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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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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View from Pikes Peak - Student Essay Contest Winner 1996

Dear Sok Thea,

Life can change drastically. One second you're going about your business and the next you're starting a new life. I recently read about your tragic experience and the way it has changed your life. I am happy you have found new hope with the school you are now attending. I hope and pray for you and your family as you continue your life's journey through these difficult times.

I know a young man who has had to overcome some very difficult situations. He was happy with his life until suddenly it changed beyond his comprehension. At 16 years old, he went out one evening to play ice hockey, a sport he dearly loved. During the game, he was chasing the puck into a corner with a member of the opposing team, and they both fell and went crashing into the end boards. The opponent, a childhood friend, got up and skated away while the other boy lay still on the ice. He had broken his neck and was paralyzed from the neck down.

The night of his injury, he was not expected to live. Now one year later, he is finishing his senior year of high school and continuing daily therapy. He is able to stand and take a few steps with assistance. He has come so far but still has a long journey ahead of him.

His family, like yours, has been with him every step of the way. A few of his friends have stuck by his side, while many have faded away. He has also made new friends. He has learned much. He knows what it is like to face the odds head on and rely on inner strength, determination and God to see him through.

I know so much about this young man because I am he. I have felt many emotions since the time of my injury and am sure you have as well. I have feelings of worthlessness, fear and happiness. Some days are harder than others, but the key is not to let the down days override the positive ones. I am sure God is watching and is with me every step of the way, and I believe he is also watching over you. I am a firm believer that if you do your best, God will take care of the rest.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit one of the highest mountains in North America, Pikes Peak. As I stood at the top, I could not help but wonder why fate had dealt me these cards. How could God who loves me so much let this happen? If God has so much power, why can't He reverse what happened? I asked myself these questions over and over.

The one truth I have learned is that we all have our mountain to climb. Some may have smaller mountains while others have much larger ones. These mountains represent your goals and the hardships you must conquer. The rope you will use to climb your mountain is your family and friends through the love and understanding they provide. This rope will support you but can never do the climbing for you. To reach the top requires strength, courage and determination. At the top of your mountain, you stand closest to God.

I hope that the journey up your mountain is filled with love and compassion. I believe you have the will to reach the top. God is looking over your shoulder and will never give up. I will continue to pray for you and your family each day as we continue our journeys together.


J.J. O'Connor

J.J. O'Connor, a 12th grader at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, III., is the recipient of the Bishop Patrick I. Byrne Award of $500. The award is named after the Maryknoll missioner who died on a forced march in Korea in 1950.

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