By Brother Mike Sheerin, F.M.S.
I said “yes” to become a Marist Brother while I was a student at Christ the King High School in Middle Village in the late 1960s. I was intrigued by the 35 brothers who served in the Boys’ Division of the school back then. Their ability to engage 1,500 young men in academic, spiritual and co-curricular activities was impressive. What also struck me was their ease and skill at relating to us as “brother.”
Extraordinary Band of Brothers
We knew they were in charge and held the bar high for us, but coupled with that mentoring was their care for each of us as individuals. They knew us by name and we had their undivided attention. That was the common thread woven through the varied personalities that made up that extraordinary band of brothers.
The deeper reason for my “yes” has to do with my personal spirituality. Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, I was generally comfortable with my Catholic spirituality. Being Catholic was a natural part of everyday life. I knew God was somehow integral to my life in a simple way.
However, the late ’60s invited more critical thinking, self-assessment and courageous witnessing to the social issues at hand. I needed guidance to understand and move through those complex times.
Striving for Congruence
But it wasn’t until I entered the Brothers after graduation that I found that guidance strongly continuing. I attended Queens College while I lived with the Marist Brothers and community conversations often centered on Gospel responses to the social issues of those times. The Brothers taught me the value of being a congruent person: that what I believed on the inside should show up on the outside. It was in that striving that I came to know better the God who was calling me.
My vocation after all these years is a source of joy: that contented sense that who I am, and what I do, go hand in hand.
Sustained by prayer, the Eucharist and reflection, my more than 40 years of ministering in the Marist charism – making Jesus known and loved by young people – animates that joy. I have served at Christ the King H.S., Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood and at St. Barbara’s parish in Bushwick, as religious educator, campus minister and counselor.
Presently, I minister with the campus ministry at St. John’s University as a pastoral presence, facilitating individual and group spiritual accompaniment. In each of the positions I have held, I have rarely tired of offering young people that same sort of mentoring the Marist Brothers offered me when I was their age.
Honor, Validate and Challenge
For 14 years, I also served as my province’s vocation director, where I walked with young men discerning their next step in life. I learned the skill of accompanying without coercion. It is important for any young person discerning religious life to know God and to welcome that relationship as personal and developing. It helps to have a seasoned spiritual mentor, who is interested and able to listen to, honor, validate and then appropriately challenge a young person’s goals. Vocation directors are great resources for this style of accompaniment. They welcome the opportunity to speak with young men and women about the next steps in their personal life discernment.
My own life experience has taught me that a sense of patient waiting is enormously helpful in discerning God’s call. God is not on a timetable, but often we seem to be. The seasoned mentor who understands spiritual movements can be a good companion to young people as that stance of patient waiting is approached and realized. Searching for and hopefully tasting that inner congruence is a good indication of a discernment well done and moving in the right direction.
Brother Mike is the campus minister for faith formation and leadership at St. John’s University’s Queens campus in Jamaica.