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.
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.”
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.
During 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. Under 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!