St. Alphonso Rodriquez, Jesuit brother and Saint of the Church, is an important figure in the history of the Society of Jesus. As the patron saint of the Jesuit brother, Alphonso’s example of simplicity of life and dedication to his work has brought “sanctity through service” to centuries of brother vocations. It was in that vision of service that the 165 Jesuit brothers of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia met to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of St. Alphonso. With a series activities and events designed to support their spiritual formation, the brothers shared their common heritage and promoted the ministries across India that depend on the brother vocation. One of the highlights of the program was the meeting they held with Superior General, Fr. Arturo Sosa, on March 7 in Pune.
Addressing the brothers, Fr. General reaffirmed the importance of the Jesuit brother vocation, reiterating decree 7 of General Congregation 34 (1995) that states, “in some ways the religious brother embodies religious life in its essence, and so is able to illustrate that life with particular clarity.” Fr. Sosa went on to call out the many examples of Jesuit brothers, as diverse in their backgrounds as in their ministries, who have played crucial roles in the Society of Jesus through the years.
Father Sosa acknowledged that the brother vocation doesn’t receive the attention it deserves, saying then when Jesuits speak of vocations we, “do not give enough importance to the promotion of vocations of brothers in the Society. We tend to talk first about the priesthood and when we meet someone who seems less gifted at the intellectual level for historical or sociological reasons, we promote the vocation of a brother. The brothers in the Society - at least some of them - have lost hope and say that the vocation of a Jesuit brother will gradually disappear. But I can assure you, my dear brothers, God willing, the vocation of brother will remain forever.” As if to punctuate the importance of the brother vocation, Fr. Sosa revealed that it was the Jesuit brothers at his school who had been the source of his religious vocation.
After Fr. General’s talk, Brother Siluvainathan, the coordinator of the year of St. Alphonso, presented a report to the assembly that catalogued both the joys that Jesuit brothers have taken from their Jesuit vocation as well as the disappointment experienced by many who feel that they are not fully recognized as Jesuit companions. While awareness of the brother vocation HAS improved over the years, the consensus is that too often the brother is seen as an “incomplete” Jesuit, or a Jesuit who was unworthy of ordination.
These concerns were brought directly to Fr. General during a Q&A in which he was asked why the formation of brothers lacks the same basic foundation and roadmap that exists for Jesuit approaching ordination, but instead stops after the Juniorate. In response, Fr. General promised to bring this concern to the formation leaders of the various Jesuit Conferences as well as asking his new General Councillor for Formation, Fr. Mark Ravizza, to determine how the Society can better support the brother vocation.