A religious brother is a member of a Christian religious institute or religious order who commits himself to following Christ in consecrated life of the Church, usually by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
A Brother is a man who, in making the vows of religion, surrenders the whole of himself in one single gift. By the vows of Chastity, a Brother renounces marriage with all the joys of family life and puts all his love and affection at the service of God and the Church. This was the idea of St. Paul when he said, ,, an unmarried man concerns himself with the Lord’s work because he is trying to please God…so, the man who marries does well, but the one does not marry does even better>> (1 Cor. 7 : 32-38). By the vow of Poverty, he gives up the right to own property and is therefore free to share his time, talents and goods with the people. And by the vow of obedience, a Brother accepts to work with a team under the guidance of his superiors. He surrenders himself entirely to the workings of the Holy Spirit.
WHO ARE THE MARIST BROTHERS
The founder of the Marist Brothers, St Marcellin Champagnat, was a French Priest and only 28 years old, when he felt sorry for the neglected and ignorant children he saw around him. When he noticed this, he asked two young men to help him teach religion, reading writing and prayer to a group of children. This feeling finally led him to find the congregation of the Marist Brothers for the Christian Education of the young.
On January 2nd, 1817, he led the two young men to live in community and so founded the Institute of the Little Brothers of Mary, otherwise called the Marist Brothers of the schools ( Freatress Maristae a Scholis), FMS for short. They are called Marist because they try to imitate Mary, to make her known and to spread her devotion. They are called, they live all together as children of the same family.
Fr. Champagnat spent a very busy life building and organizing his communities of Brothers and opening schools. When he died at the very early age of 51, he had already 78 houses and about 280 Brothers who taught over 7,200 children. The membership of the Marist Brothers at the moment number about 8,000 spread over the five continent of the world, in 81 countries. In Africa alone, there are about 500 Marist Brothers working in 19 different countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. Etc.
The first Marist Brothers to reach Africa were from France and landed in Cape Town (South Africa) in 1867.
HOW CAN YOU JOIN THE MARIST BROTHERS
Obviously, you cannot join the Marist Brothers as you join a crowd in the street. First of all, you need to know them before you can apply for admission. In most congregations or communities of Brothers, the main conditions of acceptance are the same: a baptized and confirmed Catholic, with some signags of vocation, sound judgment, good health, talent for studies, a big heart and great courage to accept the challenge of a new way of life and finally a willingness to do God’s will.
Of course, an important condition for becoming a Brother is to be trained, as you would for any other career or profession. As an example, of a Brother’s training programme, I will give you the one proposed by the Marist District of West Africa. Apart from the above mentioned, you need to have some academic requirements: 5 credits at SSCE, including English and Mathematics, O’Levels, A ‘Levels, HND, and Teachers certificate A, other Degrees etc.
THE MARIST TRAINING PROGRAMME
This programme is divided into four stages:-
Aspiracy: While still at the secondary school or post-secondary institution or working, young men who are touched and feel called to the consecrated state-to dedicate their entire life to the Lord, are followed up and given elementary information in the different ways of responding to God’s call. This is a preparatory stage or a time of searching. The purpose of this stage is to help the candidate to know himself better, to accept himself, to transcend himself and to be converted to the Gospels (FG 132).
Postulancy : This second stage follows when these candidates, having finished their courses- SSCE, Teachers’ Certificate A, HND, Diplomas and Degrees are given an opportunity to search for or discern their choice of life. The postulate seeks more specific information about the nature, aims and requirements of the Novitiate. This phase of the training is undertaken in the West Africa country of Cameroun and lasts for a period of one year.
NOVITIATE : The third stage will start when the postulants, having finished their one – year stay in the postulancy, will be given a few weeks to visit their families and then will join the internation Novitiate of the Marist Brothers in Kumasi, Ghana. The Novitiate is the initial step to Religious Life, the beginning of a journey and a special occasion of saying <<yes>> to God as a response to his calling. At this stage the young men are called Novices. The length of the Novitiate period will prepare young men to choose freely their commitment to God in Brotherhood and will allow the Brothers, on their part, to confirm their choice. During this stage there will be time for silence, prayer, meditation, study, regular interviews with the master of Novices, training in the way of prayer and community life as well as in some apostolic, pastoral and manual work. The Novices are introduced, among other things, to pedagogy and catechetics. The study will include Scripture, Liturgy and pastoral work, to mention but a few. The study of the Scripture will show them the way to the living God, liturgy- the way to the living church, pastoral work- the way to the living kingdom of Christ wherever they will spend their life. In addition to the regular curriculum, allowance is made for games, hobbies and some practical subjects like music, carpentry, typing/computer, etc. at the end of the Novitiate, the young men will be received as Marist brothers, in a special ceremony in the presence of parents, relatives and friends, by making the religious profession and taking the vows of Chastity, Poverty and obedience that will be renewed annually and finally be made permanent.
SCHOLASTICATE : The last stage of the training programme will start when the new brothers will be given the opportunity to further their religious, scholastic or academic studies, according to the needs and the requirements of their religious community. This period will last at least four years at Nairobi, Kenya. At the end of the four year- study in Nairobi, the candidate is awarded degree in Education with Religious Science from the Urbaniana University in Rome. Two of the three years after the scholastic experience, the brother is qualified to apply for the final vows to be a life member of the congregation.
What’s the difference between a brother and a priest?
Both brothers and priests can be part of the same religious institute. Both, therefore, take the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and operate under the rule or constitutions of the institute. The difference is that priests receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and can therefore celebrate Mass, hear confessions, proclaim the Gospel and preach the Word.
Brothers are technically referred to as ‘lay religious’ men. In other words, they are men who take vows of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience and who live in a community but who are neither ordained ministers nor are studying to be ordained ministers. They can be teachers, nurses, or missionaries or they might be involved in other activities which are different but complimentary to parish life, e.g. directing and guiding retreats.
Traditionally, the life of a religious brother mostly involved assisting priests in manual or administrative work, but nowadays their work is not defined so narrowly. Often the only difference between a priest and a brother is ordination.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? BE A MARIST TODAY:
As a young man, you should be concerned about your future. Have you even thought about why you were created? Your purpose in life? Your purpose as a Christian? My friend, have you ever thought of becoming a Religious- a Marist brother? It is a fact that you can be happy wherever God calls you, but the big questions are: where does God want you to be? How do you know? You would probably repeat the words of prophet Jeremiah, << Lord, I know that no one is the master of his own life >> ( Jer 10:20). Then what should you do?