A native of Queens NY, my vocation was nurtured in my Church-going family. Since my mother was from Saint Cecilia’s parish (where the De La Salle Brothers taught) and my father was a student at Saint Veronica’s School, NYC (where he was taught by the De La Salle Brothers), isn’t it ironic – or providential – that my brother (my only sibling) would become a student of Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School (where we Brothers continue to serve) and I would become a member of the third graduating class of Mater Christi Diocesan High School (and taught by many amazing De La Salle Brothers)?
I vote for providence!
My high school years were 1963-67. Three months into the first year, I was in Biology Lab class with Brother Mark when the announcement was made that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. After the collective gasp, Brother Mark said, “Well, there’s nothing we can do about that, so let’s get back to work.” I learned quickly that these Brothers were serious men! But I also watched their camaraderie over my four years and I found it very appealing: joyous, hard-working men with a common mission. It was attractive 48 years ago, and it still inspires me daily.
Like the men of my era, I entered the novitiate five days after graduating from high school. Sometime during the novitiate year, four of us who had graduated from Mater Christi, now 18 years old, returned to our alma mater and had a chance to speak to the students in classes. I remember using high platitudes about the holiness of my vocation coming from God and doing His will. Not that that was inaccurate, but with time, I have loosened up and have more clearly realized the mixed motivations in my becoming a Brother the previous year – not the least of which was an acceptable method of leaving the homestead. (In 1967, most of my peers would become commuter students at local colleges.)
I believe that I have grown into my vocation. The high platitudes have long gone. My life journey resonates with the prayer of Thomas Merton: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.”
I am happy to look back upon the road that has led me to this moment on the journey. I have had a very varied career: 8 years as a 5th grade teacher, 4 years in parish religious education; 8 years as a high school Religion teacher; 10 years as a campus minister; 7 years in District service; and I am now in my 6th year in Kenya.
All vocations have their challenges. In my 8th year in the 5th grade (imagine!), the Brother Visitor virtually dragged me out of my first assignment. I remember arriving at my new community with great sadness and anger, but I look back with deep gratitude for our vow of obedience. Thanks to it, I have been further enriched by ministries in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Narragansett, Nairobi, and Lincroft. The 48 years have been ones of enormous blessing and joy.
Prayer and community life are pillars of the vocation. However, De La Salle found this Institute for the mission, and I credit my growth in this vocation to the exceptional opportunities I have had to help provide a human and Christian education for youth, especially the poor.
Currently, I am working at Christ the Teacher Institute for Education (CTIE) here in Nairobi, one of the amazing ministries of our Lasallian world. Daily, I meet young women and men who will become superb teachers in the near future, despite having been raised in some of the worst slums in creation. My primary ministry is to try to raise funds so that these incredible Lasallians can afford the necessary tuition fees (approximately $2,000 per year).
Among these students is Fred Ouma. He struggled with fees during his first year (2014-2015) at CTIE, until he received sponsorship from the Italian Bishops Conference. Relieved and grateful, Fred returned to his Mukuru slum this summer and saw idle youth whose families cannot afford the cost of “free education.” Though he himself has no financial resources, and despite there being no Strategic Plan, this remarkable young man nonetheless began Bethlehem Learning Centre. What a leap into action! What a passion for the poor!
I am inspired by Fred and so many of these young Lasallians who follow our Founder instinctively. My vocation as a Brother is enhanced every day by our students. And with the blessings of God, I will continue to find ways of being Brother to those most in need of such a relationship. Together we will strive to be daily reminders of Jesus’ words, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”