Just a Brother

More than 225 people attended the National Symposium on the Life of the Religious Brother at the University of Notre Dame on March 25. In his keynote address, Br. John Mark Falkenhain, OSB, said, “If you are non-ordained, male religious, you are well acquainted with the phrase ‘just a brother.’ It is usually encountered in the context of a question, ‘Are you a priest or just a brother?’”

Br. John Mark’s keynote inspires a different view of being “just a brother,” reflecting the power a life of simplicity and service brings to brothers and those they serve. Here, Brothers of Holy Cross reflect on how the Symposium re-energized their charism:

Bro. Mark Knightly, CSC
Clinical Social Worker and Director of Aging and Health Care
St. Joseph Center, Valatie, N.Y.

“Brothers are very sensitive to what we are not. There is a sense of singleness to our vocation that is an advantage. Religious brotherhood is a clear, simple and uncomplicated vocation to a special calling. We walk with people, not through the Church, but in courtrooms, classrooms, hospitals, assisting them in their difficulties and needs. That’s what brings Christ to people.”

Bro. Nicholas Arthur, CSC
General Council/Rome
Fifth General Assistant
Chemistry teacher, prison counselor, youth group volunteer in Ghana

“Surely, the Symposium has really stirred in me an earnest longing to go back to and remember who I am — just a brother. I am just a brother, living and sharing my life and my life’s work with my school community, my local community and the Church community. The true meaning of my vocation is not derived from the title, nor from what I do, but from my state of being ‘just a brother’— an uncomplicated witness. My advice to men considering a vocation is this: the brother vocation is self-fulfilling, non-threatening and authentic. God is within us, and without going within, we can’t come out. Listen to your inner longings and respond to the call of God.”

Bro. Raymond Papenfuss, CSC
Mission Promoter
Served 28 years in West Africa, one of the Church’s fastest growing areas

“I thought it was an excellent idea to get the brothers together to share their experiences. Talking with various brothers between the presentations was just as important to me as the actual presentations. I was in the breakout group called ‘Prophetic.’ To me, to be prophetic today means to be absolutely true and authentic to one’s vocation as a brother, to be a sign and a countercultural icon for the people among whom we live. I think this meeting was a good first step. I hope others will follow.”

Bro. Kenneth Haders, CSC
Vicar Provincial, Midwest Province

“Brothers perform many ordinary tasks, such as changing light bulbs or wiping down tables in a school lunchroom. A brother is on a horizontal plane with those he serves. You learn every bit as much from the people you serve as you give to them. Being a brother isn’t about your structural role in the church, but rather to be free to be of service to those in need — because in the Catholic tradition, the poor is where we find God.”

Bro. Roy Smith, CSC
Director of Development, Midwest Province

“One of the joys of my job is that I get to hear great stories about brothers who have made a difference. This one brought tears to my eyes: after one of our brothers died, a man felt the need to write a letter to the deceased brother who had affected his life so much. As a brother, you do the part you’re asked to do. It may seem small, and when you make an impact people are aware of you. But we have to keep telling our story. When it comes to vocations, maybe we don’t do enough asking: ‘Have you considered a religious vocation?’”

Bro. Francis Boylan, CSC
Executive Director, Holy Cross Children’s Services

“Today, a brother must assist in forming communities of joyous missionary disciples. Every brother is a missionary. Our role is to engage others by introducing them to brothers who have a friendship with Jesus, or a relationship with Him. Our culture has changed. Just because a family’s history is Catholic no longer means children will marry and stay Catholic. We will only transform our culture one person at a time, and we do this by being witnesses of the faith, not just ‘teachers’ of the faith.”

Bro. John Bailanda, CSC
Institute for Religious Formation
Catholic Theological Union
Worked in Ugandan schools, healthcare, social ministry and development.

“For me, being ‘just a brother’ embodies a lot of things. It means identifying with the people we serve, being someone they can trust and share their aspirations with. The Lord came down to us, and I think that’s what brotherhood means to me. If I’m working in a soup kitchen and eating the same food as the people there, it creates opportunities to share with each other. I’ve had the flexibility to use my talents wherever I’m needed, and I’m very happy and appreciative for that. Many young people have said to me, ‘You encouraged me to the priesthood, religious life or the sisterhood.’ To me, that’s awesome. It’s a humbling experience.”

Keynote Address from the National Symposium on the Life of the Religious Brother