BLOOMFIELD – In this Year of Consecrated Life, many people are asking, “What, exactly, do individuals do who are in religious communities? How do they live their lives on a daily basis?’
For cloistered religious, like the Benedictine nuns at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, life is lived almost entirely within the confines of the geographical boundaries of their largely self-sustaining monastery, with exceptions. For sisters, brothers and some order priests, there are approved routines set up by each house or community, but usually with more freedom to move around than cloistered communities have.
And then there is Brother Robert Moriarty.
Brother Bob, as he is generally known, belongs to the Society of Mary, founded in France in 1817 by Blessed William Joseph Chaminade. The Province of the United States contains more than 300 Marianists, who view Mary as the model of discipleship. They also believe in living, praying and supporting one another in community – and that’s where Brother Bob comes in.
“It’s a particularly important thing for religious in general, but especially for the Society of Mary, that our life and our work is essentially community based,” Brother Bob said. Ironically, he lives in a house by himself – an exception to the Marianists’ style – but his daily work touches hundreds of small Christian communities throughout the world.
For more than 20 years, Brother Bob has been the director of the Pastoral Department for Small Christian Communities (SCC) located at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary. He oversees an operations manager, a publications assistant and a bookkeeper, who work to promote parish-based church communities through workshops, publications and retreats.
Brother Bob’s daily routine may not match many people’s preconceived notions of how consecrated religious live their lives. He puts on a coat and tie; drives to an office; makes phone calls; writes memos and emails to staff, vendors and clients; attends conferences related to SCC in several parts of the country; and does any number of tasks a lay executive might do – in addition to living a deeply devout prayer life.
“It changes all the time,” he said of his routine. “I’ve got 10 different projects I’m working on and which nail me to this chair: budget work, strategic planning, working on gatherings and new newsletters, planning an April conference, working on some grant proposals, doing a workshop for deacons.”
From behind a neatly cluttered desk, he said, “The work of the office is not so much directly related to consecrated life. The work of the office would connect to my identity as a religious, especially because the mission of the society is understood as the development of communities.”
He said he is always conscious of his role as a Marianist religious while conducting business at SCC. “It’s not extraneous as far as I’m concerned. If I’m going to a parish, for instance, that I haven’t been to before, I deliberately introduce myself as a Marianist, not as a generic religious. I am a member of the Society of Mary, and the mission of the society is consciously focused on the development of communities of faith in mission.”
He noted that Blessed William Chaminade’s vision was closely related to developing small church communities. “He didn’t call them small communities,” he said. “He called them sodalities, which unfortunately today, in the minds of many people, means tea and crumpets and little old ladies; but the vision that animates small Christian communities today is really the kind of vision this man saw for the rebuilding of the church in France in the wake of the French Revolution.”
Brother Bob says a layperson could do his job, and in many dioceses they do. But a layperson might not necessarily do what Brother Bob does outside of SCC. “I am deeply connected and involved with all sorts of things in the province,” he said. “I have confrères visit me. I participate in province events.”
He is also a sought-after speaker on matters of faith unrelated to his role as SCC director. At the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference in East Hartford in October 2014, he was the opening speaker. He accepts invitations to speak outside the archdiocese as well.
But, possibly because the mission of the Society of Mary is dear to his heart, Brother Bob is proud of his connection to the Pastoral Department for Small Christian Communities. At a recent celebration of SCC’s 30th anniversary, guests received an ornate scroll containing a quote from Pope Francis’ book The Joy of the Gospel. After defending the parish’s role as a “community of communities,” Pope Francis writes:
“Other Church institutions, basic communities and small communities, movements and forms of association are a source of enrichment for the Church, raised up by the Spirit for evangelizing different areas and sectors. Frequently they bring a new evangelizing fervour and a new capacity for dialogue with the world whereby the Church is renewed.”
Brother Bob said, “Not only do you have an explicit endorsement of small communities by Pope Francis, but it occurs in paragraph 29, not paragraph 254. That’s a positive thing as far as I’m concerned.”