Frequently Asked Questions About the Vocation of a Brother

Becoming Brother
A Brother is a single man who dedicates his life to a specific ministry or work within a certain religious family. In some orders, there are both Priests – those engaged in sacramental ministry – and Brothers. Other orders have only Priests. The De La Salle Christian Brothers have only Brothers. For the Brother, the primary means of service, holiness, fulfillment and joy is through the specific mission of his religious order.
Candidates for the Brothers are single men who have found themselves drawn to the ministry of teaching, the experience of prayer, and the life of community. They are usually between the ages of 20 – 40 and either have finished or are currently enrolled in a college or university. They have had some “life” experience and are open to exploring the joys and challenges of an active religious community devoted to the education of the young, especially the poor.
After an initial series of conversation, a qualified candidate becomes a “Contact” – which means that they participate in occasional activities with the Brothers, regularly meet with one of the Brothers, and engage in some educational service during the year. Later, after a year or more, as an “Aspirant” he explores more seriously the life of the Brothers by staying in a community or apostolate for some period of time, taking part in a retreat, and working at one of the Brothers’ schools. If approved, the next step would be to live in a community as a “Postulant” where classes, activities and experiences are geared towards preparation for the Novitiate year of training & prayer.
Early on, De La Salle and the Brothers decided that they would best serve their mission by concentrating entirely on the ministry of teaching. The only priest in the order was him. Today, the Brothers remain the largest group of lay religious men in the Church devoted exclusively to education. Those who are called to priestly ministry, along with teaching, will find very good religious orders that do so. The Brothers bring the Gospel to the educational world with singleness of devotion and purpose, solely through teaching ministry.
A world-wide religious family who are dedicated, loving, individual, prayerful, down-to-earth, funny and pretty happy.

A wide variety of educational opportunities and ministries, from storefront schools to schools for the disadvantaged to large high schools to top colleges and universities.

There’s always a place that needs you, always a community that welcomes you, and always a need that calls out to you.

Daily life is punctuated by times for prayer, times for study, times for teaching, and times for community activities.

Personal and professional relationships grow wider and deeper as the years progress – all of them informed and transformed by one’s relationship with God.

Because finally it is a “vocation” or “call” just like the single life, marriage, or priesthood. If it’s a fit for you, you’ve found what most people would describe as “home.” The challenge is to have the courage to find out, since no one else can do that for you. The reward is finding out. There is no down side.
The De La Salle Christian Brothers were founded in Reims, France, in 1680 by a local priest, John Baptist de La Salle. He never intended to begin a religious order dedicated to teaching inner-city poor boys, but one thing led to another and over a period of several years he found himself becoming more and more involved with a group of lay teachers who asked for his help and guidance.

He completely dedicated himself to the work and finally started an educational movement that is now in 84 countries around the world. If you want more information about him, you could watch this “Lasallian Reflections” video or read this page about Saint John Baptist de La Salle on our website.

No. There have been very few people who enter this vocation at the age of 48. Most provinces have an age-limit for applicants. This is mostly because older applicants have established certain patterns of life that are difficult to change or adapt to community living — in other words, the many little things that Brothers have learned and developed (almost subconsciously) during their formative years within the Brothers’ community.

It’s also not impossible for a person to change. Our experience has shown that it’s much more difficult to transform one self to this vocation at a later age, however.

The provinces that do accept older candidates have specific criteria in place to ensure that the experience will be successful and beneficial for both the candidate and the province.

“If I have a disability, such as poor judgment or a learning disability and need basic reminders on daily living tasks, is this still a good vocation for me?”

The brief answer is that we are primarily involved in education and in teaching. So certain disabilities (physical ones, for example) need not necessarily be a ministerial handicap.

However, other limitations that come closer to what it is that we do — such as memory skills — could prove very difficult for one to succeed in this ministry of education.

This says absolutely nothing about either one’s spiritual life or community suitability, of course. But in terms of the work that we do, it may be more fulfilling to look for other religious orders for whom education is not such a central element.

“I have been having dreams for the last year or so about going into the spiritual life. I am not sure if God is truly speaking to me or not. What would be your advice to my situation? I really am at a loss with my dreams and feelings. I love God and if I am to serve Him, that is what I need to do. Thank you for your advice!”

This is a good question, because you’re not the only one who’s struggled with such things as dreams and feelings.

Dreams are pretty interesting things, not only because of their content but also because they are so mysterious. You know, of course, that God often communicated in the Bible through dreams (Joseph’s dreams in the Old Testament, and St. Joseph’s dreams in the New Testament, as a couple of examples). So dreams are definitely things that deserve our attention.

But more important is the way in the which we respond to dreams.

The best response, in my opinion, is to do three things:

  1. Use these dreams as a starting point for reflections, prayer, and initial actions
  2. Speak with someone you trust, and who knows you, about the dreams and what you think they might mean
  3. Take small steps and pursue the best ends the dreams suggest

In terms of your dreams, I would say the following:

  • The dreams might be drawing you into the spiritual life, and that’s a good thing. You can do that as a single person, a married person, a religious, or as a priest.
  • The “how” is not as important as the “what”
  • The idea is to delve more deeply into the spiritual life. How do you do that? By educating yourself more deeply, by praying more deeply, and by serving in community more deeply.

Education

Find books, articles, magazines, websites, etc. that capture your imagination and delve in. Take on some reading or study project and run with it. Ask people you admire to recommend their favorite spiritual book to you.

Prayer

Set a time for yourself each day to simply sit in the Lord’s presence. 10-15 minutes is enough. When you’re in a quiet place, use whatever prayer comes to mind or one that you know.

An old Russian one I use is the following:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Say it slowly, following your breath. Or perhaps another prayer or short phrase will work best for you. The point is to pay attention toward God and to allow a silence that lets God draw down into you.

Serving

Look for the opportunities that come your way to practice charity. If you see someone in need, respond. If you see a chance to be kind to someone, do it. If you become aware of a service you can perform, perform it. Those are all God’s active and providential invitations to you to become involved in the “doing” of faith.

I’m suggesting that you let the dreams be dreams, to let the feelings be feelings, and to let them be catalysts for your own deepening spiritual life. Let them be invitations to engage a life of faith on a daily basis, because that’s where God is really encountered in the flesh. The dreams remain dreams if you don’t act positively on them. They don’t necessarily mean that you have a religious vocation, but they could very well mean that you’re being invited to dive more deeply into your spiritual life. Now that’s one great adventure, if you ask me.

Most Brothers would tell you that there is no “average” day in their experience.

Each day seems to be a new adventure of meeting people, interacting with students and faculty, attending games or events, and the other hundreds of things that make up the daily experience of someone involved in education.

But there are a number of things that form part of the structure of our day, and I can describe those. They are slightly different, depending on the community and the specific ministry they are involved with. For example, a university community will adapt itself to a university schedule, and a retired community will have more and longer times for prayer, etc.

Most Brothers get up at or before 6 AM, and by 6:45 or 7:00 AM are in the chapel for either morning prayer or Mass. After that, there’s a short time to grab something to eat and then it’s off to the school.

For most of the day, we’re involved in our particular work, running into one another here and there and perhaps stopping to chat or accomplish some task together.

In the evening, we again assemble for prayer or Mass (one or the other makes the morning and evening prayer times) around 5 PM, followed by some social time together in the house, and followed by dinner.

For many of us, the evening time of prayer, social, and dinner is one of the key community moments of the day. It’s when we relax and relate with one another, with no set script or goal or task to accomplish other than simply being doing as a religious community.

After dinner, each person either has his own thing to do— homework, reading, watching the news, meeting people at school, reading a magazine, attending some school events — or they may retire to their room.

Many communities will have special times on Fridays or the weekend when they do other activities together. One of the Brothers may cook the meal on Saturday or Sunday, or a group may decide to go out to dinner or to attend a local movie theater or sports event.

The focus for us is on three things:

  • Our work or ministry or education – very specific and requiring lots of attention, even when we’re “off duty”
  • Our community and life together – not too specific but well structured, supporting and united all that we do together
  • Our faith and prayer life – both specific in community and non-specific in terms of individual prayer and reading.

When these three things are applied to a specific schools or educational ministry, the details emerge by themselves.

Each year, every community meets for several days at the beginning of the school year to plan out specifically what those details will look like in their particular circumstance.

And that structure becomes the basis for our “average day.”

It’s easy to meet one of the Brothers. If you want to meet us face-to-face, simply find a Lasallian school nearby and contact one of the Brothers there. I’m sure that they would be happy to arrange a meeting with you. If you would like help contacting someone who could meet with you, just let us know by emailing us here.
“I have a report that I am doing about the Brothers of De La Salle. One of the things I need to write about is what kind of vows you take and how many. Could you help me out?”

There are five vows that the Brothers take with association for the service of the poor through:

  1. education
  2. poverty
  3. chastity
  4. obedience
  5. stability

Because of our work and primary focus, the first one — education— is the most important one. When the Brothers were first formed in the late 1600’s, there were just three vows — association, obedience, and stability. Then when the order was approved by Rome in 1725, the other two vows were added.

“I believe (not sure) that all orders have certain initials they put after their name. Could you tell me what the initials are for the Brothers of De La Salle, and what they stand for or mean?”

FSC. The initials stand for Fratres Scholarum Christianarum, which translates from Latin into Brothers of the Christian Schools.

That’s our official name. In the United States, we’re more popularly knows as the De La Salle Christian Brothers or the Christian Brothers, and in other English-speaking countries we tend to be known as the De La Salle Brothers.

Our Brothers in other countries use different initials, all of which mean Brothers of the Christian Schools in their own language. The English-speaking countries seem to be the ones that adopted the Latin version.

The short answer: nothing, zip, zero, 0.

The longer answer involves 2 parts:

  1. The Brothers take a vow of poverty, which basically means that we don’t own anything that we have and we won’t own anything that we get. Now we do have stuff in our communities, and our rooms, and some Brothers even have bank accounts. But because of the vow of poverty, all of that is owned by the community and used by the particular Brothers. Even the bank account is in the name of the community and the Brother has it for a particular reason. So when people see Brothers with a nice car, or living in a nice house, and the like, they assume that we own all of that. But that’s not the case. We get to use it, and that’s nice of course, but we could also be moved to a community in a different part of the country or in another country that has much less to “use” for themselves, because of the local circumstances and the like. In both cases, the vow of poverty applies. And that vow means that we don’t have control over, or should be attached to, the “stuff” that makes up our daily life. So even though it looks as if we “earn” things because of our living circumstances, the vast majority of the Brothers you meet would be perfectly happy if they had none of that, as long as they could still do their educational ministry effectively.
  2. The Brothers need certain things to do what they do. Because we are not like monks living in the desert, focusing only on prayer and eating the odd cactus root, and our work involves doing a lot of things, this means having the common means for doing those things.
    Here in the United States, for instance, computers and cell phones and cars and budgets for food and living and the like are the norm. In parts of Latin America or Africa or Asia, the Brothers’ standards are different because those societies are different and the needs are different.
    But a last point should be that here in the United States, and in other parts of the world, the Brothers have figured out what kind of “stipend” they need from the school or educational institution they are associated with in order to live together in community. Many Brothers receive such a stipend from the place where they work. Other Brothers receive a salary similar to what a lay person would receive for performing the same work. If they do receive a salary, then that money usually goes to the community, with a sizable chunk going to the provincial offices in order to support various other things in the province (healthcare, administration, formation, the retired Brothers, etc.).

So, while the Brothers don’t “earn” money in the traditional way, the money they do receive for their work is not something that they directly control in the same way others do. But that’s all part of what a life in common is all about.