Confraternities are not something new. They have been around since medieval times. But the one at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen (Magdalen.edu) is new: The Confraternity of St. Joseph launched last spring.
In existence only two semesters, it counts more than half of this New Hampshire Catholic college’s male students as members.
George Harne, the college’s president, explained why the confraternity was formed and what it hopes to accomplish.
"I think people who are striving to grow in their faith are more successful if they do it in a community of like-minded people," Harne said. "We wanted to create an intentional community for men to share their faith and encourage one another to grow spiritually."
That’s one reason why Felix Miller joined. "Being a student here, I want to grow not only in intellectual matters, but spiritual ones," Miller said. "The confraternity sounded like something that would foster spiritual growth. We’re all called to sainthood, and (I knew) that (this) would help me to achieve that goal. It’s such an interesting idea; you don’t hear of college-age men getting together to pray, do spiritual reading and just talk."
The confraternity aims to infuse regular prayer and the sacraments into the daily life of its members through a common rule of life and a weekly gathering.
The key elements of the rule are prayer, the sacraments, intentional spiritual growth, mutual encouragement, service and, of course, a devotion to St. Joseph, the confraternity’s namesake.
Members are encouraged to make a Morning Offering each day, as well as commit to pray one of the following daily: Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy or the Liturgy of the Hours. Also included is increasing their frequency of assisting at daily Masses and biweekly confession. There are no formal written membership forms because Harne doesn’t want this confraternity to be exclusive in any way.
Since each college residence has a chapel, members can easily get together to pray. With chapels in several locations, confraternity members are encouraged to be aware of the sacramental presence of Christ on campus wherever they are and always show reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament, taking a moment to genuflect and make a Sign of the Cross at the nearest chapel.
This approach fits with St. Joseph’s example of being with Jesus throughout the day. Members are encouraged to wear a scapular of St. Joseph or a medal of the saint to remind them in a sacramental way of their patron as well.
As Harne explained: "What they’re doing on a daily basis is important for building habits for their spiritual life."
Christopher Rand sees the fruits: "We keep each other accountable in a very fraternal way. It’s simple to say to one another, ‘Hey, want to pray a Rosary?’ or ask for a reminder: ‘If you see me, grab me by the shirt collar and pull me to (weekday) Mass.’"
Then there are the Tuesday evening meetings at Harne’s home, where his wife, Deborah, prepares a meal for everyone, and their five children greet the members at the door.
The evening opens with a prayer to St. Joseph, which is followed by food and fellowship. "We usually review our rule of life," Harne said, "then do some kind of spiritual reading together and discuss it. We close with the Litany of St. Joseph."
During last year’s Tuesday get-togethers, the confraternity read and discussed Friends of God by St. Josemaria Escriva. This year, they are focusing on Jim Stenson’s To Be a Man: Life Lessons for Young Men.
"They’re practical books on how to live our faith in the world," Harne said. "They help the students make that bridge from what they’re learning in theology in the college to how to apply that in a meaningful way in their life and bring that out into the world."
The hope is that everyone leaves every Tuesday evening encouraged in faith.
"Students need all the encouragement they can get, even in a faithful Catholic college," Harne said. "These students chose a Catholic college to grow in their faith. This confraternity is meant to be a source of encouragement and support. We’re not asking people every week: ‘Did you go to Mass twice a week? Did you make your Morning Offering every day?’ But we’re showing a plan, a rule of life, a blueprint they can follow."
That’s precisely the way both junior Rand and sophomore Miller see it.
As a server for the campus Novus Ordo Mass once or twice a week, Miller said that having many members serve at Mass helps to encourage a love of the sacraments and the Eucharist.
"It’s an avenue by which we can be faith-filled in our lives," said Rand. "We usually try to find ways it [the reading] relates to ourselves. And we’ll challenge each other."
Rand — who calls the confraternity "a flower that blossomed unexpectedly," like the lily in St. Joseph’s hand in artistic depictions — helped to start the group last year for its Godly purpose: "We can meet and not talk about sports or how classes are going — but about the reason why we’re here: to be Catholic students."
For Rand, St. Joseph is the prime example of what it is to be a layman: "We have to provide for our families, worry about their welfare, protect them as best we can and influence them morally and in a Christian sense. As young men, we see St. Joseph is an icon for that. He is my favorite saint because he personifies and encapsulates everything I could be."
Devotion to St. Joseph plays a major role for Miller as well: "He’s a really strong example, especially in modern times, for young men. Looking around, we can see we live in a world where there isn’t that same emphasis on hard work and purity that St. Joseph exemplifies. The confraternity has helped me to develop an appreciation of the great example St. Joseph is of virtue. He’s described as a just man, and that’s what we all should strive to be."
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.