iPhones. Instant messages. YouTube uploads. It seems that there is no end to the technological marvels constantly being developed. And yet, God calls every man to holiness, through his mind and heart in a way that is far beyond the grasp of any man-made technology. The priest, today as in ages past, brings the God of the universe to man in order to redeem him from sin and death.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
Science and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all. By themselves however they cannot disclose the meaning of existence and of human progress. (No. 2293)
The Mercedarian priest is aware of this awesome responsibility. He starts with the building blocks of what it requires. The Constitutions of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy state,
Because of the special participation in the priesthood of Christ that the presbyterate confers for the building up of the Mystical Body, the religious who are about to be ordained priests must possess a great love for Christ, whom they are to represent, and an ardent desire to serve and evangelize the people to whom they are sent.
The Mercedarian man, following the charism molded by the Order’s founder, St. Peter Nolasco, is trained and prepared to redeem others from various forms of captivity.
Is God calling you to become a Mercedarian friar, either as a priest or a brother?
All Christians, in all walks of life, are called to holiness. But priests are called in a special way to this life. Pope John Paul II, quoting the Second Vatican Council, has said that all of the baptized are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. He added that this applies,
in a special way to priests. They are called not only because they have been baptized, but also and specifically because they are priests, that is, under a new title and in new and different ways deriving from the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Thoughts like these course through the minds of our friars as they approach the altar to receive the laying on of hands of the bishop in the Rite of Ordination. Indeed, the calling to the priesthood is sublime – not just another feather to be tucked into one’s cap in the journey of life.
Special Identification with Christ
As stated in our Constitutions, the Mercedarian priest has a special identification with Christ (N. 178). Our priests redeem those held in chains by modern forms of captivity. The Constitutions state that in their priestly training,
Theoretical formation must be united with pastoral practice so that, by knowing men well and loving Christ, they may be able to nourish the flock of the Lord with preference for those who faith is in danger and the most needy.
Is God calling you to become a Mercedarian friar, either as a priest or a brother?
It is with Joy that the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary announces the ordination of Br. Scottston Brentwood, O. de M. to the Sacred Diaconate. This solemn liturgy will take place on Saturday, December 10th at the Shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria in Sardinia, Italy. (http://www.bonaria.eu/public/index.php)
Br Scott has been in formation with the Order since August 2004. Over the years, Br Scott has gone through the normal formation program of a 9 month postulancy, a canonical year of novitiate, and several years in Simple Vows. He completed a Masters of Divinity and Masters in Moral Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary just outside of Philadelphia, PA. After completion of his seminary program, Br Scott was asked by his superiors to move to Rome and prepare for further studies. During his first year in Rome, brother worked hard to master the Italian language. He took courses and practiced each day with the Italian friars.
In the fall of 2010, Br Scott began his studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University pursuing a Licentiate in Canon Law. This program is academically challenging and takes three years to complete. However, Br Scott has done very well in his studies and continues to become more fluent in Italian.
On June 29th 2011, Br Scott and Br. James Chia, O. de M. made their Solemn Vows in the Order at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Philadelphia, PA. This was a joyous event for the brothers as they consecrated themselves to God and the Order through the vows of Chastity, Poverty, Obedience, and the 4th Vow of Redemption.
The next step in Br. Scott’s journey is ordination to the Sacred Diaconate. Brother was recently approved by the provincial council to be ordained a Transitional Deacon. The Sacred Diaconate is a ministry of service, and the lowest rank of holy orders, below the priesthood and the episcopate. The deacon is ordained into the service of Christ by the Sacrament of Holy Orders administered by a bishop. He receives an indelible mark on his soul to enable him to function as Christ who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28)”. The Second Vatican Council lists the deacon’s liturgical and pastoral functions: “to administer baptism solemnly, to be custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, to bring Viaticum to the dying, to read the Sacred Scripture to the faithful, to instruct and exhort the people, to preside over the worship and prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, to officiate at funeral and burial services” (LG 29). In all these ways, Br Scott will prepare himself to one day be ordained to the Sacred Priesthood of Christ.
Join us in praying for Br Scottston as he prepares to receive this beautiful Sacrament. By it he will be more configured to Christ who serves us all.
Peace in the Lord Jesus! My name is Vincent. I am 23 years old, from the greater Philadelphia region in Pennsylvania, and a postulant with the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.
I was born into a strong, Catholic family where I have been blessed with the biggest grace of life, the Catholic Faith. From an early age, my relationship with Christ surrounded the Mass and the frequenting of the sacraments. It was here that the Lord placed a deep and joyful desire on my heart to serve Him at the altar and among the Communion of Saints, the Church. But it wasn’t until I went through several – and ongoing! – conversion experiences in my life that I began to muster up the fortitude to cooperate with His grace to say “Yes!” to the only Person Who really matters, Our Lord Jesus Himself.
I began to foster devotions to the saints: to become better friends, with Jesus, Mary, my guardian angel, St. John Vianney, St. Therese of Lisieux among others. However, an experience with illness left me questioning mortality, “why am I truly here?” I needed to re-commit to the Lord God, and Our Father in heaven. After traversing through the downright frightening, existential experiences of college, I learned something about the virtue of perseverance. But, there was yet incompletion inside.
A friend told me about the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes. He urged me – and it was Christ in him – to “Come and see.” Thus I met the Friars of the Blessed Mother of Ransom, and from Day 1, the Lord prepared my heart to receive the resonant joy of accepting that He wanted me to discern my vocation, with others of the same mind and heart, here. Finally, the Lord broke through: “Vincent, why do you stand here idle all day? – Do something!”
Dear Jesus, we give you our hearts and pray to do what you ask of us. Then, whatever happens, is Your Holy Will, for we trust in You!
Br Daniel Bowen, O. de M., a Mercedarian student, spent his summer assisting at Metro Hospital in Cleveland. Here is his experience of Hospital Chaplaincy:
We read in Sacred Scripture that if one member suffers in the Body of Christ, which is the Church, all the members suffer with that member (1 Cor 12:26). This is why all baptized Christians are called upon to share in the ministry of mutual charity by doing all one can to help the sick return to health, by showing love for the sick, and when possible, by celebrating the sacraments with them. This past summer I was given the extra special opportunity of assisting in this ministry by being assigned to an apostolate at Metrohealth Hospital (Main Campus) in Cleveland, Ohio assisting Father Justin A. Freeman, O. de M. with his duties as the Catholic Chaplain. This was my first experience of ministry in a hospital setting.
I discovered that there is a great need today in the hospitals! It is a place where, despite the best staff and facilities available (Metrohealth being one of the best), a person can still feel frightened being in an unfamiliar environment and with the condition of an unexpected injury, illness or disease. It is in such a place where someone can be challenged by his or her own mortality. This can cause someone to look back over their life and perhaps question their future. Oftentimes, it can be a moment that God permits to allow someone the opportunity to draw closer to Him. But, of course, since we are given freewill by God there is a choice to be made. Hence, it is here, in the hospital, where a Christian is in danger of losing his or her Christian faith.
As a Mercedarian religious, this spoke to my heart giving me the understanding of why Christ must be present in such a place. Christ must be able to be present to His people both in word and deed, both in the person of His ministers and most importantly in His sacraments. Earlier this summer, in May 2011, I was officially instituted into the Ministry of Acolyte with my seminary classmates. Among the many blessings that this ministry bestows on one, is the awesome ability to bring Holy Communion to people. This was the most important duty that I was able to perform at the Hospital: to bring our Eucharistic Lord, the Body Blood, Soul and Divinity to his people. I also made referrals for Father Freeman of those patients that were in need of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) and The Anointing of the Sick.
However, it was not all just what Father Freeman and I were able to give to the patients, staff, volunteers, friends and family members in way of the Sacraments, witness and encouragement. No, it was also what they all gave to me. In my encounters with everyone at Metrohealth I met Jesus Christ, Himself. Sacred Scripture records these words of our Blessed Lord: “I was sick and you visited me” (Mt. 25:36). Yes, Christ’s compassion toward the suffering and sick goes so deep that He identifies himself with them. And in every patient, and in every encounter, I was blessed to meet, know, and serve our Lord Jesus Christ. I was there to be with and listen to our Lord in His concerns and sufferings and to witness the faith of our Lord on the cross.
Perhaps this gets at the heart of why our Lord commanded his disciples to “Heal the Sick” (Mat 10:8). Not just for their sake, but also for our own. We are all called to be in right relationship with God, our Father, and to be in right relationship to our brothers and sisters. One might call this right relationship love, and oh, how desperately this is needed today. Yes, I learned much this summer. Yes, perhaps I helped a bit, but hopefully in the end, I pray, I loved all the more.
About 2 weeks ago,the Mercedarians welcomed 3 new postulants to the formation progarm. The following is the vocation story of one of the postulants, Tu Pham:
I was born in a small town South Vietnam. My family was devoutly Catholic during my childhood, and my grandfather made a point of developing good habits of Mass attendance at a young age. I moved to the United States when I was 21 years old.
At the time that I moved to the United States, there was new legislation regarding immigration for person over the age of 21. This meant that I had to go through an immigration interview—an idea that filled me with great fear. Thankfully, my grandfather sent me a letter of encouragement that instructed me to pray to Mary for her assistance. I took his advice and prayed slowly with my heart. After doing this for two months, my interview came. By this time, I was able to face the interview without fear or worry, confident in my hope. I was allowed to stay in the country.
After this, I began my real journey to God through Mary. We all have different paths, but a similar way to God through doing ordinary things with a great depth of love. I began to attend Mass regularly. Soon, I also felt the beginnings of a deep desire to become a religious brother. I talked to my parish priest and was given a few different opinions and ideas about communities to visit. One priest, knowing my great devotion to the Blessed Virgin, told me that I should visit the Mercedarians in Philadelphia because of their similar devotion.
In the end, I chose to become a Mercedarian because I saw in the Order a place for my great Marian devotion. In addition to this, the common respect and love amongst the brothers is a wonderful and attractive aspect of the Mercedarian life.
As a postulant, Michael Bowes composed his vocation story. He is now a novice in LeRoy, NY. Here is the second installment of his journey to the Mercedarians:
During my discernment with the Mercedarians I found a holy spiritual director who helped guide me on my journey. Father Jack Fullen. He passed away shortly before I made my second visit with the Mercedarians.
In the weeks leading up to my first visit I asked Father Jack how I could see God working in my life and what kind of signs He would give me if this was the right place.
Father Jack explained to me the slight difference between the natural and the supernatural worlds and how they work together. He told me that sometimes God lifts the veil between these two dimensions and we are given a quick glimpse of God putting the puzzle pieces together to lead us to Him. I didn’t really understand Father Jack at the time, but I would soon experience a first-hand glimpse of God’s hand in my life.
I made my first visit to the Mercedarians in March 2010 and had a wonderful time.
On my last day I spent an hour in the chapel praying and asking God for direction. I felt He was inviting me to apply and I decided to ask for an application.
As I was getting up to leave, I felt rather bold and asked God for three signs that this was indeed the place He wanted me enter.
I know we shouldn’t ask for signs, but after so many disappointments with previous communities and vocational discernments I wanted to be sure this was the place.
One of the signs I asked for was that I would receive confirmation from an outside source not associated with the community. What little faith I had! And what a surprise God had in store for me.
All three signs were mere days from being answered.
When I arrived home, I told my Mom over dinner about the monastery and how excited I was with everything I saw and experienced.
Mom asked me where the novitiate was and I told her Le Roy, N.Y. Mom inquired further if the Mercedarians there were called “the Fathers of Our Lady of Mercy.”
I told her no, that she must be mistaken and confusing the name with another religious order.
Mom insisted that there was a group in Le Roy called “the Fathers of Our Lady of Mercy.” I was sure she was confused.
To settle our argument she told me to hang on for a few moments while she went upstairs to get something. She returned carrying a card and handed it to me. I flipped over the card to discover the signature of the Mercedarian Vicar Provincial, Father Richard Rasch.
I turned over the card and looked at it: It was a mass card. I slowly turned and looked at Mom and asked her where she got the card from.
“I have been having Masses said for you through this group since you were born,” she told me.
My knees wobbled and I felt like my legs had just turned to jelly. Here was my big sign!
For 29 years, Mom had been having Masses said for me through the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy and neither of us had realized this was the same order I was now in application with.
A few months later, as I waited for the council to vote on my application, I had another confirmation from God regarding this order.
I was helping my Mom move books she had brought home from my late grandmother’s house. One of the piles I was attempting to move toppled over and the books cascaded across the floor.
One book spun out of the middle and slid into my mom’s foot. It was faded tan and ragged with age.
Mom bent down and picked up the book. Her eyes lit up and she let out a slight gasp. She opened the first page and then asked me to come over and look at what she found. The name of the book was “The Magnificat” and it was published by the Mercedarians.
This book was more than 30 years old. Inside, we found notes written in pencil with dates. One of the notes was written on Dec. 25, 1980 – when I was just 3 months in the womb. Mom had said this novena to St. Raymond Nonnatus, who is the patron saint of the unborn and is one of our great Mercedarian saints. She dedicated me to him before I was born.
Apparently this book ended up on my grandmother’s shelf, where it sat untouched for 29 years until that perfect moment that God chose to reveal it to us. has everything planned out for us and He reveals these things in His own time.
On June 2, 2010, I was accepted into the Mercedarians and on Aug. 20, 2010, I entered the postulancy.
In the months leading up to my entrance I was tormented with second thoughts and questions if this was really what I was supposed to do.
You would think with all the confirmations I had, there would be little doubt in my heart.
It was not so.
I did doubt and I wondered if I was going to be missing out on a family by entering religious life. My fears and doubts were quickly quelled as I felt God tell me about the family that I was going to be a part of. I was soon going to have more brothers, sisters, and fathers than I could ever have imagined. This message was a welcome sign. It helped me surmount a persistent stumbling block.
I find that God gives me sufficient grace to live a holy and celibate life for him. I unite myself with Jesus and I ask the Blessed Mother to keep me pure in mind, heart, and body. In doing so, I do not find the struggle with the celibate life to be difficult.
Fr. Francesco Podda, O. de M., Provincial Secretary, received the vows of Brothers James and Scott. This is the homily he gave during the Mass.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we celebrate together two men whom the Church has always viewed as her columns: St. Peter and St. Paul. Christ chose both of them, even though in different ways, to follow him and be committed to the duty to continue his mission of preaching the Gospel of salvation and the forgiveness of the sins in his name.
This feast allows us to reflect on the mystery of vocation. Who were these men? Were they special or better than the others? Did Jesus have any human reason for choosing them?
If we read the Gospel we discover that the only reason of their calling is the mysterious and gratuitous will of the Father, who shows his strength through human weakness, as St. Paul will later write of reflecting on his own vocation.
In fact Peter was a simple fisherman, son of a fisherman, generous, impulsive, sometimes overconfident, and at the same time fearful until disowning Christ. But he was also humble, conscious of his sin and capable to weep bitterly for having betrayed his Lord.
Paul was a scribe lover and slave of the law, who was present at the martyrdom of St. Steven, the first martyr of the Church. He was going to Damascus to seek and kill the Christians when Jesus called Paul in a mysterious way, made him an apostle and sent him to announce the Gospel to the gentiles.
Both of them gave their lives for the Gospel and for remained faithful to Jesus. Both of them were martyred in Rome. They were so different and yet united by the same vocation to follow the Lord so closely and worthy to receive the same destiny of their Master Jesus Christ.
This feast is a favorable opportunity to reflect on one’s vocation, most of all because today two other men are going to confirm their wish to follow Christ forever. The profession of solemn vows is the definitive yes that Br. James and Br. Scott give to the divine call they have heard and followed with faith and trust in Jesus.
They are going to proclaim before the Church, represented by this liturgical assembly, their resolute intention to follow Christ as religious and as mercedarians.
What does it mean to be religious and to be mercedarian?
First of all we should remember the source of the vocation. Jesus reminded his disciples that they did not choose him, but He chose them. These brothers are here because they heard the voice of Christ calling them to follow him in this particular way, as religious. Nobody should think that to be a religious or a priest is a simple human project. The vocation to the religious life or to the priesthood is a gift of the Lord, and the one who is called can only accept this gift and answer “yes” as the Virgin Mary did, but nobody can presume to be a religious or a priest if not called by Jesus.
The main purpose of the religious life is to be a sign of the presence of Christ among men and to help them to meet him. In particular the religious life is to make visible the way of life Jesus adopted when he lived as a man in this world.
This is the significance of the vows. They are not the sacrifice of the good things of life, such as getting married, to having and using property or possessions, or realizing personal project.
The religious vows should be a clear sign of the way of life of Christ, who didn’t get married, so to be free to love God and mankind until giving up his life for them. He did not have a place to rest his head, so to remind us of God’s love, who nourishes the birds of the sky and takes care of every creature. He didn’t have any personal project, but his food was to accomplish the will of the Father.
We are religious not to pursue a personal perfection, but to be a sign of the heavenly kingdom for all of God’s people as the Second Vatican Council reminds us: “The profession of the evangelical counsels … appears as a sign which can and ought to attract all the members of the Church to an effective and prompt fulfillment of the duties of their Christian vocation. The people of God have no lasting city here below, but look forward to one that is to come”.
All the religious make the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, but we as mercedarian have also another vow that we call the fourth vow, and I believe it is the first and the most important, because it affects also the particular way by which we live the other vows.
This fourth vow is the vow of redemption that expresses our specific charism. Our father and founder St. Peter Nolasco, inspired by the Virgin Mary of Mercy founded our Order for visiting and freeing those Christians who were in captivity and in the power of the enemies of Jesus Christ, and as in the first Consitutions of the Order, St. Peter Nolasco established that all the brothers of the Order, as sons of true obedience, must always be gladly disposed to give up their lives, if it necessary, as Jesus gave up his life for us.
We the mercedarians still consecrate ourselves to God by this special vow, by virtue of which we promise to give up our lives, as Christ gave his life for us, in order to save those Christians who find themselves in extreme danger of losing their faith by new forms of captivity.
Only if we are free, we may be ready to free our brothers and sisters, at the cost of our life, and the other three vows we profess help us to be always free and ready to give up our life.
This is what Br. James and Br. Scott are doing with the profession of solemn vows. We can imagine how difficult the mission could be, because, like Peter and Paul, and like each of us who have made this profession before them, they are simple men whom the mysterious and gratuitous will of the Father called to surrender their lives into his hands, so to become instruments of salvation, to bring freedom to those who are enslaved by the evil one.
Today we accompany them with our prayer, asking for them the same generosity that brought St. Peter and St. Paul to give up their lives for Christ.
Dear James and Scott, may God who began this good work in you, by the intercession of St. Peter Nolasco, and with the maternal protection of our Most Holy Mother of Mercy bring it to fulfillment.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”. The month of May ushers in a time of transition for the Mercedarian students in Philadelphia.
The month begins with the pressure of final exams at St Charles Borromeo Seminary and other Colleges the Friars attend. Studies can be challenging as the seminarians learn the classics such as Latin, Greek, and philosophy. As they progress in their academic formation, the friars tackle such areas as Church History, Systematic Theology, Pastoral Theology, and Sacred Scripture. Br. Dominic, a non-clerical student, completed his 3 year at Cabrini College in pursuit of a Bachelors in Secondary Education (English). Despite the rigors of final exams the friars maintain the house schedule, which includes communal prayer and meals. The students support each other in their studies and pray as a community that the Holy Spirit grant everyone the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.
This year the vicariate was blessed to have two friars complete their theological studies at St Charles Borromeo Seminary. Br. James Chia, O. de M. and Br. David Spencer, O. de M. began at Overbrook several years ago in the Pre-Theology program. After many years of study, prayer, and hard work they have completed their time of academic formation. On May 20th, St Charles Borromeo Seminary held its Concourses at Saint Martin’s Chapel. Br David received his Masters of Arts in Pastoral Theology. The special emphasis of his Master’s thesis was on the Liturgy and Redemption.
Soon after their studies concluded the student fulfilled their constitutional obligation by going on a weeklong retreat. The retreat master was Fr. Eugene Costa, O. de M. Fr Eugene has been the Order Novice Master for over 30 years! He has a wealth of knowledge and a great love for the Consecrated Life. Fr Eugene gave the students several conferences on Blessed John Paul II’s contribution to the theology of consecrated life. Each evening, the friars had exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. There was much time for prayer and reflection on consecration that each of them share as Mercedarians.
Now having been renewed spiritually, the simply professed prepare themselves for a busy summer. They will be getting an opportunity to visit their families for some rest and relaxation. Then, many will head to different Mercedarian parishes and houses to give assistance and get apostolic experience. The summer apostolic experience offers the students a chance to get to know the solemnly professed friars that make up the vicariate of the United States. They, also, experience the redemptive apostolates that the Order is involved in.
Truly, as the book of Ecclesiastes says, “there is a time for everything…” For students in formation with the Mercedarians, summer offers a time to labor, a time to pray, and a time to rest. But, all time belongs to God and is given to us as a gift. May this summer’s experiences lead those in formation to see the presence of God in all each experience, each person, and each moment!
Answer these seven quick questions on our new survey and you might find that you have a vocation to the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy. Your interests, deepest desires, and lifestyle might be indications that you do.
Do you have a deep interest in the Catholic faith? When you see a priest or brother, do you sometimes think, “I could do that”?
Br. James Chia, O. de M. came to America searching for the American Dream, but he found that he had a vocation to one of the most ancient Orders in the Church. Here is his story:
Praise to Jesus Christ – now & forever! I come from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, MALAYSIA, & from a family of 17 children. My father & mother had a total of 11 children – eight boys & three girls. My father had 6 children – three boys & three girls from his first marriage. Growing up as a young boy, God has been gracious to my family. I grew up in a family that has its ups & downs – like any other family. However, we always look out for the others – always putting others ahead of our own individual needs. My late aunt (†1996) who was my mother’s younger sister was Sr. Mary Catherine in the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (FSIC) in Kota Kinabalu. Another of my aunt who is my mother’s oldest sister is Sr. Mary Therese of the Child Jesus in the Discalced Carmelite Order in Kota Kinabalu. Praised be to Jesus, this May also marks my aunt’s Diamond Jubilee as a Discalced Carmelite Nun! Then, there is one of my older brothers who is a Brother of Mercy of Mary Help of Christians (FMMA) in Singapore. Being the youngest is not easy since nothing you can do that the brothers & sisters do not know! They have been there & done that, so to speak! In addition to providing me with many holy Religious as role models, God has provided me with many holy Priests while in Kota Kinabalu especially the Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM) that left their home for an unknown place called Sabah where they heard of rumors that people in this place lived on trees & that there were headhunters everywhere! Yet, these MHMs said “Yes Lord, send me!” Then, there is my former Pastor, Fr. Peter Ma, at Stella Maris Parish in Kota Kinabalu who was a patient & caring Priest. Fr. Peter Ma is now retired staying at St. Mary’s Church in New York City. He was the former Pastor of Transfiguration Church located at Mott Street in New York Chinatown. So, Religious & Priestly Life is not new to me when I heard God calling me to serve Him as a Religious & Priest. St. Bernard of Clairvaux once said: “I heard God calling me & I am here to check it out!” I continue to hear God calling me & God continues to call me.
In December 1989, I came to Philadelphia to further my study in Electrical Engineering Technology at Temple University. My family chose Philadelphia because I have two elder sisters in Philadelphia & they did not want me to be too far from the watchful eyes. When I finished my studies in 1994 I returned to Kota Kinabalu & worked there until 2001. In 2000, my application for US Immigrant Visa was approved & I “immigrated” to US in 2001 in search of my American Dream! All I wanted was to marry a beautiful girl & have many children since I come from a large family. I stayed with my elder sister & her family in Yardley, PA, as I did while studying at Temple University. I got involved with my “new” Parish named St. Ignatius of Antioch & was quite active. God surrounded me with a group of good Catholic friends – men & women. They encouraged me to look into vocation together with my Spiritual Director, Fr. Louis Kolenkiewicz. Fr. Kolenkiewicz asked me once: “James, if God is to call you, what will you say & do?” I replied that I would say “Yes” & check it out (i.e., make the first step forward). I looked into the Congregation of Mission (i.e., the Vincentians) & the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (i.e., The Mercedarians). Some time later, I still hear God calling me & I am here to check it out! At this point, I can truly say that I am discovering the American Dream that God has in store for me! May the Most Holy Trinity be served with greater fidelity & be praised always in His Church!
Here Br. Scott Brentwood, O. de M. tells his vocation story which leads him from a small Virginia town to becoming a friar in an Ancient Order.
I spent my early years in the mountains of Virginia in a little corner of the world that still maintains a unique atmosphere of tranquility and lack of modernization all along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had everything from trees to open fields – as rustic as one can get – but a community that was very aware of its codependence on one another. Everyone knew everyone, and the stereotype of “small town life” very much applied. The best comparison I can make is Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show…which is actually a 20 min. drive from where I lived.
Being in the “Bible-Belt,” faith was a very strong and present reality of every day life. Everything started and ended with a prayer, and even when prayer in school was no longer permitted, the students still said them without the prompting of the Administration. The Catholic presence, however, was VERY small and almost non existent. In my house, religion was important, but not too important. We were not as religious as other families, but I would not say it was lacking. We said our prayers before and after meals as well as before we went to bed, but it was not a major part of my growing up.
I began to consider a vocation to be a priest when I was fourteen. I was working at a government institution where the government distributes alms etc. to people who are poor. Before I worked there, I thought most people only abused the program. I thought they did not need the help but took it because it was available. When I worked there, I discovered that this was true. One time, however, I helped a family that really needed help, and afterward I tried to find a way to help others in more than just material ways. At the time I did not know about the religious life, and my only real understanding of priestly life was that of the Diocese. When I was seventeen, I decided I would pursue a priestly vocation. I talked with the Vocation Director for the Diocese in Virginia. He told me that the Diocese does not accept anyone until they have finished at a university. I went to Old Dominion University. It is a large university of 30,000 students. I made many friends, and some of these friends also wanted to pursue a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. When I learned about the religious life, I felt that this mode of life was what God wanted for me. I liked the idea of living together with others who wanted to work for the same cause. I looked into different religious congregations, but I did not find any that I wanted to join.
During the last year at my university, a friend of mine visited the Mercedarians. When he returned, he told me I should visit them. I said no. I did not want to spend more time looking at congregations because I had looked at them before and did not see any that I liked. That September, a hurricane came to Norfolk, the city of my university. Everyone was evacuated from the university. My family was eight hours away, so it was impossible for me to go home. I asked the same friend if I could stay with him in his apartment downtown. He said I could stay, but he was leaving to be with his family. I stayed in his apartment alone. The electricity died the first day, and the only activities I could do were study Biology, Pray, and look at the walls. I spent more time looking at the walls than I did studying or praying.
My friend visited many different communities. When he visited the communities, he always took cards of their saints etc. so he could remember to pray for the communities. He would put them in the edges of other pictures. When I was looking at these images, the images for the Mercedarians seemed different. I thought I would call them and ask some questions I had. I did not want to visit because the closest house was in Philadelphia, and Philadelphia was eight hours from my university by car. When I called, I asked many questions. I was happy with the answers. I visited the next November. I returned to Philadelphia the next January before returning to my university. For my break in the spring, I returned to Philadelphia to complete the testing necessary for the application. I graduated from my university in May, and entered the Mercedarians in August.