Last July, the religious brothers who do so much to support their communities all over the country had the opportunity to congregate in support of one another at the 46th annual Religious Brothers Conference.
The brothers of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles didn’t have to travel far this year, as they played host to their fellow brethren at the Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center in Sierra Madre. A total of 48 brothers ranging from their first to 50th year of brotherhood (in addition to a handful of religious sisters) attended the four-day conference, which is intended to promote vocation and ministry amongst brothers.
“The goal of the annual conference is to promote brotherhood, not only amongst ourselves, but also as a way of renewing, in our own lives, our vows of brotherhood and helping us grow closer to them,” said Brother Tom Haerle, who is currently serving in his fifth year of ministry to Claretian seniors at the Dominguez Seminary. “As religious brothers, we all live our lives in service of others, and to hear other brothers’ stories about what they’re doing and what a difference they’re making is worth coming together for. It’s a great example of fellowship and a great opportunity to learn.”
“It’s great to meet brothers who share the same vocation, but are living it out in other parts of the country, and being of service in different ways,” added Brother William Boslet, OSF, executive secretary of the Religious Brothers Conference. “It affirms and strengthens my own calling and vocation. By way of learning from one another and attaining new insights, it also gives me a motivation to do new things or try new things or approach life in a different way.”
The theme of this year’s conference was “Minister at the Margins,” a phrase inspired by the words of Pope Francis to encourage challenging oneself to serve the poor, exiled and excluded people of the world. And it was a theme that Loyola Marymount campus ministry music and liturgy director John Flaherty, who was tasked with directing the music at this year’s conference, was inspired to emphasize in a multitude of ways, from the ethnic diversity of his choir and band to his equally eclectic musical selections.
“I worked to make sure that the music choices and the prayer text were really focused on those at the margins: the refugees, the exiled, the imprisoned, everyone in that fragile place between life and death,” explained Flaherty. “I try to capture the ethnic and cultural diversity of our Archdiocese, as well as the historical and musical breadth and depth of our Church. Because when we pray and receive the Eucharist, we truly are one universal church in one Eucharist. I try to shape the music so that there are as many questions as there are affirmations so that it challenges us to do something.”
In addition to the, by all accounts, immensely uplifting prayer services throughout the week, the conference also featured speech presentations from Father Gregory Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, a beloved Los Angeles staple that provides relief for young men and women with past gang affiliations, and Darleen Pryds, Ph.D., an associate professor of Christian spirituality and history at the Franciscan School of Theology.
Suffice it to say, Father Boyle knows a great deal about “ministering to the margins,” and he shared a few of his extraordinary experiences working with former gang members in order to encourage the brothers to “understand what kind of a God we have. We need to push ourselves to the limit of who God is — a God who loves us all the same.”
Pryds addressed the importance of experiencing God’s love through “play” — “to let go of oneself so as to be present to our souls, and to refresh the spirit, mind and body.” While the two speeches accentuated different messages, they struck an equally powerful chord with the brothers in the audience. “Both speakers were excellent and we experienced the difficulties, the heartbreak and the tremendous blessings of such ministry at the margins,” said Brother Stephen Glodek, SM, president of the Religious Brothers Conference.
The week concluded with a bus tour of Los Angeles, which included a stop at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in Downtown L.A. and dinner at the famous Original Farmers Market, and culminated in the annual banquet, during which a brother is honored for displaying particularly exemplary service to his community. This year’s award was presented to Brother Bernie Spitzley, SVD, who has exemplified ministering to the margins through his tireless efforts to build new houses in the most destitute sections of Jamaica.
After four days and countless cherished conversations with each other, the 48 brothers went their separate ways. But the newfound insights the brothers gained from listening to not only the guest speeches but also their fellow brethren’s personal experiences will surely stay with them as they return to their communities and challenge themselves to seek out the margins in their respective pockets of the world.
“Everyone has a gift, and we as brothers need to always be aware that we have a gift to bring to the church,” said Brother Haerle. “How can we be present in the lives of people who have been led astray? Are we challenging ourselves to reach out to people on the margins? Or are we simply stuck in ourselves? We need to promote brotherhood not only amongst ourselves but amongst the entire church community, so that others can see that brothers do make a difference and it is an important vocation. Whenever we can promote what other brothers are doing, it helps us better understand the vocation of brotherhood.”