Words of Remembrance for Brother Benedict Oliver, FSC

Written and Delivered by Br. Robert Schaefer, FSC
Mass of Christian Burial
Central Catholic High School
August 16, 2021

All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…

These words from Shakespeare’s play, As You Like It, came to me as I reflected on this evening’s Mass in celebration of Brother Benedict Oliver. Since we are here in a theater, I invite you to use your imagination to enter this masterful production.

Let me establish the setting for just a moment. It’s August 1961. John Kennedy is President of the United States. Bobby Lewis’s “Tossin’ and Turnin’” is topping the summer billboard chart; West Side Story and The Guns of Navvarone are the top movies; the Berlin Wall is just under construction as the tensions of the Cold War rise. The Second Vatican Council is still a year away, so the structures and traditions of religious life and Catholicism are in full force.

It’s mid-August. The play opens with a young twenty-three six year-old newly minted Christian Brother walking through the doors at the side of the theater across the Quadrangle from his new residence. He’s arrived in Pittsburgh, a manufacturing city overshadowed by the daunting steel mills. As a native of the close-knit neighborhood located adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania in west Philadelphia, this towering castle on Fifth Avenue is both awe inspiring and a bit intimidating. Brother Denis Benedict has been assigned to teach religion and English as well as to moderate the newly established Central Catholic Masque, the drama program. Thus, begins the opening scene of a production that would run for more than six decades. A production where our lead would be cast in a variety of roles – teacher, principal, director, religious formator, provincial Visitor and roles that would take him on tour to many different locations – Pittsburgh, New Mexico, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Rome, Adamstown, Nairobi.

But that’s really where the metaphor ends because Brother Benedict was not an actor in a play nor was his vocation a mere role that he took on. Rather, Benedict’s life was marked by a profound Christian identity to the core-an identity that grew from his initial, tentative yes to Jesus’ invitation to “come and follow me”, an initial “yes” that was made at the age of seventeen and grew and matured until God called him home at the age of eighty-three.

Saint John Baptist de La Salle observed long ago that God “kindles a light in the hearts of those destined to teach his word to young people.” The more contemporary theologian Frederick Buechner offers a similar insight into vocation when he writes, “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” All of us who have known Brother Benedict know that he was destined to be a teacher, a Christian educator, and that his deepest gladness was in his interactions with his students, both as a teacher and as a principal.

He was a master teacher of English and religion. Many of his former students, starting from his earliest years in the classroom, have remarked since his death, that he was, by far, the best teacher they ever had in their lifetime. That kindled light, which the Founder refers to in his meditation, became for Benedict, a true fire, a passion for teaching, for the mission of Catholic Lasallian education. He brought that passion and understanding of the classroom to his role as principal and president in three different schools over the years. By all accounts he was an effective and impactful principal because of his deep love for the classroom, for the students and their families, and for his fellow teachers. The school was holy ground for Benedict, a place where God’s love, mercy, and compassion were revealed through the daily activities of school life; a place where God’s justice and kindness were mediated through the actions of the teachers. As a result, he treated everyone with the love and respect proper to such a holy place.

The Christian Brother’s vocation to the ministry of education is sustained through the support of community life with our Brothers and the commitment to a spiritual quest for communion with God.

For those of us who were blessed to live in community with Benedict, we know what a great source he was for a happy, enthusiastic and joyful common life. He spent the majority of his years as a Director of the community because so many of us recognized how he balanced the challenges of leadership with a love of Brothers and a creativity for ensuring a life-giving atmosphere.

Neither his educational ministry nor his community leadership would have been effective or meaningful if it weren’t for the deep spiritual desire for communion with God that inspired him each day. Ben had a practical and down-to-earth spirituality that recognized God’s presence, a presence that was revealed to him in the lives of his students, his co-workers and his Brothers in community. It was this unity among the ministry of education, life in community and the quest for unity with God that sustained his vocation.

As a result, Ben was appointed to be the first formator that young men discerning their call as Christian Brothers would meet as they entered the Scholasticate at Jeremy House. Benedict was the ideal person to welcome us into formation and introduce us to the life and vocation of the Brothers. Brothers Charles Huber, Michael Andrejko, and I (along with many Brothers not here this evening) can attest to his sense of humor, patience, caring attention and great enthusiasm for helping us discover the same spirit of faith and zeal that inspired him. Benedict also worked in the formation of young Brothers and the training of new teachers in Nairobi where his former students still recall his influence and impact on their teaching these many years later. This authentic living out of his vocation led the Bothers to call him to serve as the Visitor for six years, accompanying each of us, as well as our Lasallian partners, to a deeper sense of shared mission.

And like Shakespeare’s character who observed the seven stages of man as he lives out his earthly life, each of the stages of Benedict’s life has been marked by fidelity to the initial spark planted in his heart to serve God and build up his Kingdom as a Brother of the Christian Schools.

We now come to the final act, and how appropriate it is here in this theater which was a space where Benedict touched hearts. The lights are a bit dimmer tonight. As Christians we believe that with death, life is changed and not ended. Benedict knew his death was close at hand. He told us that he was so grateful for the life God had blessed him with and his great love for his vocation. He was at peace as we waited for God to come for him. And so, God did come to call him home last Wednesday. As Benedict makes his way to his heavenly home, we can only imagine the joy of his parents, his younger brother, his confreres and former students who have gone before him as they welcome him home. We can picture our Founder along with the other Lasallian saints rejoicing at the homecoming of this faithful Brother. We can take it in faith that Jesus Christ, the Divine Teacher, has embraced Benedict, saying to him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.

Live, Jesus, in our hearts, forever! Amen.

Please Pray for the Repose of the Soul of Brother Benedict Oliver, FSC

1938 – 2021

Born John Herbert Oliver, Jr. in Philadelphia PA on 18 July 1938
Entered the Ammendale MD Novitiate on 15 June 1956
Received the Religious Habit and Name Denis Benedict on 7 September 1956
Pronounced Perpetual Vows at Calvert Hall College High School on 17 August 1963
Died at De La Salle Hall in Lincroft NJ on 11 August 2021


Sunday, 15 August 2021

Visitation – 4.00pm to 7.30pm
Anselm Hall @ La Salle University
1900 West Olney Avenue
Philadelphia PA 19141

Monday, 16 August 2021

Visitation – 5.00pm to 7.00pm
Mass of Christian Burial – following
Central Catholic High School
McGonigle Theater
4720 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh PA 15213

Livestream – Mass of Christian Burial: www.centralcatholichs.com/live

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Private Interment – 3.30pm
De La Salle Cemetery
6001 Ammendale Road
Beltsville MD 20705

Brother Benedict died suddenly on Wednesday afternoon at De La Salle Hall.

The District of Eastern North America remembers Brother Benedict with memorial liturgies according to the tradition of the Institute. Through their prayers, communities and individuals entrust Brother Benedict to God’s loving care.

May he rest in peace.


Elkins Park PA
La Salle College (scholasticate)

Pittsburgh PA
Central Catholic High School

Baltimore MD
Calvert Hall College High School

Radnor PA
Archbishop John Carroll High School

Philadelphia PA
Jeremy House (Formation Director)

Rome Italy
CIL (1st semester)

Pittsburgh PA
Central Catholic High School

Adamstown MD
Baltimore District (Provincial/Visitor)

Nairobi Kenya
Christ the Teacher Institute for Education

Pittsburgh PA
Central Catholic High School

Baltimore MD
Calvert Hall College High School

Pittsburgh PA
Central Catholic High School

Philadelphia PA
Anselm Hall (resident)