We need to Promote Vocations to Brotherhood
Why did you choose to become just a brother, why didn’t you go all the way to be a priest? This is a question that many a religious brother has had to answer, a clear indication of a misunderstood vocation. As if a religious brother could just go back to formation, go through a few stages they had skipped and be ordained priest.
Unlike the vocations to priesthood and sisterhood, the vocation to brotherhood is less understood. Few parishes, or even dioceses promote vocations to brotherhood as much as they do for vocations to priesthood and sisterhood.
We need to do more to promote vocations to religious brotherhood, but first, we need to make the vocation be understood as complete and valid. Simply put, a religious brother is a consecrated layman. He will profess perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but will not be ordained. His formation is done and he is complete. He will not celebrate Mass, administer other sacraments, or take up the administration of a parish.
Instead he will take up a ministry appropriate to his capabilities. Pastorally you will find them caring for the sick and poor, in evangelisation, catechesis, and generally carrying the works of mercy and service to those in need. It is also not unusual to find them in secular occupations such as education, health care, journalism, but they also are essential members of many diocesan and pastoral staff.
Perhaps the misunderstanding of this vocation that has served the Church for ages explains why at 75 years, the Brothers of St. Joseph of Nyeri has only 62 living members. It is not just a problem of the congregation, but rather for the Church in Kenya as a whole because as it is, we do not do much to promote this vocation. This reflects on vocations to brotherhood in the world, the latest statistics showing 55,085 religious brothers compared to 413,418 priests and 713,206 religious sisters according to 2018 statistics from the Vatican.
A study done by Rogers, K. ., Omollo, F. ., & Ikpe, R. . (2021). “Factors Influencing Vocation to Brotherhood in Holy Cross Congregation District of East Africa,” published in the International Journal of Culture and Religious Studies, recommends the need for a rigorous promotion of brotherhood vocations, training of brothers as professionals, uplift the status of brothers and put in place proper discernment of vocations to reduce the high rate of brothers’ turnover.
The study established that social status, lack of awareness and perception that clerical vocation is more prestigious and glamorous than that of brotherhood are some of the factors affecting reduced vocations in brotherhood.
As the world marks the Year of St. Joseph, who is also the patron saint of the religious brothers, let us also pray for more vocations to brotherhood.