The Vocation to Religious Brotherhood

An Essential Call to Be “Brother to All”

Bro. Thomas Frey, CSC

From whence does the vocation to religious brotherhood take its origin? A case can be made for the truth that St. Joseph by his very vocation to live poverty, chastity and obedience in the presence of Jesus and Mary all his life is the origin of the first brother.

Bro. Thomas as a teacher

Bro. Thomas as a teacher

Today, in this year 2015, we can be sure that God the Holy Spirit is calling many young men to enter religious life as brothers. We know this by the fact that many religious orders, approved by the Church, have for centuries been accepting young men into their congregations, and some of these are now honored as saints or blessed. A few examples are St. André Bessette, CSC, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Miguel Cordero, FSC, and more. This fact confirms our belief that God the Holy Spirit is the source of the brothers’ vocation.

My Personal Vocation Story

I was born fifth in a family of seven children. My father came from a family of ten and my mother from a family of thirteen. They met while attending the same Catholic church, Saint James, in White Oak, Ohio, a small village north of Cincinnati. All the members of my family attended Saint James Elementary School conducted by the Franciscan Sisters of Oldenburg, Indiana. Upon graduation in 1944, I followed my older brother, enrolling in Roger Bacon High School, an all-male Catholic high school conducted by the Franciscan Fathers and Brothers.

As a freshman, all new students were required to fill out a personal questionnaire for their assigned counselor. One of the questions was: Have you ever considered religious life? I answered: Yes, I thought of the life of a religious brother.

Before turning this questionnaire into the counselor, it had to be signed by the parent. This was done. My father immediately took me to visit our parish priest. He advised my father that I should complete my high school years before acting upon this apparent vocation. I was very pleased with that decision. I did not want to leave home at this age.

Each year, the counselor called us in to review our status. My choice did not change. My fourth-year Latin teacher, Fr. Lucian, OFM, took me out to their seminary to see if I wanted to become a priest. Being rather shy and timid, I could not see myself performing the duties of the priesthood.

Bro_Thomas_Frey_2One piece of advice given to all seven children in our family by our father would never be forgotten. He said, “I’m not going to tell what you should become in life, but whatever you choose, be a good one.” As my senior year approached its end, I can recall saying often this brief prayer: “Lord, help me to know what I should become in life and help me become a good one.”

In the summer of 1948, following my graduation, a Brother of Holy Cross, Ligouri Denier, CSC, on vacation from his mission in East Pakistan, stopped by my father’s grocery store to purchase some groceries. My father immediately became interested in this brother knowing how I was looking for a religious community of brothers.

Within a few weeks, I was on my way to Watertown, Wisconsin, where the Brothers of Holy Cross maintained a pre-novitiate school for aspirants to their congregation. My novitiate year at St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Rolling Prairie, Indiana, was one of the happiest of my life. A small, aging, white-haired brother, Nicholas Ochs, was the novice master for approximately sixty novices. He was of stern appearance but warm of heart and very experienced in the formation of new young religious. We loved him.

Following our first profession of vows, each brother was free to choose whether he wanted to become a “teaching” brother or a “working” brother. I was encouraged to enter teaching and entered the University of Notre Dame, twenty miles to the east, in South Bend, Indiana. Now retired after fifty years in the classrooms of our many Holy Cross high schools, my new apostolate is assisting the retired community of brothers in Austin, Texas.

Living the religious life as a Brother of Holy Cross from 1950 until the present day, my experience has been truly wonderful.


St. Joseph Novitiate, Rolling Prairie, Indiana