Annual Convocation and Chapter 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Religious Life with the Brotherhood of St Gregory

We had one of our best convocations/chapter gatherings in late July at Mt. Alvernia, a Franciscan Friary and Retreat Center in Wappingers Falls, NY.  Five new postulants began their journey with the community, and two members took their first vows. 

Many people ask what happens when someone is interested in the community.  It's important to know that in an intentionally dispersed community such as ours, we only interview prospects in the fall and spring, and they only are able to enter the community at Annual Convocation, held each summer in July or August. 

BSG began as a community of church musicians on Holy Cross Day in 1969.  Our Founder and still Minister General was and is a church organist.  As the years went by, he realized we needed to have people who do varied ministries in the church, even though we still number several musicians. Although most of our members are lay, including the Minister General, we do have priests and deacons.  All are brothers, and we do not have the problem of clericalism that many communities do. 

Our postulancy is one year, followed by a two year novitiate.  Since we are an intentionally dispersed community, and don't live together, postulants and novices are assigned a mentor to work with during formation. 

Here is a good reflection on our Vows by Br. Karekin, who is the Minister Provincial of Province VIII (San Francisco): 

Poverty - No matter what you have, it isn’t yours. Use everything in your possession for the benefit of God’s people and for God’s glory. It’s not about what you have, but what you do with what you have.

Chastity - People are ends and not means. They are not possessions. They have integrity and dignity and wholeness and so should you. Free yourself to love.

Obedience - Freedom is not about doing what you want. It’s about being released from the prison of selfish desires. Stop manipulating circumstances and people to get what you want.

The question becomes - why do we make the three vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience? Our vows are not ends in and of themselves. They are means. They force us to become aware of the idols we have erected in our lives that distract us from our responsibility to love and serve God and others. They are the means by which we learn to tear those idols down. What idols, or obsessions if you will, do the vows help us to recognize? Poverty points to our obsessions with security and safety. Chastity points to unhealthy pursuit of affection and the esteem of others. Obedience to our desire for power and control. We are distracted from God when our inordinate attachment to these things warps our sense of perspective and proportion. The three vows provide starting points for dismantling the systems we have built up, culturally and individually, that draw our love inward towards the self and it’s desires rather than towards God and other.

As an intentionally dispersed community, we do not live together in a friary or monastery. We are friars, and not monks.  A monk remains within his community in the monastery, while a friar generally has assignments "in the world."  Our brothers support themselves and the community through their individual jobs.  As noted, we have priests, and they have parishes where they work. But we also have a medical doctor, nurses, a psychopharmacologist, chaplains, social workers, IT people, administrative people (I work as the assistant to the president of a seminary) and a host of other jobs "in the world." 

We have married brothers, we have gay brothers who are married or partnered. We are seeking people who are willing to accept others and to not be judgmental. In our community, Chastity is living with all in love, without possessiveness or the desire to control.   Our vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are understood in a contemporary way.  Our Vow of Poverty tends to trip people up.  I try to be very clear to people on this point.  So I always urge people to read this next part carefully. 

Prior to entering novitiate a brother will be at the point of contributing ten percent of his Annual Gross Income at a minimum to the Brotherhood and the Church (a minimum of five percent of AGI to the Brotherhood), and that if not at that point prior to entering the postulancy, the candidate has one year to reach it. If that is not possible, because of outstanding debts or other circumstances, he should consider deferring his application until he is within one year of reaching the goal."

Should someone be invited to come to convocation and become a postulant after interview, there is a long period of study, with a mentor, before vows are taken. Postulancy lasts at least a year. It's a period of "probation" where new members begin their training in the religious life.  A postulant may withdraw from the community at any time if he feels that the life of this community is not where God is calling him to be.  Once postulancy is complete, a person becomes a novice. The novitiate lasts at least two years, and is a period of further study, again with a mentor.  After that, a person is eligible to petition council for first vows.  If council agrees, the active professed brothers in a brother's province vote to determine their support of his profession. A brother is in annual vows for five years, and can then petition for life profession, or continue in annual vows. 

During the postulancy, we encourage people to not be concerned with such questions as "When do I get to wear the habit?"  We have long said that our true habit is the cross that all of us wear - whether it be the plain wooden cross of a postulant or novice brother; or the heavier, metal cross worn by professed brothers. 

New BSG Postulants with the Bishop Visitor and Minister General. From left, Bishop Rodney Michel, Thom Curnutte, Scott Pomerenk, Donald Sutton, Michael Piper, Max Steele, Br. Richard Thomas Biernacki. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Annual Convocation 2012

I returned yesterday from the 2012 Annual Convocation, Retreat and Chapter meeting of the community at Mt. Alvernia in Wappingers Falls, NY.  Congratulations are in order for my confreres, William Henry Benefield, who made his life profession; and Millard, who made his first profession.  We added two new novice brothers - Larry Walter and Eric.  And to cap off a fine week, we admitted four new postulants - David Kasievich, Andrew Kellner, Willie VanDoren and Ray Chance.

Looking through the BSG roster at our website (, I found nothing new. But re-discovered the fascinating ministries that my brothers are involved with, many by virtue of their occupation, which for many has become their call.  Br. Ciaran Anthony, who I wrote about previously, is now a family medicine resident physician in Lawrence MA. Richard John is the Director of Pastoral Care at White Plains Hospital.  Charles Edward and Virgilio work as a practical nurse and nursing assistant, respectively.  Karekin is the Product Manager for Electronic Publishing at Church Publishing. Thomas is a software engineer for Google.  Joseph Basil, Thomas Lawrence, and Eric are all registered nurses.  Of our number, Tobias, Mark Andrew, David John, Blane Frederik and Richard Edward are priests; Edward, Charles Edward, Gordon John, and Thomas Mark are deacons.  That's just a sampling of our diverse community.

At Convocation, we also said goodbye to our beloved Michael Elliott, friar and priest who died in February in New Zealand.  David John, who lives in Australia, brought Michael's ashes to Mt. Alvernia and preached at his Requiem Mass.  He is on his way to England, where Michael will be buried at Brecon Cathedral in Wales.

William Henry professes his life vows to Minister General Richard Thomas, as Thomas Mark (left) and Nathanael Deward, both Minister Provincials, witness the occasion. 

Millard professes first vows to Richard Thomas, who is assisted by James.  Peter (back to camera), Thomas, and William David look on.  

Brothers were given this memento of our dear Brother Michael at his Requiem.

Monday, June 25, 2012

In Psalm 116 yesterday at Morning Prayer, we read, in verses 14 and 18: I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.  That gentle reminder sent me off to   The State of the Religious Life, by Br. Tobias S. Haller, BSG for further reading on the vows.  I was thinking specifically about the Vow of Chastity, as lived by BSG in our Rule of Life.  Tobias writes, "The Brotherhood does not equate chastity with celibacy (or celibacy with chastity, for that matter). The Brotherhood Rule describes chastity in the following way: A brother makes the vow of chastity as follows: Chastity is the decision to live with all in love, with respect for each person’s integrity. It is not a denial of one’s sexuality and capacity for love, but a dedication of the whole self to God: free from indecency or offensiveness and restrained from all excess, in order to be free to love others
without trying to possess or control. The living out of this vow — its content — is about the right use of one’s sexuality, combined with respect for the dignity of one’s spouse or partner.Some members of the community are married, with children; others live in covenanted life-long relationships."  Later in that description, he writes, Chastity is a matter of personal integrity — custody of the whole person. In this light, chastity governs all emotional aspects of the personality. Anger, impatience, envy, despondency, despair, hatred, as well as lust and vanity — these are the enemies of chastity. As Friar Giles said, “My brother, I tell thee that the diligent custody and continual watching of our
bodily and spiritual senses, keeping  them pure and spotless before God — that is truly called chastity.” (Fioretti 286)

That last part is what I was looking for. Another brother and I were standing on a Chicago sidewalk just last week when a bottle was thrown at us.  The anger aspect of a non chaste life reared its ugly head. I posted about the incident on Facebook, and used an adjective that a Religious should not use in describing the offender (s).  The Bishop of Chicago's wife took me to task, and I'm glad she did. I removed the post.  If we are to fulfill our vows as noted in Psalm 116, we need to think before we act hastily, and in an uncharitable, unchaste manner, regardless of what has happened to us. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

After a long hiatus, it's time to write.  Worrying whether or not people are reading the blog is not sufficient reason to not write.

I was looking at various community websites today.  One in particular comes to mind, that of the Marianists in the Roman Catholic Church.  One of the brothers was doing a short video about life as a religious brother, and noted that the community encourages the talents of each brother in determining his ministry.  For years, the "norm" was that communities had specific apostolates, and some still do, be it teaching or health care.  In BSG, we say "Each member is encouraged to develop his gifts and talents under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the care and direction of the community."  

Two recent examples are here today.  Br. Ciaran Anthony DellaFera just completed medical school and is now in Residency.  Br. Virgilio Fortuna was recently ordained to the diaconate.  By chance, both brothers are in Province 1 of the community, and live in Massachusetts.   The top photo is Ciaran at his medical school graduation.  Virgilio is shown (back row far left) with his "class" of deacons and Bishop Tom Shaw, SSJE. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It will soon be 2012

I haven't written in this space for quite a long time.  "I'm busy" is too easy of an excuse, but that's been the case. We've been preparing for months to move Seabury Western Theological Seminary from its long time home in Evanston IL to 8765 W Higgins Rd. in Chicago.  Our new "home" is in the headquarters building of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  Thus far, they have been great neighbors.  Prior to the move, they were willing to help with whatever extra space we needed for board meetings or classes.  Now that we are officially "in" the building, we've found that they are always wiling to help.  There is still work to be done in the chapel and classroom, but we're working there (other than now while we're on Christmas break).  Vocational interest is good in BSG, and we've got a couple of prospects in the vocations pipeline.  I always emphasize taking one's time while seeking a vocation, especially in a religious community.  A Facebook post today by my BSG bro Karekin in San Francisco is timely:   

Be patient. Be patient. Don't be in such a hurry. When you are impatient it only makes you worry. Remember. Remember, that God is patient too. Think of all the times that God has had to wait for you.

It's still Christmas.  New Year's Eve is this Saturday.  So Merry Christmas to all ! 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Of Work

This is what we believe about work in BSG: 

Of work as an apostolate

Work, being our share in creation and partnership with God in that creation, can be sanctified. All labor is equal in glory, honor and importance and the work of a brother should bear these qualities. Keeping in mind that all talents are gifts of the Holy Spirit, the work of all brothers must be to the greater glory of God. Work is an oblation to God, as is service to our fellow man. We must therefore give the best that we can offer.

I had not had a terribly good day at work Tuesday.  I turned back to Psalm 116, which we had done at Morning Prayer on Monday.  I specifically went to verses 12 and 16, which repeat with this:  I will fulfill my vows to the Lord* in the presence of all his people.  That pretty much sums it up.  As it reads above, "Work is an oblation to God." 

It's always good to keep things in perspective. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

A call to Religious Life and Medicine

Today is the feast day of Ciaran of Clonmacnoise.  Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise was one of the early Irish monastic saints and Irish bishop. He is sometimes called Ciarán the Younger to distinguish him from Saint Ciaran of Saighir.  He was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.  I know this because of my BSG Brother, Ciaran Anthony DellaFera of Cambridge, Mass.  Ciaran is a medical student at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  He went into medicine after a successful career as an engineer at IBM. 

While giving thanks for Ciaran of Clonmacnoise today, I also give thanks for my Br. Ciaran Anthony. I sent him a story about a doctor in Chicago who also happens to be a Franciscan Friar.  Br. Daniel Sulmasy is Clinton-Kilbride Professor of Medicine and Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School. You can read about him at this URL

We have several brothers in the community who are Registered Nurses, nursing assistants, a Doctor of Pharmacy, but Ciaran Anthony will be our first M.D.  

A call as a medical professional and a call as a brother.Thanks be to God for all of them, especially Ciaran Anthony on this his "name" day.