God called me to be a brother

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Brother Ken Homan, S.J. teaches high school students

Brothers can be found in a variety of ministries. Brother Ken Homan, S.J. has taught high school, been a community organizer, contributed to social justice organizations, and more. (Photo courtesy of Marquette University High School)

I STOOD ON A winter-barren bluff overlooking the Missouri River. Frigid winds brushed my face as I stared across the floodplain, spiritually stuck between agitated wanderlust and resolved calm. A faint rustle caught my ear. Suddenly, a red-tailed hawk glided just a few feet over my left shoulder. Calm overwhelmed me. I felt the Holy Spirit gently and simply say, “Go. It’s time.”

I began discerning Jesuit life during my junior year of high school when attending the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice and protest to close the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. The teach-in was the first place I felt at home, that I belonged. My initial call followed me to Creighton University, where I was a history and theology double major, involved in clubs, campus ministry, the service center, and student government. Even with the joy (and business) of college life, I always felt like I was supposed to be somewhere different, doing something else.

Brother Ken Homan, S.J.
Homan addresses the crowd at an Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, an annual event in Washington, D.C. to learn, pray, and lobby on social justice issues. (Photo courtesy of the Ignatian Solidarity Network)

I listened to the Holy Spirit that day on the river bluff and entered the Jesuit novitiate in August 2010 at 20 years old. When I entered, I had no idea there were Jesuit brothers. As our group of entrants filled out paperwork, we were handed a very basic form for the Jesuit offices in Rome. We were to mark “Scholastic” (those to be ordained priests), “Brother,” or “Indifferent” (meaning open and discerning). Our novice director encouraged us to mark “Indifferent” if we had never considered this question. I did exactly that.

Over the next year, I learned more about what it meant to be both a Jesuit and a brother. I continued discerning, praying, and listening. As I started my second year, it became abundantly clear: God calls me to life as a brother.

To be honest, it can be difficult to pin down precisely what a brother is, whether with the Jesuits or another community. Most simply, brothers are lay (non-ordained) men who belong to a religious community (like the Jesuits or Sacred Heart Brothers) and take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. You might hear someone call a man preparing to be a priest “brother” until he is ordained, but a Catholic brother is, in fact, a lifelong consecrated vocation.

Adventure beckons

For me, being a Jesuit brother means adventure and community. I have always loved hiking, backpacking, and exploring. The summer before entering, I worked for the National Park Service as a cave guide, and during one summer in formation with my community I worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a volcano guide. In those roles, I helped people fall in love with the land, people, and history around them—to fall in love with stories. As a brother, my role is to help people fall in love with God and their surrounding community. My vocation is to help people commit to a faith that does justice and builds the Kingdom.


Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you. —Romans 15:7

The ministry of porter, or doorkeeper, has launched a number of saints and holy men and women, who are described as humble, prayerful, wise, and trusted. Doorkeepers within religious communities were often outcasts both within and outside the community, due to health problems and disabilities, social status, or racial or ethnic prejudice. Their recognition tended to come from the visitors to the community.

A common theme is that the porters’ welcoming calm drew ordinary people to confide in them and experience a sense of consolation, peace, and healing. When Saint André Bessette, C.S.C., a longtime porter for his community, died in 1937, 1 million people filed past his coffin, and when Blessed Father Solanus Casey, O.F.M.Cap., another dedicated doorkeeper, died in 1957, thousands of Detroiters spilled into the streets surrounding the funeral.

With 10,000+ saints on the books, the following is only a partial list of the porters we honor.

Romanus, 258, martyr
Saint Didacus of Alcalá, O.F.M., c. 1400-63, brother
Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J., 1533-1617, brother
Saint Paschal Baylon, O.F.M., 1540-92, brother
Saint Martin de Porres, O.P., 1579-1639, brother
Saint John Macias, O.P., 1585-1645, brother
Saint Charles of Sezze, O.F.M., 1613-70, brother
Blessed Bonaventure of Barcelona, O.F.M., 1620-84, brother
Saint Gerard Majella, C.Ss.R., 1726-55, brother
Saint Conrad of Parzham, O.F.M.Cap., 1818-94, brother, patron saint of doorkeepers
Sister Veronica McDarby, R.S.M., d. 1881, sister
Saint André Bessette, C.S.C., 1845-1937, brother
Blessed Francisco Gárate Aranguren, S.J., 1857-1929, brother
Saint Josephine Bakhita, Fd.C.C., 1869-1947, sister
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, O.C.D., 1873-97, nun
Blessed Josep Tarrats Comaposada, S.J., 1878-1936, brother
Blessed Benito Solana Ruiz, C.P., 1882-1936, brother
Blessed Sancja Szymkowiak, C.M.B.B., 1910-42, sister
Blessed Solanus Casey, O.F.M.Cap., 1870-1957, priest
Saint Willibald of Eichstätt, O.S.B., 700-781, bishop
Blessed Giovanni Bufalari, O.S.A., d. 1350, brother
Blessed Gonzalo Diaz di Amarante, Ode.M., 1540-1618, priest
Blessed John Kearney, O.F.M., 1619-53, priest
Blessed Maria Adeodata Pisani, O.S.B., 1806-55, nun
Blessed Maria Repetto, S.M.C., 1807-90, sister

I see my vocation as an adventure because I am exploring, learning, growing, and discovering. The job and education distinctions that used to separate priests and brothers no longer exist in my community. We brothers are asking ourselves deeper questions about who we are rather than just what we do. And that is the adventure—exploring the vocation and what it truly means. Prayer and discernment are adventures of learning who I am, how God sees me, and where God calls me.

What does this tangibly mean? What are the practicalities?

We often identify people by their jobs. It used to be easier to distinguish priests and brothers in communities like mine that have both ordained and non-ordained members. Priests did sacraments. Brothers typically did manual labor. They were groundskeepers, cooks, bus drivers, locksmiths, and doorkeepers (and let’s not knock that job, as that’s how some became saints). In the last hundred years, this distinction between priests and brothers has become less pronounced.

Many brothers today still oversee everyday functioning of our Jesuit communities. Many others work in professional capacities. Of the Jesuit brothers I’m friends with, Matt is a social worker, Johnathan a physicist, Francis a computer programmer, Joe a playwright, Henry a housing advocate, Mark an environmental advocate, Darin a minister, and Dan and Chris are retreat directors.

A distinct vocation

Precisely what job a brother does varies greatly. We are called to ongoing discernment. Entering religious life is not a one-and-done discernment, but a continual effort to listen to the Spirit. Jesuit brothers have many of the same jobs as Jesuit priests.

In reading all of this, you might be wondering, “Then why not just become a priest? You have lots of the formation, and your jobs aren’t all that different. Why not get ordained?”

To be abundantly clear, heeding a call to ordination is not “completing” formation while a brother comes up short. Rather, the brother’s vocation is simply distinct. For Jesuits, “the religious brother embodies religious life in its essence, and so is able to illustrate that life with particular clarity.”

God asked me to be a brother. The sometimes scary part of adventure is that we don’t always know precisely where we’re headed. The same is true of our vocation. We don’t know exactly where we will end up and what our vocation will look like. But we can always trust that saying yes to God will lead us on the best path.

For myself as a Jesuit brother, I am currently living out my vocation as an American history Ph.D. student, community organizer, and spiritual companion. I am researching the relationship between Jesuits and workers in my hometown of St. Louis, with an eye toward supporting the working class. I participate in our Jesuit faith-and-justice organization, Ignatian Solidarity Network, and a new worker-justice organization. I support our Jesuit anti-racism efforts through research and writing. I build furniture and cutting boards for friends. I make time for backpacking and photography to enjoy God’s beautiful work in nature. And I am one of two members of the Jesuit powerlifting team (the other, Pat, holds several American records).

Most important, I try to share my love of God and neighbor in my everyday life, growing in community and charity alongside my fellow Jesuits. And I continue listening for the adventure God calls me to next. 

Related articles: VocationNetwork.org, “Brotherly advice: Enjoy your vocation!” and “Brotherhood is right for me.”

Brother Ken Homan, S.J.
Brother Ken Homan, S.J. is a Jesuit, an American history Ph.D. student, community organizer, and spiritual companion.




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