Glenmary Brother Is an All-Purpose Builder

Posted: 6/15/2009

Brother Virgil in Bertie County, N.C.For over three decades, Glenmary Brother Virgil Siefker has been involved in building of all sorts—from constructing Glenmary mission churches and parish centers to building community and building up people. "In my own way," he says, "I'm helping build the kingdom of God."

The skilled craftsman's latest job—which started Feb. 1—is construction of a new parish hall and classroom building for the Glenmary mission in Sandhill, Ga. It's his first sizable project in quite a while. In a way, it's a flashback to his 1980s work as part of the Glenmary Brothers Building Crew. But this time he's a one-person professional crew, with his help coming from willing mission members.

The Georgia job is making use of his strongest skills, from construction to patient guidance of volunteers. Most of the technical work—like installing the electricity and plumbing—is being contracted out. But the rest of the work is being done by the volunteers and Brother Virg, "so we'll be able to cut costs in half," he says. Their goal is to complete the project in time for confirmation in August, so the congregation can use the building for the reception—the first of many gatherings in the new facility.

While Brother Virg knows only basic Spanish, it hasn't been a problem to communicate with the Spanish-speaking mission members on the job. Bilingual parishioners help translate, he says, and he can often physically show volunteers what they need to do.

After college, he taught junior high science for a year. But after spending a month of his summer volunteering at a Glenmary mission, he chose not to go back to the classroom. Instead, he signed on for two more Glenmary volunteer jobs. He did construction at all three stops, using skills he developed in earlier summers.

"Shortly after that I applied to Glenmary," Brother Virg recalls. He liked Glenmary's emphasis on social justice, ecumenism and practical evangelism. "I also liked the closeness of their small-town missions, the outdoors and working with my hands."

From 1980 to 1990 he was part of the Brothers Building Crew. He and Brother Larry Jochim worked on 13 Glenmary building projects in eight states.

And community building took place too. "On every job we became part of the mission," says Brother Virg. "We invited the people to help us—because it saved money and also got them involved in their building project."

He often thinks about a favorite Scripture passage. "In Mark's Gospel Jesus asks, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?'" Brother Virg says. "And then Jesus looks at the followers he's visiting and says, ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.'

"I could have settled in Ohio near my own brothers and sisters. But I have family wherever I do God's work."

When 1990 came, Brother Virg was reassigned to the vocation team responsible for building up Glenmary's missioner community. The team periodically invited interested prospects to the Glenmary Farm in Eastern Kentucky to talk to Glenmarians, pray and reflect—so Brother Virg spent part of each year there, and he loved it. The Farm had also become a nationally known destination for high school and college volunteers.

He became director of the group volunteer program in 1994, and once again, Brother Virg was building—in this case building up young people.

"The Farm gives students the chance to serve and think about their relationships with others and God," he says. "It was great to see students reflect, learn and change."

In 2001 Brother Virg tackled renovations at Glenmary's Cincinnati residence. Then, after two years working in Swainsboro, Ga., it was on to Bertie County, N.C., where he helped Father Mike Langell call together and build up the county's first-ever Catholic community.

In 2006 Brother Virg entered a new phase: doing short-term repair and renovation projects for Glenmary missions. "And I'm still being welcomed like family," he says.

After his work in Sandhill is finished, he says he'll "feel a deep satisfaction in helping the people build a place that will make a real difference for them." He doesn't know what he'll do next, but he's fairly sure it will involve building.

When Brother Virg joined Glenmary he had decided it was "the best way I could use the talents God gave me to help others." The concrete results and many lives he's touched suggest he made the right choice.

This article originally appeared in the June 2009 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.