Saint Augustine founded some monasteries of men who were not ordained to sacred orders and other monasteries whose members were mostly clerics. Then, in the thirteenth century Augustinians were generally not ordained priests. This was the case with four of the great mendicant orders of the Church: Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Carmelites. However, as generally occurred among these mendicants, very soon many of the brothers of our Order accepted the Church's call to priestly ordination so they could hear confessions and celebrate Mass in the course of their very active ministry in the developing towns of that era.
The title given to our Order by Pope Innocent IV in 1244 was "Hermit Brothers of Tuscany of the Order of Saint Augustine." In 1968, the title of the male portion of the Order was changed to "Order of Brothers of Saint Augustine" and shortened for common use to "Order of Saint Augustine." All male members of the Order are essentially "brothers" in religious life. We are all equal in status as Augustinian vowed religious men.
However, faithful to our tradition dating back to Saint Augustine, and faithful to our tradition dating back to the 13th century, many Augustinian brothers still accept the call and appointment of the Church to priesthood. So, in any given Province of the Order today one finds a mixed of ordained (clerical) and non-ordained (lay) Augustinians. Commonly, the ordained men are called "fathers" and the non-ordained "brothers."
There are several hundred Augustinians in the United States and Canada. The majority of them are priests. The brothers live in community with the priests as equals in Augustinian life. They work in the apostolates of the Province alongside the priests. Some brothers are licensed teachers and administrators in our high schools. Others have worked as hospital chaplains or have served in our parishes as youth ministers, business managers, nurses, etc.
Brother or Priest: How Does One Decide?
Some time ago, a university professor asked one of the Augustinians, "Why does one decide to be a brother and not a priest?"
The friar started a long explanation by beginning, "Well you see, basically a man enters religious life responding to a call from the Lord. Some feel strongly that the Lord is calling them to Augustinian vowed religious life, but not [necessarily] to priesthood."
The friar took another breath and started to continue when the professor interrupted him and stated, "You don't have to say any more. I understand very clearly. It's all a matter of God calling each one of us individually according to His desire for each of us." That professor was right on the mark!
For Augustinians, our religious life is the primary focus. The work we do as religious is a secondary dimension to our vocation. Some men are called to be Augustinian teachers, or high school administrators, or nurses, or hospital chaplains, or parish business managers--but as brothers, not as priests. Others are called to be Augustinian priest teachers, or priest chaplains, or pastors of parishes, etc. God calls, and we listen, pray, discern, accept counsel, talk long about it--and finally come to a conclusion about what the Lord wants of us.
So there we are--Augustinians all. But the Lord has called some of us to ordained ministry [clerical] and others He has called to non-ordained [lay] ministry. In everyday usage, some of us are priests and some of us are brothers.
Someone may then ask how the formation program differs if one is preparing to be a priest or a brother. The answer to that question is that, although in the past there were marked differences, these days the religious formation program is essentially the same for Augustinian priests and brothers since priests and brothers are both Augustinian vowed religious. The academic education will vary when specific training for doing priestly things will be provided for priest candidates while brother candidates will focus on the specific training required for their intended ministry. In practical terms, pre-novitiate formation (including postulancy), novitiate formation, and basic theological education are identical for both types of candidates. Ordinarily, all professed Augustinians--clerical (ordained) and non-clerical (lay) are expected to acquire a four-year college degree.
So what do you think?
Are you, or someone you know, considering a religious vocation? Have you ever considered how that religious vocation might be somewhat different from ordained ministry? Or are you called to ordained ministry but not necessarily life in a religious order? Let us know in the comments!
This article was originally written by Father David L. Brecht, O.S.A.; and published in Search magazine, Vol. 21, No. 3. This article has since been edited and updated.