Brothers in Education, Service, and Faith

Devoted to education, service and faith, they are big brothers to their students and brothers to each other.
By Ginny Prior

The BrothersThe Brothers

There are 24 Christian Brothers living and working at Saint Mary’s, while 12 Brothers from Saint Mary’s live in retirement at Mont La Salle in Napa. Devoted to education, service and faith, they are big brothers to their students and brothers to each other, in the tradition established more than 300 years ago by the founder of the Christian Brothers — John Baptist de La Salle.

“If you show them the firmness of a father, you should also show the tenderness of a mother in gathering them together, and in doing them all the good in your power. By love and patience, win over the hearts of those whom you teach.” – John Baptist de La Salle

It was a bleak Saturday morning in Moraga. Rain fell from the dark clouds like tears as a Saint Mary’s student struggled with childhood memories no young person should have to face. Abused by her father and unprotected by her mother, she came to Brother Ronald Roggenback’s office to tell him she wouldn’t be coming to counseling anymore. Brother Ronald, who worked in Campus Ministry and taught psychology and religious studies in 1983-84, wasn’t ready to give up. “She ran out and I followed her,” he remembers. “Drizzle was coming down – she was running ahead of me and the branches were flying back in my face.” When the young woman finally stopped running, it was because she realized how much Brother Ronald cared.

The words of Saint John Baptist de La Salle still ring true: “The need for this institution is very great.” The mission of the Brothers is a sacred one – to nurture faith, friendship, the development of character and the love of learning. “We continue to say ‘Yes’ to that same spirit that called De La Salle to cooperate with God’s salvation of young people,” wrote Brother David Brennan, FSC, on the 100th anniversary of De La Salle’s elevation to sainthood in 2000.

A common theme for the Brothers is the respect they have for the dignity of each student in their charge. The mission is more urgent than ever. “I think the students need the kind of messages about Christianity that we offer in our schools,” says Saint Mary’s President, Brother Ronald Gallagher. “I don’t know that our society is doing very well at training them in that. They are subject to all kinds of influences. So I think the ethos of our schools is very important.”

But what draws each man to a life in community and a mission to serve the young and especially the poor? For Brother Arnold Stewart, it was the influence of his teachers and administrators, including former SMC President, Brother Michael Quinn. Quinn was Brother Arnold’s principal at Cathedral High School in Los Angeles during the mid 1940s. “He inspired me. He was such a fun person – still young himself,” he remembers.

The nuns were an early influence on Brother Michael Meister, who admits his devilish sense of humor probably drove them crazy in elementary school. But even then, he felt called to serve God as a teacher, and when a Christian Brother came to his classroom, he says he fell in love with the idea of being a Brother. He attended a Christian Brothers high school in Napa, graduated from Saint Mary’s and earned a Ph.D. in theology and literature at UC Berkeley. Brother Michael taught religious studies on campus for the past 11 years.

For Brother Camillus Chavez, a childhood interest in altered states of mind led him to the Christian Brothers. When he was 18 he entered the Brothers’ Novitiate at Mont La Salle where he devoted much of his time to meditation and deep prayer. It was there that he found the spiritual benefits of inner peace. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in social and clinical psychology, which has informed his teaching, workshops and meditation sessions for the Saint Mary’s community.

For Brother Stanislaus Sobczyk, a mail order ad in a 1962 Guidepost Magazine drew him to the Christian Brothers. “It was a booklet with a picture of male religious in their habit for every congregation represented in the United States,” he says. A few days after he sent queries, a Christian Brother came to meet him at his high school and “sold” him on the teaching ministry, knowing that a life of education could help young people experience the holy presence of God.

Brother Stan has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology from Christian Brother’s University in Memphis, where he witnessed major events in the Civil Rights Movement: George Wallace’s segregationist speeches and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I sat on the front steps of the Christian Brothers University and watched tanks roll down the street to maintain order.”

With a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of San Francisco, Brother Stan first came to Saint Mary’s in 1990 to teach in the School of Education, also serving in several leadership posts at the College, most recently as interim vice president for advancement in 2008, and is now retired.

“If my work does not come from God, I would consent to its ruin. I would join our enemies in destroying it if I thought that it did not have God for its author, or that he did not will its progress.” – John Baptist de La Salle

Today’s Christian Brothers have the same strength of commitment to schools around the world as the hardy men who came to San Francisco in 1868 to lead an upstart young college that had fallen on hard times. As it did then, the Brothers’ mission today may sometimes demand high risk.

When Brother Dominick Berardelli found himself at the end of a machine gun barrel in war-torn Sri Lanka in the late 1980’s, he thought he would die at the hands of the Tamal Tigers. He was there for the Mission Office at the Generalate in Rome checking on the Brothers laboring under the duress of civil war. “The lessons I learned strengthened me as a Brother. They suffered so,” he says. And yet, 24 hours a day, the Brothers kept their doors open to offer food and comfort to the people. And they protected the children from being kidnapped and trained to fight. “The Brothers would say ‘we are not taking sides. But you’d better not touch our kids.”’

Similarly, the Brothers showed courage in the face of the ongoing conflict in Israel. In 2002, Israeli soldiers stormed the campus of Bethlehem University, looking for Palestinian snipers. Brothers Kenneth Cardwell and Myron Collins were visiting professors from Saint Mary’s College. “They (the Israeli soldiers) pointed guns at us. They almost shot us,” says Brother Kenneth. Yet, Brothers Kenneth and Myron stood in solidarity with their brothers, and refused to leave, knowing the mission of the school was too important to abandon.

“Your zeal for the pupils under your guidance would be very imperfect if you expressed it only in words. It will become perfect only if you practice yourself what you are teaching them.” – John Baptist de La Salle

There is profound peace in living a purposeful life. Christian Brothers take care of one another in what Brother Ronald Gallagher calls a “vibrant community of prayer and work.”

“It’s an amazing group of men,” Brother Michael Meister says of his community of Brothers at Saint Mary’s. Like a loving and functional family, each person has his daily “chores”. “Someone’s in charge of the kitchen, someone’s in charge of maintenance, someone leads the prayers and the singing, someone gets snacks, someone does the bookkeeping and someone gets beer, wine and soda – all the stuff you’d do in a household,” he says. With a smile, Brother Michael readily admits the Brothers have social hour, tucked between late-afternoon liturgy and dinner. “It’s nice to be able to relax at the end of the day because college life is high-energy. People are teaching in different disciplines, they have different responsibilities, committees, department work, advising, and several of us also live in the student residence halls.”

Brother William Beatie, one of nine brothers who live in the dorms, has a wood-paneled haven in Claeys North, with a window looking out at green grass, framed by trees, and hummingbirds flitting around a feeder near Bonsai and flowering plants. His 96 neighbors keep him young. “It’s noisy when the students move in,” he says, “but it all calms down after two or three days.” Besides, Brother William admits he’s a night owl, rarely asleep before 11 p.m.

Brother William mentors students, referees occasional spats among suite mates and cooks dinners for groups of six students throughout the year. Like a big brother. Then, after dinner, the students go on their way and Brother William turns on his white noise machine and settles in for the night.

The community of Brothers at Saint Mary’s has its own rhythms, intense, happy and lively. “We have wonderful discussions,” says Brother Michael. “Gosh, if you stood outside in the patio some night during dinner and listened to our conversation upstairs, besides the lively talking, you’d hear all this yelling and laughing and carrying on and wonder what’s going on up there.”

The Brothers

 

Below is the list of all active Saint Mary's College Christian Brothers. We are adding more profiles of Brothers throughout the Year of the Gael. Use the pulldown menu above to view individual profiles.

  • Brother Aroque Amorim
  • Brother Mel Anderson
  • Brother Martin Ash
  • Brother Michael Avila
  • Brother William Beatie
  • Brother Dominic Berardelli
  • Brother Glenn Bolton
  • Brother Camillus Chavez
  • Brother Chris Donnelly
  • Brother Ron Gallagher
  • Brother Charles Hilken
  • Brother Thomas Jones
  • Brother Richard Lemberg
  • Brother Bernard LoCoco
  • Brother Brendan Madden
  • Brother Mark McVann
  • Brother Michael Meister
  • Brother Michael Murphy
  • Brother Bertrand Nguyen
  • Brother L. Raphael Patton
  • Brother John (Dominic) Ruegg
  • Brother Clarence Schenk
  • Brother Stan Sobczyk
  • Brother Martin Yribarren