Friar Bernard Mary's Vocation Story
My name is Br. Bernard Mary and thank you for taking the time read my Vocation Story.
I am 26 years of age and originally from Sydney, Australia (Baptised 'Luke'). I have a Bachelor of Teaching / Bachelor of Arts (Secondary Humanities), which is a fancy way of saying that I am qualified to teach High School in the subjects of History and Geography. I loved teaching and spent some good years in a good school before deciding to follow Christ in a special way. I am currently a Simply Professed friar with the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, for the Provincial Delegation of Our Lady Help of Christians (Australia), but underwent my first few years of formation in Chicago, IL, United States of America.
I first discerned that perhaps God was calling me to Religious Life in 2008 when I attended World Youth Day (WYD) in Sydney. I had a very powerful experience praying in front of the WYD Cross and Icon of Our Lady and the Child Jesus when they came to visit my home parish. As I sat there quietly praying I began to really analyse my life, where I was, where I was going, and I felt it just wasn’t enough; like there was something more I was being asked to do. I remember locking eyes with Our Lady’s image and just staring; the longer I looked, the deeper I was drawn into thought and prayer, asking her to help me make sense of this ‘itch’ I began to feel.
As I sat there perplexed by these feelings, I began to pay closer attention to the Child Jesus in her arms; His face was illuminated and staring happily at His Mother. Internally I heard a voice saying to me “Listen to Him”, “Follow Him”; and I instantly knew this was Our Lady, Mary the Mother of God, encouraging me to orient my life to Christ and ‘pursue Him’.
From then on I began to discern where it was God was calling me. Most men discerning their vocation tend to automatically think “God’s calling me, therefore I have to be a priest”; people don’t realise that there is much more to it than that. In fact, I felt that God wasn’t calling me to be a priest, but I still felt called to give myself to Him… that was the strange thing… what were the other options?
I had attended a school which had been founded by an Order of Religious Brothers. They weren’t priests, but lived their lives completely dedicated to the work of God in the word in other ways, and this really appealed to me. I took the opportunity during WYD to check out the Vocations Expo and speak to various Religious Orders and see what each had to offer. At the back of my mind I always had the Order of Brothers who had founded my school, it seemed natural considering I had just begun university to become a High School Teacher and I was familiar with their charism. When I found them, I took information and sat with it for a few days before contacting them to expressing interest. I discerned with the Brothers for about two years and was very happy spending time with them, praying with them, going to functions and events, visiting their schools and monasteries. It was getting to the point when I had to start making a decision; did I want to join these Brothers or not?
As I was preparing to make this decision I was privileged to be invited to attended a month long, full time live-in retreat called the ‘Youth Leaders Formation Course’ (YLFC) being run annually by the Archdiocese of Sydney. I had an amazing experience together with the other young people, immersing ourselves in the faith and how to truly represent it to others. During this course, a Conventual Franciscan Friar was one of the speakers who came to present a conference to the group. I had heard of Franciscans before and had a big devotion to Sts. Maximilian Kolbe and Joseph Cupertino (you’ll see the irony in this later), but I had never seen a friar in grey or heard of the ‘Conventuals'; it really intrigued me and I was captivated by what this friar represented.
After the course finished I returned home and never really thought of that friar again. I began to focus on this order of Brothers that I was set on joining, and eventually decided that I would like to move into a monastery and begin the initial stage of formation known as ‘Postulancy’ (to ‘Postulate’ means to ‘request or nominate admission to’). I loved the experience and learned so much from the Brothers I lived with. It was very difficult to move out of home, but was comforted by the fact that my house wasn’t too far away from where the monastery was. I continued to attend university for the teaching degree, and had some in-house classes with a Brother who was assigned as my Postulant Director. I was nearing four months as a Postulant with the Brothers when I began to feel that perhaps God wasn’t calling me to this particular Order; I became a little distressed because I had built up so much hype among my friends, family and the Brothers and just didn’t know what to do or how to break the news to people; I didn’t want to feel like I let anyone down.
One night as I sat in my room in the monastery, ‘Conventuals’ came to my mind. It was weird because I hadn’t even thought of them since YLFC and now the name randomly came into my head. Out of curiosity I opened up my laptop and typed the name into Google; a few different websites came up. I went firstly to the Australian website. I was a little disappointed at what I found; the site was very basic and hadn’t been updated in a while. It did though have an e-mail address for their ‘Vocation Director’ which I wrote down. I continued to search the web and came across an American site which had more content and up-to-date news articles. I was very intrigued with what I found, reading the history of the order; their loyalty to the Catholic Church; learning about the ministries they are involved in; seeing that they are getting good numbers of vocations world wide; and (here comes the irony) that not just one, but two of my favorite Saints, Maximilian Kolbe and Joseph Cupertino, were Conventual Franciscan Friars! I had no idea! I also loved that they have a very strong emphasis on devotion to Our Lady; live, work and pray communally; and follow the humble and faithful example of St. Francis of Assisi. I read many articles and viewed a ton of videos, and the more I was finding, the more I felt that I needed to get in contact with them.
Initially I just needed to talk to someone about the awkward situation I was in. I decided to contact the Friar’s Vocation Director to ask him for any advice he could give me. I typed up an e-mail outlining who I was, what I was doing, the circumstances of my situation and the fact that I felt perhaps God was telling me to go elsewhere. Fr. Paschal responded with a beautiful message. He really encouraged me to keep pursuing my Vocation and that if I felt awkward breaking the news to the Brothers face-to-face I could try writing a letter outlining exactly what I was thinking and feeling; so I did just that. The Brothers received the news graciously and congratulated me in reaching my decision to leave on good terms now, rather than stay and be unhappy. I had a very worth while experience with the Brothers and they really taught me so much; I think that if I hadn’t had that experience first, my current experience and expectations of the Friars may have been much different and harder to adjust to. My friends and family were very supportive of my decision and continued to stand by me as my discernment began to take a different path.
I kept in contact with Fr. Paschal, e-mailing him back-and-forth for a few months. It was difficult because he was stationed in Melbourne (VIC) at the time and I was in Sydney (NSW), so one day I asked if there was anyone closer that I could get in touch with and have a face-to-face meeting. He suggested that I should contact Br. Louis in Kellyville (NSW). Fr. Paschal passed his details on to me and rang him in advance to make sure Br. Louis was aware to expect my call. We arranged for me to come over to the Friary in Kellyville for a visit, have lunch, have a chat and meet the other Friars there. When the day of my visit came I was a barrel of nerves; as I drove to Kellyville I kept thinking “I should just turn around”, “maybe I’m making a mistake?”, “am I dressed appropriately?”, ‘should I have brought wine or something?”, “DO THEY EVEN DRINK!?…” – I was driving myself insane.
I pulled up to the long driveway and parked outside the Friary. I nervously got out of my car and surveyed the area; it was a beautiful property full of trees, grass, and native birds. The friary was a nice large brick single-story building with some hedges out the front. From nowhere I heard this voice say “Are you Luke!?” I turned to see this Friar popping his head around the corner of the building; Br. Louise was in the middle of brushing his teeth and had tooth paste running all down the front of his habit. ‘I’ll be with you in a sec, I’m just finishing brushing my teeth!” As he disappeared I couldn’t help but laugh! My nerves completely vanished and I knew at that moment that I was in the right place. These friars where just like me!
That day went extremely well. All the friars were amazing men who had many stories to tell from their Religious Lives. Br. Louis sat and chatted with me for a good hour or two about where I was and where I felt God was asking me to be. I had a tour of the grounds and the parish Church; we had a beautiful meal together; I met the pet cockatoo and the chickens; and on leaving made sure to organise another visit as soon as possible. The rest is really history – I continued to visit the Friars on a regular basis, even going down to Melbourne a few times to see the Friars there; I completed my University Degree and began to casually teach; I attended many events and became very involved in the Kellyville parish when I could; I spent a few weekends there, until eventually the Friars invited me to move in on a voluntary basis to fully immerse myself in the life and adopt their daily schedule and prayer life. I loved every minute of being there and eventually decided to apply to begin the official formation program as a Postulant with the community. My application was approved by the Provincial in America (The Australian Delegation is under the American Province of St. Bonaventure, based in Chicago) and before Knew it I was off on a plane to begin formation with the friars in The States.
My Postulancy year in Libertyville (Chicago), at the National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe (Marytown) was an amazing time of formation and growth, both spiritually and humanly. There were many new experiences undertaken, and many memorable times shared and so many friendships made. I really immersed myself in the life of the Friars and loved the classes and the ministry we participated in. I became really involved in the Militia Immaculata, the movement founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe to promote consecration to Our Lady, and began to do my own private research on Br. Zeno Zebrowski, Fr. Kolbe’s right hand man.
I love everything about the Friars and the amazing witnesses to the Faith they are for the Church and the world. They have such a rich history and a deep spirituality. I feel that I am in the right place where God wants me and through undertaking the Novitiate year in Indiana (which is a little more intense, but very rewarding in the long run) I have been able to better understand what it means to be a Franciscan Friar, how to live in community, patience, understanding, love, even for those who frustrate and test me. We had many amazing experiences, lots of laughs, and have had fantastic lessons on a variety of topics. I am not perfect, but I can do all things through God Who strengthens me!
Now hiving professed my Simple Vows (Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience) I feel that my Novitiate year prepared me well to face all the challenges that come with giving your life over to God, and to hopefully be a sign of His Peace, Mercy, and Love to all I come into contact with.
For one more year I was assigned to the National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe (Marytown, yes, where I completed my Postulancy) and was very happy to be back in familiar surroundings assisting where I could by giving tours and talks at the shrine. I was involved with the MI and other youth events, and assisted in the vocation office.
I am currently back home in Australia studying a Masters of Church History at the Catholic Theological College in Melbourne and residing at the Dingley village Friary. I assist at both our churches here in Dingley and in Springvale, where I teach sacramental classes to children and assist with music. I also go out with a food van to feed the homeless and needy every Monday night.
There is so much more that I could say, but I think I’ll leave it there and hope that you please continue to pray for me as I ‘pursue Him’ in this vocation as a Conventual Franciscan Friar. I hope through sharing my story it may act as a little inspiration for others out there trying to figure out their path in life.
God bless you always through the Immcaulate,
Br. Bernard Mary.
p.s. The Novitiate also has it’s own website, click here to check it out. We post lots of photos and information from our year there.