Brothers describe what ‘crystallized’ decision to choose religious life

COLCHESTER, Vt. (CNS) — God doesn’t put a call to religious life “in big letters and write it across the sky. He gives you lots of hints and whispers,” said Edmundite Brother Thomas Berube.

Brothers Peter Stanfield, Frank Hagerty and Thomas Berube, who are members of the Society of St. Edmund, pose in the Chapel of Our Lady of Africa in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington during the 2018 National Brothers Conference. The three brothers reflected on discerning the call to religious life and the decision to “deny oneself for something greater.” (CNS photo/courtesy of Society of St. Edmund)

He and two other members of the Society of St. Edmund, Brothers Francis Hagerty and Peter Stanfield, also reflected recently on how they heard their call to ministry as religious brothers.

Brotherhood is about working for the kingdom of God in a way that marries talents with serving others, said Brother Tom. Now 74, he said he knew his vocation when he was 19.

“I felt a calling to do something formally in the church but was not interested in becoming a priest. My brother Richard is the priest in the family and one is enough,” he said with a laugh.

Franciscan Brother Joshua DiMauro, right, and members of the football team at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, N.Y., lead fans in the singing of the national anthem prior to a home game against Christ the King High School of Queens, N.Y., Sept. 27. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Growing up in Lyndonville, Vermont, Brother Tom began to be drawn into religious life working at a summer camp for underprivileged kids. There was a religious brother at the camp who wasn’t part of a community but had taken private vows to a bishop.

“He was very interested in geology and I was a rock hound,” Brother Tom said. “We would go fossil hunting in the islands.”

That summer he started looking into religious communities. His pastor in Lyndonville was an Edmundite and he had cousins who were Edmundites. “I developed a love for sacramental life,” he said. “God was giving me a nudge.”

That nudge led him to take his own vows as an Edmundite brother. He earned a degree in psychotherapy and was heavily involved in AIDS ministry in the 1980s. There was an illogical fear of the disease and some homophobia at that time and hospital chaplains would sometimes refuse to minister to patients, Brother Tom recalled.

“I was asked to bring a young man Communion,” he said. “I did that every week all the way through the night before he died. That was meaningful for me. This crystallized my chosen vocation — something needed to be done and I was not afraid.”

After earning his master’s degree, Brother Tom worked in Boston and at the Howard Center in Vermont. He loves photography, gardening and geology.

Brother Frank, 69, began to hear whispers of his call as during his youth in Mystic, Connecticut. More than a little inquisitive about a vocation, he got to know the Society of St. Edmund through the Edmundites who ministered in his Catholic parish and taught at his high school.

He was at a point in life where he wanted to discern where the Holy Spirit was leading him. So sitting on a rock on a forest path in Mystic, he recalled, “I was thinking about all of this and about how I could live out my baptismal promises.”

The Peace Corps was big back then, he said. John F. Kennedy was president.

“But that was only a temporary commitment. I felt strongly that God was calling me to something more permanent,” he explained. “I got to know the Edmundite community and I really liked what I saw. I never considered any other religious community; you could say I ‘fell in love’ with the Society of St. Edmund.”

He celebrates 50 years as an Edmundite this year. He served in emergency medical services for many years at St. Michael’s College in Colchester and worked as a registered nurse and nurse practitioner in Venezuela, Vermont and Alabama. He also has been a teacher and tutor for preschoolers, elementary school kids and recent immigrants.

Today, Brother Frank is a spiritual director and guides retreatants at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle La Motte, Vermont, and elsewhere. He also serves as a prison minister at two Vermont prisons, leading a Liturgy of the Word and Communion service, talking about spirituality and leading the people in song. He also works with disabled veterans in Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.

Edmundite Brother Francis Hagerty, a spiritual and retreat director based at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., ties flies with Vermont’s Burlington Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing group July 30. The project is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings. (CNS photo/Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic magazine)

“For me, it is a question of, ‘What are the needs of the people we serve? And how can I use my gifts, talents, abilities and interests to meet those needs?'” he said. “Edmundites have always been responsive to the needs of people on the margins, and are good at collaborating with others. People have told us we Edmundites are ‘on the cutting edge.’ It is a good place to be.”

Brother Peter received whispers about a vocation at age 25. He calls it a “delayed vocation” since he had chosen the life of a London stockbroker initially. His mind had been on money since the days of counting it for the Edmundites at his parish when he was 14. He went on to get a degree in economics.

“They were cool American guys, some were in the military and some had paper routes, but they were all relaxed and joy-filled,” he said of the Edmundites he grew up with.

He chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and learned how to make a lot of money for himself and others — despite his father’s warning about it being a somewhat corrupt industry. “This money business is about whatever it takes to make more money,” said Brother Peter, now 77. “It was about doing what I was told by my employer even if it was morally wrong.”

A few years in to his career, a quiet urging in his soul whispered, “You can do this, Peter, get out of this rat race.”

As he contemplated making some life changes, he went to the ocean for a few days. With a handheld radio and camera — the latest tech gadgets of his time — he set off to explore a cave. He fell 80 feet into shallow water.

“I don’t remember the fall,” Brother Peter said. “But when I woke up my back was raw from hitting rocks on the way down.”

“The doctor said hitting that salt water was the best thing for me. It healed up my open wounds quickly,” he added. “I had no broken bones. I knew God had taken care of me. I knew right then that I wanted to spend the rest of my life taking care of other people and I immediately thought of the Edmundites. This was a call to be other-centered.”

He laughed as he remembered the headline in his local London newspaper: “City financier turns to America to become a monk in abject poverty.”

As for that vow of poverty, he said, it’s simply deciding to focus on human need, not on material gain, Brother Peter said.

He landed at St. Mary’s in Greenfield Park, Quebec, went on to Essex Junction, Vermont, and then to Mystic, Connecticut. For the last 20 years, he has been ministering to the needs of the people in Selma, Alabama. He works with the homebound and the sick.

“I have never had to worry about work, finances or personal desires,” said Brother Peter, who this year also celebrates 50 years as an Edmundite. “Everything in my life since I became a brother has been fulfilling. It is a gift. And I bring that gift everywhere I go.”

“God gave me the strength to make changes,” he said. “God has made all of this possible. Choosing to be a brother is a special call. It is to deny oneself for something greater.”

By Lynn Monty, Catholic News Service.