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Brother Michael’s Life and Suffering

Michael Allen Gaworski, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 31, 1958, was the first son of Richard and Wynona Gaworski. The Gaworski family moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota when Michael was four months old. He was raised in a strong Catholic family and later in life was joined by three brothers and one sister.

Michael suffered with childhood asthma, and this made him very vulnerable to lung infections. Years later, as a young adult, an event would occur related to this which changed his life and the life of our brotherhood forever.


Michael was afforded a good education and upbringing, and attended Saint Thomas Academy, which is an all–boys military high school located in suburban Saint Paul. During his teen-age years, he became deeply involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement and through it, experienced a closer relationship with the Lord. This had a great impact on his desire to follow the Lord in pursuing a vocation to the religious life in the Catholic Church.

As a young man Michael experienced a “Franciscan conversion” as he called it, after reading the “Little Flowers of Saint Francis of Assisi,” also known as the “Fioretti.” This little book changed Michael’s life; he fell in love with the Saint from Assisi and Franciscan spirituality. After graduating from high school in 1977, Michael visited several religious communities in an effort to discern his vocation.

 

It was immediately after this time that the Lord led Brother Michael through a series of events that led to the founding of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace, which are described in the previous section.

Brother Michael had suffered all his adult life with chemical dependency. This was an enormous cross for him. As the Brotherhood was growing and progressing, Brother Michael and the Brothers eventually found it necessary for him to seek help, to honestly do what was necessary to obtain treatment and allow God to work in his life. As 1990 was drawing to a close, Br. Michael was “working his program” in honesty and accountability. And despite his weakened immune system and asthma, things were finally looking up for our dear Brother.

Brother Michael Suffers Brain Injury

On March 20, 1991, Brother Michael, at the age of 32, suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest from a sepsis condition caused by a bacterial pneumonia which he apparently had contracted less than 24 hours earlier. After spending four weeks in cardiac intensive care at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis where the Brothers “camped out” to remain with him 24–hours per day, we moved Brother Michael to Bethesda Care Center in Saint Paul where he would spend nearly seven months receiving therapy and care. The Brothers learned all of his cares there, actually becoming his primary caregivers. After nearly eight months of hospitalization, the Brothers brought their dear Brother Michael home, where we cared for him for twelve years.

Brother Michael’s brain injury caused him severe disability, leaving him quadriplegic and in need of 24–hour per day care. He could not be left alone for more than a few minutes at a time. Some would say, “what an incredible burden! Who would want to take that on?” Our answer was simply, “If you really love someone, there is no burden at all.” Those who have cared for a profoundly disabled loved one know exactly what we mean. Yes, it can be hard work, but it’s always the right thing to do.

Brother Michael became the loving heart of our home and of our Brotherhood. In the mystery of God’s plan for Brother Michael and for us, the Lord Jesus Christ manifested Himself in Michael and through his brokenness, and brought about a spiritual formation that we could not possibly have experienced in any other way.





Brother Michael Falls Asleep in the Lord

In August, 2003, Brother Michael developed a cellulitis infection which required hospitalization. After a few days the infection had cleared up, and we were preparing to bring him home when, in the course of one day and in the relatively unhealthy environment of the hospital, he contracted another pneumonia which again caused sepsis. Despite all of our efforts he was not able to recover from this poisoning of his bloodstream, and so our beloved Michael went home to his Lord Jesus on the Feast of St. Augustine, August 28, 2003.

Our broken hearts were consoled by the fact that his purgation most certainly was already completed. We feel the strong presence of our Michael’s intercession for us, and we are committed to boldly proclaim the sacred humanity of the severely disabled to all the world.

In the Divine Economy, it made sense to us that within about a year after Brother Michael’s death, our Brotherhood was led to be on the forefront of the battle to save the life of our sister, Terri Schindler–Schiavo. May Brother Michael and Holy Terri pray for us!

Br. Michael in First Chapel

The Franciscan Brothers of Peace were founded in 1982 by Brother Michael Gaworski, who desired to live an authentic and radical form of Religious life. Through a life marked by struggle, brokenness, suffering and eventually profound disability, Brother Michael was used by God to form a “brotherhood of love” as our Archbishop has said. For this we are forever grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ, that He would allow us to share in the sufferings of His Cross.

Br. Michael and Br. Paul Found Pro-Life Ministry

Br. Michael spent a little over a year in a minor seminary before discerning that his calling was to the religious life. While in seminary however, he met Paul O’Donnell, who later would join the Franciscan Brothers of Peace. Since both were already active in the Pro-Life movement, their common interests and desire to protect the innocent led to a close friendship. Their efforts led to their co-founding a new Pro-Life organization called Pro-Life Action Ministries in 1981, which grew to become one of the largest direct–action, pro–life apostolates in the United States. Being a tremendously gifted orator, Brother Michael became a nationally recognized Pro-Life speaker and was respected for his spiritual insight regarding right to life and sanctity of life issues.

Early Struggles

Also coinciding with his pursuit of a religious vocation, Michael came face to face with a serious problem in his life: chemical dependency. This struggle would eventually bear fruit, however. As the early Brothers would remember, once Michael acknowledged his chemical dependency problem, received treatment and began working his “program” he became one of the most kind and compassionate persons that they had ever known. He remained sober and honest to his death.



A Seed is Planted

In late May of 1982, Michael and Paul and another former seminarian friend attended the National Charismatic Renewal Conference held at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. During the closing Eucharistic celebration which was held on Pentecost Sunday, a ‘prophetic word’ was given which would ultimately change their lives. It went like this: “I am calling many of you to embrace a life of celibacy for My Kingdom. But you say you have looked and there are no places for you to go. I tell you that I am raising up new convents, monasteries and communities for you to enter. Go home and ponder these words.”

Even though Brother Michael never intended to found a community, we believe that the Holy Spirit gifted him, as Founder of our Brotherhood, with the vision, insight, leadership and determination to guide us through the early years of our existence. Several months after the conference, Brother Michael, at the age of twenty four, took some steps which eventually gave birth to a new religious community in formation in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. This was the first such community of Brothers to come into existence in the history of the Archdiocese.

A New Franciscan Community Begins

In August, 1982, just over two months after the Notre Dame conference, Michael and one of the fellows were searching for a small, low-cost apartment. After another day of fruitless searching, they pulled up in front of a building at 391 Grand Avenue in Saint Paul to look over a map. Suddenly, a man who had been sitting on the steps came running down to them and asked, “Are you the six o’clock appointment?” They shook their heads. “I thought you were the people coming to view the apartment” he said. “Well, we are looking for an apartment,” they replied, and they asked if they could take a look. They went in to view the empty apartment and, to their amazement, the previous renters had left behind only one item: a plaque hanging on the living room wall. It read:

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.”

The men saw it and felt that it was a confirmation of the way of life which they were beginning. Needless to say, they took the apartment.

This apartment was later recognized as the official birthplace of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace. There, the two men began a simple Franciscan way of life which, although unknown to them at the time, would bear much fruit. Auspiciously enough, the date that they took the apartment, August 2, is the Franciscan Feast of Saint Mary of the Angels, or the “Portiuncula” — the small chapel near Assisi where Saint Francis and his early friars began their Order.

The apartment was simple. One of their first decisions was to use one of the bedrooms for a little chapel / prayer room. They placed a San Damiano cross, the Syriac Icon through which Christ spoke to Saint Francis, in the room along with the Icon of the Vladimir Mother of God. This would become a custom in all the houses of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace.

The two men committed to pray the traditional prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours. They also prayed by singing vibrant, charismatic songs of praise to the Lord. From the beginning, the community was centered on the Eucharist. In the early years, the men attended daily Mass at the Church of the Assumption in Saint Paul. It was there that various clergy, laity and street–people began to refer to the two of them as “The Brothers.”

Adoration 1987

As stated earlier, it was not the intention of Brother Michael or the early Brothers to form a new community of religious. Their goal was a personal one: to love the Lord with all their hearts, and to give themselves to the service of God’s Kingdom. God, however, had larger plans.

In the spring of 1984, the time came to move into a larger residence; one side of a three-bedroom duplex located at 1154 Ashland Avenue in Saint Paul. It was within these walls that the basic Way of Life was defined and written down. The Brothers began a custom of signing a one-year “Covenant,” agreeing to live in the Brotherhood and to remain celibate for the Kingdom of God.

The Brothers began to receive many more inquiries, and it soon became evident that we would again need to find another dwelling place.

The Franciscan Sisters of Saint Paul agreed to rent the Brothers their former Novitiate house, located in Saint Paul at 1402 Prior Avenue South. The house had six bedrooms which, although small, were most welcome. We moved into our new dwelling in September of 1986.

Fall1987During the early years of the community, we held various jobs to financially support ourselves. One of the Brothers worked in a local department store. Another Brother worked at a Catholic bookstore, and some of us worked for the Pro-Life Movement. Several of the Brothers worked for Pro-Life Action Ministries during the early stages of our community’s existence. Even at this early stage, we became known as the “Pro–Life Brotherhood.” Eventually it was our goal to have no Brothers receiving salaries or stipends, and for the community to live solely on Divine Providence.

In the fall of 1985, Brother Michael met with Father Urban Wagner, O.F.M. Conv., who was then Vice-Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis as well as Vicar for Religious. He shared the Brother’s vision and the way of life which we were living. He expressed to Father Urban our desire to become an official entity within the Catholic Church. Father Urban stated that he was very impressed with the way of life that the Brothers were living. He suggested that we make a request of Archbishop John R. Roach to become canonically approved with the stipulation that this association would be a new religious community in formation in the Catholic Church. This stipulation provided a way for the Brotherhood to advance canonically as far as the Holy Spirit desired to take it; in other words, it allowed for the three canonical steps to be taken which the Church requires in order for a new religious community to become a full-fledged Religious Institute. The Brothers then set out with Father Urban to pursue this canonical approval. In 1986, the Brotherhood was given canonical status as a Private Association of the Faithful, and on the Solemnity of the Mother of God, January 1, 1994, the Brotherhood was raised by Archbishop Roach to a Public Association of the Faithful. Br. Michael with Mother AngelicaUnder the revised Code of Canon Law, we will need forty men to become a Religious Institute. Please pray for vocations, and encourage them in your families!

A special thank you to our dear friend of blessed memory, Brother James Curran, L.B.S.F., of Boston, Mass. for the following excerpts from his article, “Brothers: A Forgotten Vocation?”

Icon of the Mystical (Last) Supper
Icon of the Mystical (Last) Supper

Today’s emphasis on apostolate and its often erroneous identification with priesthood alone leads many Catholics to view the brother’s vocation as something less than complete. Some appear to think that brothers do not become priests because they lack something of the physical, mental or moral fitness for priesthood… People often fail to recognize that brothers are first of all men called by Jesus. He calls some to be priests alone, some to be brothers (friars or monastics) alone and some to be priest-brothers. Each is a distinct vocation in itself—the priesthood and the brotherhood. In the case of Religious priests, the two vocations come together to form one call to apostolate.

It is well to note, also, that while Christ ordained His first twelve followers priests, He called them together first to form a brotherhood. The brothers’ vocation has given hundreds of Saints to the Church. In speaking of the vocation of Religious brothers (and sisters), the Vatican II document on religious life, Perfectae Caritatis, says: “The religious life, undertaken by lay people, either men or women, is a state for the profession of the evangelical counsels (the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience) which is complete in itself” (P.C. 10).

A Special Call

“The call to religious life comes from Jesus Christ Himself. ‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow Me…and, everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for My sake, will receive a hundred times more and will be given eternal life” (Mt. 19:21,27-30). With these words to the rich young man in St Matthew’s gospel, Jesus extended a remarkable invitation to those few who are chosen to go a step beyond the commandments and the precepts and to voluntarily embrace the evangelical counsels. The importance of this invitation to those who heard Him is indicated by the fact that the episode of the rich young man and his vocation is given to us in each of the Synoptic Gospels. And, history has shown that from the very beginning of Christ’s Church, generous souls have accepted this invitation and embarked upon the ascetical path of poverty, chastity and obedience to God’s will. As Fr. Thomas J. McDonnell suggests in his book, Listening to the Lord in Literature: “The final proof that one is a disciple of the Kingdom is that he sells all, gives to the poor and follows Jesus completely with an undivided heart.”

Origins of Religious Life

“The Christian ideal is frankly an ascetic one and religious life is simply the endeavor to effect a material realization of that ideal. Before the fourth century, great religious founders such as St Antony of Egypt, St Basil the Great and St Pachomius built upon traditional Jewish and early Christian asceticism” and formulated the first communal or eremitical forms of religious life. Desiring to live gospel perfection “by observing the evangelical counsels, and horrified by the vice and disorder that prevailed in a pagan age, the early men and women religious renounced the materialism of their age and often fled to the desert in imitation of Christ and His apostles, supporting one another in Christian community (koinonia) while pursuing an ascetic and penitential life. For the first 1,300 years of the Church’s life, practically all these religious orders were comprised of brothers or sisters. Certainly, founders such as St Benedict and St Francis saw their followers as brothers, a few of whom were ordained for the sacramental needs of the members of the brotherhood. Diocesan or secular clergy served the sacramental needs of the Christian community at large. During that period, there was no anxiety among religious about what today is often apologetically described as the apostolate. In fact, up until the twelfth century, the word apostolic carried no connotation of formal preaching of the gospel or discharging of pastoral or social duties.

The following of Christ and His Apostles, or discipleship, was considered well within the format of their religious, contemplative or even eremitical way of life. Thus, the aim of the penitential and ascetical communities was to imitate the life of the apostolic community in Jerusalem, in poverty, simplicity and mutual charity. Only in later years in the West, as a result of a series of gradual ecclesiastical and social changes, were the majority of men religious ordained priests becoming involved in the so-called active apostolate. After the fifteenth century, many orders were founded specifically to engage in specialized apostolates and were comprised mostly of priests—with only a few brothers to serve in a subordinate role as helpers. Because of the demands of these specialized ministries, the later institutes grew further away from the original way of life of the Desert Fathers and ascetic tradition, developing a less time-consuming spirituality, more varied activities and considerably obscuring the vocation to brotherhood.” Although we do have a provision in our Statutes (our specific rule) which allows for the ordination of a Brother to serve the sacramental needs of our community and which would prevent him from being assigned to serve in a diocesan parish, we envision this as being the rare exception, to preserve the fundamental nature of our community as a brotherhood.

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