Brother Jerry Gives Talk on the Charism

Brother Jerry O’Leary was asked by the Delegate for Religious for the Baltimore Archdiocese to give a brief talk on the charism of the Xaverian Brothers at a gathering of several hundred religious sisters, brothers, and priests at A Celebration of Consecrated Life in the Neumann Vicariate (Bishop Dennis Madden’s area of responsibility in the Baltimore Archdiocese) on May 22, 2013.

As I was preparing to speak about the charism of the Xaverian Brothers I was reminded of something that happened to me back in the 90’s when I was visiting a Staples store to get some copies made. The young fellow waiting on me was a black man with a distinctly foreign accent. I asked him where he was from, and he said Kenya. I told him I was a member of a Catholic religious order – the Xaverian Brothers and we had Brothers in Kenya. He said he had heard of the Xaverian Brothers but didn’t know much about them. Then he asked me, “What is the charism of your order, the Xaverian Brothers?” Back in the 90’s I wasn’t used to speaking about our charism, but I hope I’ll give a more complete answer to that question in my brief talk tonight.

Several years after Vatican II, we Xaverians began to heed its call for us to look more deeply at that particular call from God that our founder, Theodore James Ryken, became aware of for himself and his followers, when he founded the Brothers of St. Francis Xavier in 1839 in Bruges, Belgium. In working papers done by the Brothers we see a description of Ryken’s awareness of this call from God. An excerpt from those papers reads: “Bro. Ryken came to an awareness of a life direction for him (and his followers) – the non-dichotomized life of Martha and Mary. It was an “ordinary” graced humanity in two ways: (1) self-determined to be without privilege and entitlement, and (2) open to the constant yet quiet irruptions of God in the unspectacular flow of daily life. (It was important) for the Xaverian Brother to see ministry not simply as service to others, but as flowing from one’s union with God in contemplation.”

I think the Brothers, by and large, have lived according to such an awareness, though it’s only in recent years that we see it stated more explicitly. But as we get ready for our General Chapter this summer it’s been a pleasure to follow one of our pre-Chapter directives: to look back at the lives of individual Brothers we have known who got in touch with how God was calling them to be the fully human people God created them to be, to give themselves away to others, including those who were on the margins of society, and to use whatever gifts and talents they had, to do the things they loved to do and were good at. We know that the reason Ryken chose St. Francis Xavier as the patron saint of our order was that Francis was completely caught up in using whatever gifts and talents he had in spreading the message of God’s love as far as he could, over the whole world.

Today, I am one of several hundred Xaverian Brothers who come from Belgium, DRC, England, the Phillipines, and the USA. We have been in the US since 1839 and in Baltimore since 1866 when Archbishop Spalding asked us to open St. Mary’s Industrial School which had Babe Ruth as one of its boarding students. The Brothers opened a number of parish elementary schools in Baltimore as well as Mount St. Joseph College.

The following is what our presence throughout the US is today. We have 13 high schools in our Xaverian Brothers Sponsored Schools program in Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, and NY, one of them being Mount Saint Joe’s here in Baltimore, and we also co-sponsor two middle schools, one of them being Mother Seton Academy in Baltimore. Our Brothers are on the Boards of our Xaverian Brothers sponsored schools, and we still have Brothers working in some of them. But we also have American Brothers working in a variety of other ministries – on our foreign missions in Africa, Haiti, Eastern Europe, and South America, as a financial consultant to Religious orders, working in hospital administration, in parishes, and running programs of internal ministry – such as our homes for older Brothers. Many of our US Brothers are past retirement age – but they’re still working – as volunteers. Some of these Brothers are helping out with our program for our Xaverian Associates (those men and women who have worked with the Brothers over the years and have committed themselves to a life of prayer and service in the Xaverian way). Other retired Brothers are volunteers in our schools, in parishes, in community outreach programs, in programs for the disabled, in groups advocating for social justice issues, and some as members of the Boards of our 13 Xaverian Brothers sponsored Schools.

Our Belgian and English Brothers are now mostly retired but many of the fine Xaverian schools they established are still operating today and carrying on the Xaverian legacy. Among them are two well known and praised institutions which continue, in an effective way, in the tradition of the Xaverian Brothers – Xaverian College in Manchester, England, and Saint Francis Xavier Institute in Bruges, Belgium.

Brothers from Belgium, England, and America have been ministering in East Africa since 1931. But for many years after the turbulence occurring during the end of the colonial period in Zaire (now called the DRC) there were only 2 African Brothers in our Congregation. But after a resurgence helped along by Belgian, British, and American Brothers, now there are over 40 Congolese and Kenyan vowed Brothers who are currently running schools and outreach programs, and ministering in our international formation houses in the Congo and Kenya. There are also more than 15 young men in our international formation programs there.

Brothers from the US, finally, have ministered in Haiti since 1989, and today are blessed to have a Brother from the Congo and one from Kenya working together with them to spread God’s love there.

I am very much heartened by the fact that we have had Brothers in all these places and continue to have Xaverian Brothers in this country, in Belgium, Kenya, the Congo, South Sudan, Lithuania, Mexico, Bolivia, and Haiti who are still trying to stay in touch with God’s love and doing their best to help make this world the place that God intends it to be.

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