A Brotherhood United
“We’re not lone rangers,” states Fr. John T. Maher, CM, the Congregation of the Mission’s Director of Vocations, when asked about vocations and the Vincentian charism. “In his Rule, St. Vincent tells us to ‘strive to live together as dear friends.’ This isn’t only about working together, being well-functioning and efficient; it’s about being brothers and supporting one another.”
Fr. Maher’s zeal is understandable. The community of the Congregation of the Mission—also known as the Vincentians—focuses on treating one another like family. And the language they use reflects this brotherhood. When referring to one another, they quote the Latin word, confrere, which literally means, “together with brother.”
“We support one another, not just in work, but in the life we live. It’s practical charity,” says Fr. Maher. “If a brother or one of his family members is in the hospital, his confreres visit him and administer the sacraments to him. And when one of our confreres loses a parent, each house sends a confrere to the funeral.”
While many congregations in the
Catholic Church help the poor, the Vincentians take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. However, what makes their vocation distinctive is a fourth vow: stability. This vow is at the center of their charism. It’s a promise to stay faithful to the Congregation and the Church, no matter where they are called, and it enables them to be innovative in helping the poor.
“St. Vincent wanted us to be ‘mobile missionaries’,” Fr. Maher notes, “to respond to the needs of the poor when new avenues of mission and evangelization arise.” When combined, stability and ‘mobility’ not only help Vincentians creatively address the needs of the poor, it also keeps their ministries new. And it challenges the natural human tendency to carve a comfortable and easy existence for themselves.
Stability is not the only distinctive factor in the Vincentian charism. When St. Vincent founded the Congregation, he waited 20 years before developing a Rule. He watched and experienced what did—and did not—work in mission and community life.
ADDRESSING TODAY’S CULTURE
When asked about the challenges of being a Vincentian priest, Fr. Maher doesn’t hesitate. “Trying to live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus in a world that can be indifferent or at times even hostile—and doing that in service, love, and faith—is something we all face.” Yet he is quick to add that Christianity, from its beginnings, has always opposed the larger society.
This challenge is very real for young people today, who face a far more complicated life than their predecessors a generation ago. Many of them are delaying major life choices. Some experience a fear of commitment, while others worry about missing out on everything life has to offer. However, it is clear that the Vincentian charism adds depth and meaning to life, and it opens men up to possibilities they can’t even begin to imagine.
Looking back on his ministries, which range from teaching theology at Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, PA, to managing an AIDS Ministry program for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Fr. Maher realizes he could not have done them alone. “The Vincentians have been good to me. I’ve received support and encouragement from my community.”
That sentiment is echoed in the guidance he gives young men who seek a more authentic life than society offers. Yes, there are many reasons for Fr. Maher’s enthusiasm, and all of them are Vincentian.