverty, chastity, and obedience, I make a steadfast commitment to God and the church to be at the service of people. This service manifests itself in the charism of the Marianist community, which asks brothers to profess a fourth vow at the time of perpetual profession: stability. That stability does not mean staying with a particular monastery, as it does in the Benedictine tradition, but rather it is a life-long commitment to fulfilling the mission of Mary, Mother of God in birthing Christ to the world. This vocation calls us to know, love, and serve the Mother of God in such a way that it leads others to Jesus.
The ministerial paths of religious brothers vary greatly. A good number of us are teachers and professors, some are social workers and counselors, others serve in the health-care or legal professions. We respond where the church and the people of God need us. What we do is not as important as how we do it and the witness we pay to this particular vocation. One of the brothers once explained to me that “as a brother we embrace a way of loving—widely and deeply—that we seek God in a way that is strange in its ordinariness as it is mystical in its power.
“The measure of our love,” he continued, “the motive of our living, the mystery of God’s grace ever confronts us, one way or another, through our sometimes tedious common daily practices in community or ministry.” That made sense to me: This life was about seeking God in all that I do through a path of loving relationships that advances the reign of God.
All are brothers
In the Marianist community we all enter as “brother,” and at the time of perpetual profession we can request seminary studies if we so desire. Following a personal and communal discernment, one may be granted the opportunity of studying for the priesthood. Our brothers are primarily ordained for sacramental service to the community and only later function in priestly duties to the larger church.
Many of our ordained members will call themselves an “ordained brother.” We make no major distinction between brothers and priests and live a life of equality in community. We are one of a few religious orders in the church given the right to elect brothers to the leadership positions of superiors and provincials in our communities. Our discipleship of equals is a highly valued treasure in our tradition and one that makes me appreciate my role as brother in the community all the more. There is no rank in the Marianist community, only a distinct role of service. “Members priest and lay religious, form a single family” (from the Marianist Rule of Life, art. 1).
Learn more about religious brotherhood
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TodaysBrother.com: Religious Brothers Conference
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of Mary (Marianists): Go to Marianist.com, or see their descriptive listing in VISION’s print and digital editions.
That is the call for me as a Marianist religious brother: to surrender to the will of God in my life. To say yes each and every day to the mission that animates my life. There are so many examples of how Mary inspires and enriches my vocation, but at the core of this inspiration is her unselfish and humble service to God—she was the God-bearer who birthed Christ to the world so that we might have life and have it abundantly! And I have only begun to understand the magnitude and power of Mary’s yes and the repercussions it has in my own life-journey of Marianist brotherhood.
A choice and a commitment
I pray each day that I might live my vocation faithfully to the mission of the church and to the vision of Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, the founder of the Marianist family. I often am asked why I chose such a life and what keeps me in it. Some days it is clearer to me than others, but the heart of my answer lies in the deepest recesses of my heart. I have a longing in my heart to be of service through loving relationships that share the healing power of Christ with all whom I encounter and to do that with the spirit of Mary, a gentle, humble, and caring spirit that is firm and committed, in her words at Cana in the Gospel of John, to “doing whatever he tells you.”
Religious life is one freely chosen and one that leads to a regular examination of your motives and desires. It calls you to accountability and a deep commitment to be a loving presence to others. I stay because it is here in the service of God’s people that I have come to know what it truly means to love.
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