September/October 2014
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Being a Brother

What is a Maryknoll Brother? Ask those who live the vocation. Brother John Blazo will tell you, "It's being a bridge between ordained and lay ministry." Brother Thomas Hickey says, "It's a lifestyle, not a title." Brother Wayne Fitzpatrick answers, "It's one called to serve his brothers and sisters through community, prayer and hospitality." No matter their wording, all agree Brothers strive to follow Jesus, who lived as a brother to all.

Brothers have been an integral part of Maryknoll from the earliest days. In the spring of 1912, four months before the arrival of the first seminarians, Thomas McCann of Brooklyn, N.Y., came to offer his services to the fledgling mission enterprise. He did not feel called to priesthood, he said, but wanted to be a missioner. Co-founder Father James A. Walsh had already roughed out a plan for such men. They would assist in raising mission awareness and help the cause "by prayer and care of temporalities."

Thomas McCann became the first Maryknoll Brother. He was indefatigable in helping co-founder Father Thomas F. Price drum up interest among U.S. Catholics in the new mission society and in doing whatever needed to be done in day-to-day operations. His spirit of generous service set the bar for future Maryknoll Brothers.

In the mission society's first 25 years some 200 men applied to join the Auxiliary Brothers of St. Michael, as they were called. They brought their professional skills and talents to aid the spread of the Gospel. Eventually, like the Maryknoll priests, the Brothers would take an oath of obedience to the Society that included a lifetime commitment to celibacy.

The Brothers' formation focused on prayer and manual labor, initially at Maryknoll's new headquarters in Ossining, N.Y. The first Maryknoll Brother to go overseas was Albert Staubli, a master builder, who was assigned to China in 1921. As more and more Brothers went to overseas missions, says Brother John Beeching, they were able to draw on the training they had received in uniting prayer and work. Beeching quotes an excerpt from Glen Kittler's book The Maryknoll Fathers that offers a glimpse of the life of those early Brothers:

"Once the mission buildings were up, the Brothers put in the lights and heating systems, kept the mission cars and boats running, ran the dispensaries and kitchens and office, grew the vegetables and tended the animals, printed the textbooks and catechisms, then taught from them, and in the process of doing all these things, they trained local people in the skills, thereby providing a means of livelihood to men who had had none. Yet in the end it wasn't so much what they did that mattered but why they did it and how they did it. That's what made them active contemplatives."

The end of World War II brought an influx of ex-servicemen to the Maryknoll Brothers, among them Peter Agnone and Conrad Fleisch. "At the Navy chapel I found a brochure titled ‘You Too Could Become a Maryknoll Brother,' " says Agnone, who accepted the invitation in 1947. "Brother Xavier Lamb (one of the pioneer Brothers) welcomed me with a bottle of holy water and a candy bar!"  Agnone, now retired at Mission St. Teresa's, served in Tanzania, Kenya, Western Samoa and Rome.
His classmate Conrad Fleisch, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, spent his entire missionary career in the United States, in charge of building maintenance. That, Fleisch says, was serving in mission just as much as working overseas. "I was contributing to the organization by doing what I do best," he says, adding that it's not so much the job as its basis in prayer that constitutes the missionary Brother's vocation.

Emphasis on a strong spiritual formation for Maryknoll Brothers remained as the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) effected other changes in their lives. The term "Auxiliary" was dropped from their title and Brothers were recognized as missioners in their own right. The Brothers' formation program was expanded to include a foundation in theology and Scripture, and the Brothers were given more opportunities to earn advanced degrees and training in new ministries.

Brother Thomas Hickey, for instance, who had a background in accounting, went back to school for gerontology and psychology. He now ministers to the retired Maryknoll priests and Brothers in assisted living.

"Sometimes they just need a reassuring touch," he says. "The role of a Brother is touching people's lives and journeying with them."

Loren Beaudry has journeyed with youth and the elderly in Kenya, Namibia and now Tanzania, always ministering as a Brother with one goal: "I try to bring out the good in people," he says. "We are all in need of God's grace and forgiveness."

That kind of acceptance has come back to Brother John Nitsch in Chile, where, he says, "The people have taken me as I am, with my weaknesses and gifts." He has gotten closer to the people, he says, "by not being an authority figure but sitting with them in the pews."

For John Blazo, being a Brother has been an asset in doing mission education in Nicaragua and Guatemala and now in the eastern United States. Recalling local church leaders overseas, he says, "They had tremendous respect for priests and me, as a Brother, but while they knew what priests did, they weren't sure what I did. I helped them see that whatever I could do, they could do. I wasn't ordained but was a layperson just like them. This, I think, helped them carry out their ministries with more confidence."

In Guatemala, it was the people who helped Brother Robert Butsch carry out his ministry with confidence when he supervised construction of buildings there in 1963. "I learned to speak Spanish on the scaffolding from the workmen," says Butsch, who has a degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. And from a veteran Maryknoll Brother, Felix Fournier, he learned that being a Brother means responding to the need of the day. In Guatemala and later Nicaragua, Butsch responded to needs ranging from bringing water to remote villages to training catechists. Assigned to Egypt, he discovered another need for his skills: making special shoes for Hansen's disease (leprosy) patients to cushion their wounds. He trained others to continue the work. "But," he says, "I mainly tried to teach the patients that their skin is good and with proper treatment, it can heal."

Today young men like Ryan Thibert continue to join the Maryknoll Brothers. The 29-year-old native of Ontario, Canada, is in his first year of orientation at Maryknoll's formation house in Chicago, where he is deepening his spiritual life and earning a degree in art, which he hopes to use in ministry. "What attracted me to be a Maryknoll Brother," he says, "is the call of the Spirit to give my life to God in service to others and to go wherever the need may be." That seems to say it all.

For a multimedia presentation related to this article, visit


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Francis of Rome, Francis of Assisi

The election of Pope Francis marked several firsts: first Jesuit pope, first pope from Latin America, first pope to take the name Francis. Many wondered whether his choice of a name implied a preview of his vision for the Church. A church inspired by St. Francis would embrace those on the margins, eschew power, promote peace, dialogue with other faiths, and care for creation. In fulfilling the promise implied in his name, Pope Francis has unleashed enormous hopes.

The connection between the pope and the saint is the subject of a new book by Leonardo Boff, Francis of Rome & Francis of Assisi. Boff, a former Franciscan and one of the leading theologians of Brazil, is the author of over a dozen Orbis titles, including Francis of Assisi. His new book originated as a series of essays timed for the pope's trip to Brazil for World Youth Day. But in light of the continuous stream of extraordinary statements by the pope, including his historic interview in America magazine and his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, this book grew and took shape.

It begins with an assessment of the Church in recent years, the sense of demoralization in the face of scandals, the widespread perception that the Church had become too self-centered. Cardinal Bergoglio at the papal conclave gave voice to this concern when he called the Church to "come out of herself" and go to the margins.

Boff traces the parallels between St. Francis and Pope Francis. The mission of St. Francis took form in response to a voice from a crucifix that said, "Francis, repair my church." He set out to restore the Church to the example of Jesus. He envisioned, like Pope Francis, "a poor church for the poor" an ecological church in which all creatures were "brothers and sisters." In a kindred spirit, Pope Francis has rejected the trappings of power; he has called for pastors who "smell of the sheep"; he has wept over the sufferings of the poor, and emphasized mercy as the key expression of the Gospel.

By analyzing the pope's writings, Boff explores the potential in Pope Francis for a systematic reform and renewal of the Church. He writes, "Francis represents a new dawn of hope, a sign that a new spring can burst upon the Church, with all its vitality and splendor. In this way it can regain credibility and truly become a sacrament of liberation for so many who are crushed by countless oppressions. It was for them, first of all, that Jesus came into the world, gave his life, and wants his representative to strengthen them in faith and hope. Francis is making the Church become a spiritual hearth again, where it is good to live together, struggle and celebrate life with others in dialogue, in closeness, tenderness and love."

Robert Ellsberg is publisher of Maryknoll's Orbis Books.

To order, please visit or call 1-800-258-5838 Monday to Friday 8:00am - 4:00pm ET.

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A Library of Hope

Nine-year-old Karla picked up the Spanish edition of The Rainbow Fish and the Blue Whale. She examined bright colors of sea fauna, water and bubbles, ran her fingers across the back cover and rubbed them together, as if an ocean were reachable from where she sat. Suddenly, her eyes flashed with curiosity: "Was this going to be thrown away?" she asked.

"Of course not," I told her.

"Don't people give things they don't want anymore?" Her small, round face—dotted with insect bites and white blotches—looked out the window of the library. A swarm of mosquitoes puddle-jumped down the road littered with pieces of brick and cement and stagnant water. The road also serves as a drainage canal for waste that runs from the mud homes that line its edge. The community, known as La Esperanza, is one of 32 zones of extreme poverty in El Salvador. The United Nations estimates one-third of El Salvador's 6 million inhabitants live in such conditions.

"The book is brand new," I told Karla. "You're gonna be the first to read it. A woman named Judy and her sister, Carol, from the United States sent it."


"Because they want to contribute to the future of children like you, who love books and are learning to read. She wants to be a part of your life," I said. A tidal wave of emotion crossed Karla's face as she got up to go home to take care of her little sister. "Take the book with you," I told her. "Maybe you can read it to your sister." Karla ran out of the library clutching the book.

I opened the library when Carol Kaplan started sending books last year after she had visited La Esperanza through an immersion trip called Friends Across Borders, sponsored by the Maryknoll Lay Missioners (click here to see story from May/June 2014 issue). Carol is helping the family literacy project in La Esperanza that is part of my ministry as a Maryknoll lay missioner here. She also got her sister, Judy, involved in sending books to us.

As Karla left the library, she passed several children coming in. The children sat down and Wendy, the teenager in charge of the library that afternoon, asked them to draw pictures of what the library means to them. She put plenty of crayons on the table.

Another teenager, Sofia, walked in. I asked how she was doing. She grunted, "Too much homework." We sat down and got started on it. At 15, Sofia has a strong, pliable personality. Her Afro-Salvadoran heritage gives her a body language that exudes, "I'm gonna survive." She is one of two teens from our base Christian community who made it into the only public high school where kids from La Esperanza can go.

Only 500 of the more than 1,500 teenagers who took the entrance exam to enter the high school were accepted because there is not enough space for all who want to study. For most of those who didn't get in, their formal education is over. Forty percent of Salvadorans have a high school education, but according to unesco, a country needs to provide at least 60 percent of its population a high school diploma to be on the road to development.

"Why do we need a good education?" I asked Sofia. She cracked a sarcastic grin and said, "To heal people of dumbness."

"Being smart has also to do with learning to serve others," I said.

"That's why I'm here," she shot back. I asked her to help me check the kids' drawings.

Veronica showed us her sailboat—an open book for sails, a yellow pencil for a mast—sailing through colorful islands with palm and coconut trees. "You can go anywhere once you learn to read and write," Veronica said, explaining her drawing. Most of the other kids copied pictures from books they had checked out. This is typical of work they do in school. With classes of 40 to 45 students and limited resources, teachers stick to rote educational methods.

Before Wendy closed the library, 5-year-old Anderson's mother came in holding a book called Prayers of Hope. She handed it to me, apologizing that Anderson had forgotten to return it. When she left, Anderson told me his aunt was using the book to teach his mother to read and it wasn't his fault the book was returned late. He picked up another book, called Tattoos of the Heart, to take home for his aunt to read.

Walking home, I met Karla, running toward me and shouting, "I read it all." She handed me The Rainbow Fish and the Blue Whale. I thanked her for returning it so quickly and asked if she wanted to keep it longer. "No," she said. "Tomorrow I'll go to the library for another one."

Maryknoll Lay Missioner Rick Dixon from Orange, Calif., has been serving in El Salvador since 2012.

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Study Guide
September 2014 Study Guide: Grades 4-6

Dear Teacher,

The following study guide has been designed to help you present in an age-appropriate way. Have students read the article on pages 44–47 and answer the Reading Worksheet.

Download September 2014 Study Guide for Grades 4-6

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