Brothers of Charity

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

September 22, 2011

 

Fr. Peter Daly talks about the Brothers of Charity.

 

The world needs more brothers. The church needs more brothers.

 Not the “blood brother” kind, but the kind of brothers found in religious orders.

Most people today don’t have any contact with religious brothers. In the U.S. we had over 5,000 brothers in the late 1960s, mostly in teaching orders.  But today we have only about 1,000 professed brothers.

Brothers are not priests. But they do take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They are lay men who consecrate their lives to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

I recently spent a week with the Brothers of Charity in Belgium. I came away with a new appreciation of what professed religious brothers bring to the Catholic Church and the world.

The Brothers of Charity whom I visited work with the people the rest of the world has marginalized or forgotten; the mentally ill, the blind, the deaf, and the severely handicapped.  As one Brother said to me, “There will always be work for the Brothers. But there will never be enough Brothers.”

Around the world there are just over 700 Brothers of Charity scattered in 30 countries. In the United States they have houses in Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Some of the Brothers get their training in liberal arts and nursing through Catholic University in Washington.

In the past, most Brothers of Charity came from Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. That is where they were founded.   But today they come from Africa and Asia. Recently the order opened houses of formation in Indonesia and Kenya, where more than 40 new brothers entered this past year.   

Why do we need more brothers like the Brothers of Charity?

In simple terms it is because their work is the ministry of Jesus. They bring healing to the sick, comfort to the dying, sight to the blind and help to people who are troubled by the demons of mental illness.

In Belgium the Brothers have had a huge influence on the care of the mentally ill. Their institutions care for hundreds of the mentally ill people. Today the Brothers are joined by many lay coworkers. The Brothers of Charity have more than 10,000 employees in all their institutions in Belgium. Still, there is something special about the work and presence of Brothers. Their work is out of love.

I was especially touched by their work with the mentally ill. Back in the 19th century, the mentally ill were kept in cages and chains up in shackles. In one of their first foundations, the Brothers liberated the mentally ill from a dungeon of a castle in Ghent, Belgium.  Together with Dr. Joseph Guislain, one of the first psychiatrists, they built a hospital for the mentally ill. It became a model of care. Today it is a museum on the history of psychiatry and there is a new hospital nearby.

In the U.S. the Brothers are opening a house for homeless veterans in Washington, DC. They will care for vets suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The new house will be located in a former Catholic elementary school in Washington. It will have rooms for 12 veterans and offer them medical and psychiatric care. The residents will also have recreation and a chapel for prayer.  

There is something special about the Brothers. They are humble men of faith and prayer. The ones I met are filled with enthusiasm and joy. They are competent professionals, but above all they are rooted in love, of God and neighbor. The world could use a lot more brothers like them.