We need to rediscover Catholic brotherhood writes Deacon Michael O’Donnell.
“You’re not a priest. What do you do?” I remember asking a
Religious Brother many years ago. When young I had served
Mass regularly and could appreciate what priests did but
‘brothers’ were new to me!
Later I undertook some research into ‘Religious brothers’ as
their vocation continued to intrigue me. In this, I knew they
were able, academically well-qualified and pastorally
experienced men who answered the call to service in a way
which was personal to them.
The vocation of a brother is ‘to brother’. They do this through
encouraging, listening, sharing and accompanying one’s
brothers and sisters in Christ as they journey through life. A
brother can be a member of different communities such as
his religious community, family, friends, workplace, and
within the locality he lives in.
A brother’s calling to service can be in areas such as
education, social work, nursing, manual work, community
work, justice and peace, parish work as well as being a
member of their community. But first and foremost, he is a
A number of years ago, I spent some time speaking with Br
Guy who was a Little Brother of Jesus.They had been founded
in 1933 by a small group of men as they felt called to follow
the witness of the now St. Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916)
who lived alone in the Sahara Desert in Algeria among the
Tourareg people. This founding shows “Unless a grain of
wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a grain of
wheat, but if it dies it yields a rich harvest” (Jn 12:24).
The first Little brother to come to Britain was Br Roger who in
1952 began to establish the brothers’ presence in Leeds. Br
Guy came from Lyons in 1961 and lived in Leeds in the same
house as his neighbours. There were no external signs that
the house was occupied by a group of brothers. This was
deliberate as the brothers identify with their neighbours.
They don’t go out to the people from a big house in an
affluent area; they live among them.
He shared that the brothers live in places which are deemed
to be areas where poverty in its many forms is present. They
live the Gospel through sharing in the everyday lives of their
neighbours, in their joys and sorrows also in working as
others do. Here, they have the vocation of being a presence.
Br Ian who lived in Leeds then moved to London told me
“The brothers’ charism is to be contemplatives in the world.”.
Little brothers would not undertake any form of church
ministry. Br Guy worked in a factory alongside people from
the area. He was the union shop-steward so in many ways he
was the ‘the voice of the voiceless’.
Brother Ian said “the brothers find in ordinary life a meeting
place with God as Jesus did”. As Charles de Foucauld wrote ‘It
is only necessary to live among people, sharing the human
condition and being present to them in love’. Little brothers
see their vocation as ‘living the life of Nazareth … the hidden
life of Jesus of Nazareth’.
Br Xavier lived for over thirty years in Leeds with Br Guy. He
too experienced the life of locals through both working and
experiencing redundancy. This happened to many as industry
Br Thierry came to Leeds in 1971 where he worked on a
building site. In 1973 both and Br Yvan founded a community
in London and soon Br Thierry became involved with the
L’arche community where people with disabilities and
assistants lived together.
Occasionally a brother may be ordained priest enabling the
brothers to celebrate the Eucharist as a community. One of
the brothers, Br Ian, had been living in London for many
years when he was asked to be ordained. On the morning of
his ordination, he was at the local college cleaning offices as
he did most days! Although ordained, Br Ian was first and
foremost a brother.
In Leeds Br Guy got involved in the local community through
volunteering at the Development Education Centre as well as
being involved with Justice and Peace. He was a man who
shared compassion towards others particularly refugees and
asylum seekers. He remained in Leeds until his death in 2013.
Today, there are only one hundred and thirty Little Brothers
of Jesus in the world and, sadly, they are no longer in Britain.
On Vocations Sunday we often hear the bishops and priests
asking us to pray that more men answer the call of God to
the priesthood and be shepherds of the flock. Yet rarely do I
hear ‘Let us pray for more men to answer the call of God to
Pope Francis chose the theme for this year’s Vocations
Sunday as ‘Vocation: Grace and Mission’. He states that ‘our
common vocation is to give ourselves in love’. People live
their baptism in various ways, that is as laity, religious, or
ordained as all have a role within, what is called, the
‘vocational symphony’. Here, each of us have a contribution
to make in living the gospel.
In relation to this, let us hope more men may, like Br Guy, Br
Yvan, Br Ian, Br Thierry, and Br Xavier did so, discern the call
‘to brother’ and give themselves in love.