Catholic brothers sometimes say they’re the best-kept secret in the church. These remarkable men are quietly doing life-altering ministry and prayer—together, in community, alongside laity.
When Brother David Relstab, O.S.A. was thinking about a life of church service, what drew him to religious life was its most distinctive quality: community. Sharing meals, prayer, and daily living with a group of men focused on a common mission was a big attraction. As an auto technician with a newly completed degree in automotive engineering, Relstab—who by then was looking into vocation options—did a 180-degree turn away from engineering. He connected with the Augustinian Friars, and in 2018 he took the formal step of entering the formation (or preparation) program to join the community.
For me being a brother means adventure and community.
Whether you call him Raf, Rafy, Raffa, or Rafita—he answers to them all—“Brother” is a name that will always suit Rafael Vargas, S.D.B. He took his final vows to be a Salesian brother in 2021. Growing up a first-generation Puerto Rican in New Jersey, he wanted to pour his energy into running, all the way to the Olympics and a professional career. He’s still plenty athletic, but new passions have emerged. “My first love is serving youth,” he says, the focus of his religious community’s network of schools and programs.
I was achieving my professional dreams, but I always had the sense that something was missing in my life. A sense of yearning and searching would overtake me, and I couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
Brother Ray Morris’ ministry at Florida State University can seem like play. “Basically I walk around campus playing sports and sharing meals with students,” he says. But don’t be fooled. The point, he says, is “building relationships and (hopefully) leading them closer to God. It’s fun at times and disheartening at others but always worthwhile.” He loves working alongside his brothers to reach out to students in part because he was once spiritually adrift himself.
An often misunderstood vocation gets a moment in the spotlight.
He lives in Philadelphia now, but Brother Kyle Mena, F.S.C. is a “New Yorker at heart,” having been born and raised there by his mom and abuelos (grandparents). He realized his calling to religious life slowly, and even sees it linked to construction in his college dorm: “As the jackhammers rang outside and clogged pipes led to sewage backup in our rooms, at times, I sought refuge in our school chapel and campus events, including campus ministry.” His faith flourished in college, and then he providentially met a De La Salle Christian Brother, who opened up a whole new world—one that he eventually came to join.
Bronx native Brother Luis Ramos, F.M.S. still remembers how different the brothers who ran his high school seemed when he first met them. From their unusual clothing to their atypical life of community, prayer, and ministry—brothers caught, and held, his attention. Today Ramos is preparing for full membership with the Marist Brothers. He works with various student groups at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and has ministered among migrant workers, youth, and young adults.
Most people don’t wait until someone dies in their arms to take God seriously. But Brother Robert Bathe’s journey to brotherhood took a few twists and turns before he found his calling.
It’s not surprising that Brother James Jensen, O.S.B. considered life as a priest or brother when he was young. He grew up in a church-every-Sunday family and attended Catholic schools for 12 years. An avid teenage golfer, he daydreamed about a combo career as a pro-golfer priest, “but that wasn’t realistic,” he realized. His early interest never left, however, and five years into a career as an accountant Jensen started exploring religious life seriously—a move that ultimately led him to become a Benedictine monk, praying seven times a day.
Brothers walk through the world a little differently, says Brother Herman Johnson, O.P. At the heart of his vocation is being a loving brother to people you won’t find in church.
Holy Cross Brother Roy Smith has earned a reputation as someone who is always there for kids, or as his students at Holy Trinity High School in Chicago would say, he's got their backs.
Why did I choose to join the brothers? The answer is simple but profound: community. The brothers were my first experience of Christian community, an experience that triggered my search for religious life.
Vincentian Brother Mark Elder, creator of some of the most striking murals in the United States and elsewhere, uses art in his quest to help the poor and disenfranchised.
Franciscan Brother Duc Pham says he found his call through false advertising. He answered an ad looking for a teacher but the Franciscans had other plans for him. He’s glad he followed their lead.
An evening class takes this brother from a highlight of his day. Here’s why waiting for dinner can mean so much.
Brother Andre Love battled fierce inner demons before he returned to the church and found his way to religious life.
Not everyone in religious life comes from a family that is full-throttle Catholic, but Brother Chris Patiño, F.S.C. does. He considers himself blessed to have parents who met through young adult ministry and who made Catholic education a priority for him and his sisters. From his Catholic immigrant roots, to his love for teaching, it was a natural path for Patiño to join the De La Salle Christian Brothers, an order dedicated to education.
Parker Jordan wrestled a while with “vocation anxiety syndrome.” But his willingness to turn to God for direction slowly led him to brotherhood and a life of deep gladness.
Many people wander from their faith for a period, and Brother Juan José Jáuregui, O.F.M. is no exception. His life today as a Franciscan Friar, after a period of distance from his childhood faith, is proof that you can not only return, but also find a richer, fuller life in the doing. He belongs to the Franciscan Friars of the Saint Barbara Province, headquartered in Oakland, California, and ministers to the sick as a nursing assistant in a healthcare facility.
William Sprauer became a Catholic in his 20s. As his prayer life deepened, much to his own surprise, he found himself drawn to a monastery in rural Indiana.
Brian Poulin fell away from the church for 13 years. He had always been interested in the same things that religious orders care about: education, international cultures, helping the poor, and after he returned to the church with renewed faith, he began wondering about religious life. Soon he experienced another kind of homecoming when he was called to the Marist Brothers’ way of life. In a surprising twist of fate—or perhaps providence—he entered the same community that had once attracted his own grandfather to its novitiate for a short period.
Having stepped out of the full-time teaching for a year of clarifying their understandings of themselves, three novice De La Salle Christian Brothers are growing into their vocation and preparing to return, deepened, to the ministry of education.
Brother Joe Ruiz, O.S.A will come right out and tell you: “Religious life is not easy, and the same can be said for any vocation: married, single.” But if he sees that faithfulness exacts a cost, he is equally quick to say, “I am convinced it’s worth living in the 21st century. Our world needs healing and positive role models that reflect Christ’s love without discrimination.”
Brother Joe hails from a Mexican American family of eight in Texas, where he learned the traditional folk dances of Mexico he now teaches to kids in Chicago. That’s a side ministry, though, to his main gig as campus minister to students at St. Rita of Cascia High School in Chicago. At the close of each busy day filled with young people, he heads home for meals and common prayers with the Augustinian friars—his brothers.
Marianist Brother Mike Chiuri, S.M. grew up in Nairobi, Kenya in a large Catholic family. With an aunt who is a nun, an uncle who is a priest, and a grandmother who encouraged church vocations, he was no stranger to the possibility of religious life. After establishing himself as a businessperson, however, he began searching for something more.
Christian vocation of any stripe requires daily renewal and recommitment. Here are reasons one brother chooses to stay where he is.
Everything I was looking for in life I’ve found with the friars. They helped me find what it is to be human.
The call to be a religious brother means to surrender fully to the will of God and the service of others.
I started volunteering in prison because the choir needed some help. In turn, my experience there transformed my outlook on church, freedom, and my vocation as a brother.
A brother rediscovers the gift and art of community when he takes up residence with college freshmen.
In the movie The Matrix, Neo, the protagonist was disconcerted because his world was being shaken, but he was exhilarated for the same reason. I feel much the same way
No longer defining myself by my work or skills brought me closer to who I really was—someone who wants to make my relationship with God my main focus.
After two and a half years of torturing myself as a biochemistry major and having a wonderful experience working summers in a program for delinquent boys run by the brothers, becoming a brother began to make more sense to me.
Religious brotherhood can be way of life that will bring you deep peace, real fulfillment, and great satisfaction in knowing that you are closely following Christ.
A former beach bum explains his vocation in terms of catching the perfect wave.
Brother John Skrodinsky has always been passionate about serving those in need. When he found a religious community that cared as much as he does, he found his home.