To Be a Glenmary Brother or Priest

Brother David Henley, vocation directorJuly 2012

"We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."—Rom 8:28

In recent columns, I have written about Glenmary's newly ordained priests and our new brother who just made his First Oath. I think those pieces have inspired me to tackle the questions I am most frequently asked: "Why did you become a brother and not go all the way to become a priest?" and "When are you going to be ordained?"

I think the fundamental question really is, "What is the difference between a brother and a priest?" My comical answer is that "the brothers do all the work and the priests get all the credit." But in all honesty, the reality in Glenmary is that both priests and brothers take on a great deal of work in the missions, and we do it not for ourselves but for the greater good. We do it because "the love of Christ impels us" (2 Cor 5:14). Our call is to be missioners first—and then, within that call, some of us serve as brothers and others as priests.

While some religious communities have only priests or only brothers, Glenmary Home Missioners is a mixed community and we all make the same promise to live lives of poverty, chastity, obedience and prayer. We all see ourselves first as missioners who are dedicated to working and living together as we serve Mission Land, USA.

So what is the difference?

Priests are ordained members of the community who have a distinctive role as sacramental ministers in the Church. We often see them as the ones who celebrate the Eucharist, baptize, witness weddings and perform other sacramental ministries.

Brothers are not ordained ministers so our role is not quite as defined as the priests. Throughout Church history, brothers have served in ministries that have included contemplative life and manual labor. Glenmary brothers combine our spiritual prayer lives with active apostolic ministries. I think Glenmary brothers have most often defined ourselves as "brothers to all"—and we have served in a variety of ministries that focus on being present with the people in the missions and serving their needs.

Brother Jack Henn once said of Glenmary brothers: "By our presence, we bring a perspective of the Church and of brotherhood to people who may never have met a Catholic, let alone a religious brother."

Throughout Glenmary's history, many brothers have worked on church and parish-hall building crews, and others have worked as carpenters in home-building and renovation programs for low-income families in our mission areas. Therefore, people often think of Glenmary brothers as builders, which is sometimes true of some of them—but is not the complete picture.

Glenmary also has brothers who minister as parish brothers, catechists, teachers, nurses, social workers, interpreters and more. Brothers have a bit more freedom in the ministerial areas, allowing them to use their gifts to serve in a variety of ways.

I believe that the major difference between priests and brothers is that they have two distinct, separate callings: some are called to be priests and others to be brothers. Since there are almost 40,000 priests and only around 4,000 brothers in the United States, it is much more likely that U.S. Catholics know priests and have seen what they do.

When Glenmary speaks of the missions and the need that exists in "No Priest Land, USA," this phrase also implies "No Brother Land, USA." Therefore, as we pray for more vocations to serve the Catholic Church and the missions, let's not forget to pray for religious brothers and sisters.

Glenmary priests and brothers offer themselves for lives of service and share their gifts with the people in Mission Land, USA. If you are discerning a call to religious life and want to know more about priests and brothers, contact our vocation office at 800-935-0975. You can also read more about Glenmary missioners by searching for "brothers" or "priests" on this site.