Religious brotherhood seems like one of those easily neglected vocations. Many people aren’t even sure what it is. That’s just one reason why the Institute of Religious Life in Libertyville, Ill., is coming to the rescue with a new website, Religious, launched just after World Day of Consecrated Life on Feb. 2.

“Obviously, we promote the vocations to the religious life and consecrated life,” explains Michael Wick, executive director of the Institute on Religious Life. “What seemed to be lacking was promotion of the religious brotherhood.”

Everything started coming into focus when the institute (online at presented its annual Pro Fidelitate et Virtute Award to Brother James Curran, founder of the Little Brothers of St. Francis in Massachusetts, to highlight his life and witness and also the vocation of religious brotherhood.

Wick recalls that, in making the presentation, Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Ill., the institute’s president, talked about the sad fact that the vocation to religious brotherhood seems forgotten — and that this humble, hidden vocation needs to be promoted with greater effort.

“It seemed like marching orders from our commander in chief,” says Wick. “That was when the idea for the website sparked.” It continued to grow rapidly as the institute took a look at the eye-opening statistics from The Official Catholic Directory.

In 1967 there were 12,539 religious brothers in the United States. Forty years later, their numbers had dropped to 5,095. Statistics from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University vary slightly, but their conclusions remain the same. In fact, for 2008, the total is listed as only 5,001.

Everyone agrees there was a decline in vocations after the Second Vatican Council, with the brotherhood being one of the hardest-hit callings. The institute hopes the website will help with the turnaround.

“When the website was being developed, the whole community was excited because it uses modern technology to make the vocation to brotherhood better known and, even more, to help people know it exists,” says Brother Giles Michael Gilbert of the Little Brothers of St. Francis in Boston. “The website has the opportunity to clarify a lot of misconceptions that arise when people are discerning vocations, such as: ‘What is religious brotherhood?’”

Identity and Clarity

Once a dispatcher for the Mundelein (Ill.) Police Department and a student of Spanish literature, Brother Giles made his solemn vows last summer with this small and relatively new community.

“An important part of our vocation,” explains Brother Giles, “is to help restore the vocation to brotherhood and to give witness to that vocation.” That’s precisely what the institute’s has in mind for all religious communities of brothers.

Wick outlines two of the major goals. “We wanted to stress the identity of the religious brothers versus just the function,” he says, “and also build upon that as to what they do, which is the expression of their identity.”

It’s exactly in line with the thinking of those like Conventual Franciscan Brother Paschal Kol-odziej, assistant novice master at St. Francis of Assisi Novitiate in Mishawaka, Ind. He explains their charism: to live in fraternity first and foremost, out of which comes their work with runaway children and the poor in parishes as well as retreats.

Wick points out that, in his 1996 apostolic letter Vita Consecrata (The Consecrated Life), Pope John Paul II stated that “religious brothers provide valuable services of various kinds, inside or outside the community, participating in this way in the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and bearing witness to it with charity in everyday life.”

The institute-inspired website highlights key elements of the religious brotherhood vocation and what makes it unique in the Church and different from the priesthood. Wick, who points out the funding came through a grant from Our Sunday Visitor Foundation, stresses that the website has lots of images of brothers in action, in community and prayer. not only makes clear what a religious brother is and the many areas a religious brother works in as he reflects the love of Christ, but it also answers frequently asked questions about the vocation.

Brother Tom Osorio, vocation director for the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God and head of the Religious Brotherhood Conference, believes the site will bring understanding to men.

“Out of all the vocations in the Church, the vocation of brother is the most misunderstood and not very clear,” says Brother Tom. “This site is going to shed a light on brothers. We’re men called to a different way of life. We obviously attend Mass every day, but we are not called for the sacramental ministry; we are called to the apostolic ministry. Our life is of service to the people, while the priest’s main vocation is sacramental life.”

Brother Tom points out that the website highlights the possible ministries brothers can get involved in and outlines many current ministries brothers work in. Contrary to popular perception, brothers have many ministries aside from teaching.

Stories Speak includes several sections. One presents a spectrum of saints and blesseds who are special patrons of brothers, with an explanation of who they are and why they’re patrons. The spectrum goes from the Church’s beginnings to the present and includes such saints as Joseph, Francis of Assisi, Gerard Majella and Martin De Porres, along with such blesseds as Fra Angelico and Brother André Bessette.

The site includes brothers sharing their testimonies on being called to this vocation. In someone else’s story, a visitor may hear his own story, reasons Wick. “Some element will stick out and very much speak to them,” he adds, “encouraging them to embrace the grace of the vocation.”

While it’s too early to tell if anyone has already decided to further pursue the vocation of religious brotherhood because of the website, everyone involved sees great hope in this site.

“Young people now are so into modern technology,” says Brother Paschal, “that for anyone who might be considering a vocation, probably one of the first places to go to, before a parish priest, would be to the Internet. It’s so crucial to the vocation of brotherhood today.”

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.

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