This article was originally published in a series of reflections based on the lives of Xaverian Brothers who have played influential roles in the life and development of the Congregation in America. They are written in commemoration of the Xaverian Brothers 150th Anniversary of their arrival in America in 1854.
Written by Brother John O’Brien, CFX
Day by day
You will need to renew your response.
Do not become discouraged
Over the difficulties you encounter
In your life of evangelical service.
Knowing that difficulties would be your share, Your Founder judged:
That nothing special is achieved
Without much labor, effort and zeal.
In the long and colorful life of Brother Isidore, third Provincial in America, he displayed time and again the distinguishing traits of determination, effort and zeal that brought him many successes. And his solid, boyhood faith stayed with him throughout his life. He had a fierce desire for self improvement, a true concern for his “beloved Brothers” as he called them, and a vision for the future that allowed him to pull up the American Province by its bootstraps and thrust it almost by force into the twentieth century. “God’s divine attribute of preventing grace,” he tells us in his autobiography, remained with him all his life, protecting him at every turn.
From a very early age in his native village of Bodman, Germany, he had a great devotion to St. Francis Xavier. A picture of the saint hung in his bedroom. “It fired me with apostolic zeal,” he said, and he prayed that he might one day become a missionary. All his life, he writes, that zeal stayed with him in his service to the Congregation. He fell in love with the Brothers as a child the first time he saw them in Louisville. “I revered them. When in some way the habit brushed against me, I felt as though holiness had entered my soul.”
St. Francis de Sales declares that “Zeal is love on fire…. It bursts forth and pours itself out for the salvation of souls.” It was always Brother Isidore’s true love of and abiding faith in God that gave him, as he says, “the nerve to do things,” that impelled him ever onward to be more and more generous in the giving of his time and talents, in the giving of himself. As Prefect of Discipline and Prefect of Studies at the Mount, he kept busy long after hours, but he always had time to teach the novices. He did more than teach; he fired group after group with the ambition and zeal to get ahead. “Excelsior!”—Ever onward and upward!–was his watchword. He was the living embodiment of that maxim.
As a young Xaverian Brother, he came to the realization that God had confidence in him, in giving him a vocation to the religious life. It took him a long time to realize this because he had to struggle often himself with a lack of self-confidence. “Learning English was my great difficulty,” he tells us. His greatest “heartaches” and feelings of inadequacy came from his insecurity in both speaking and writing English. He was taunted and teased by both his peers and his students for some years. “I was hurt but I never showed it,” he confesses. However, trusting in God’s grace, and with an always strong faith and devotion to Our Blessed Mother, he became more sure of himself. When he became Provincial, with confidence and determination he set the Province on a course and gave it direction. His accomplishments and successes were many as a reading of Men and Deeds will attest.
But Brother Isidore’s faith in himself was also severely tested at different times in his life. Always keeping his “eye on the donut,” as he tells us, his faith in God never wavered, but he wondered at times if he could do all that he thought God wanted him to do. At times he moved too quickly and acted on instinct, not facts. That made him bold but not always wise. One example: Later in his life as Director of St Xavier’s in Louisville, he rushed into negotiations to buy new school property without having adequate permission. “In my eagerness to advance the Brothers, I did some premature things,” he remarks. This problem in Louisville clouded his last years. It brought him enormous sorrow. Despite this harrowing time in his life, he tells us he held on firmly to his faith, accepted the inevitable, and continued to try to do God’s will.
His models of faith and zeal had always been those valiant Brothers of the early days; many he knew personally who took up the Cross and would not lay it down. His life was grounded as a person, a religious and a leader by these founding Brothers. As a young novice at St Martin’s in Louisville, he had as Director, Brother Francis Dondorf, the early American pioneer. Brother Isidore lived under him for five years, walked to and from school with him every day, and witnessed the energy, zeal and faith of this saintly man. He recalls, “Zeal for souls, the implanting of virtues, the training of pupils in solid, practical piety, were the chief efforts of Brother Francis.”
This early pioneer was always an inspiration to him and throughout his life Brother Isidore attempted to imitate in all that he did the simple but firm faith and enduring zeal of his beloved mentor. And he exercised this faith and zeal when he became Provincial by dedicating his eighteen years in office to urging forward the Brothers to become ever better religious and teachers.
An outstanding trait of this major figure in the history of the American Province was his resilience whether it be after success or failure. One can say it no better than he when he talks about his life:
“I shall not glory in many stately buildings; I shall not glory in the great strides made by the Province; I claim one glory: I have worked for the advancement of the Brothers and in that I have kept my promise made in my novitiate days.”
Brother Isidore died at St. Agnes Hospital, Baltimore, on September 5, 1935, in his eighty-third year. He was one of our own who deeply loved the Brothers and who always maintained an unwavering faith in God’s gracious ways. May our remembrance of him assist us daily in moving ever more closely towards an unconditional trust in God’s goodness and presence. Consider the words of the psalmist:
…They that trust in the Lord
are as Mount Zion, which cannot
be moved, but abideth forever.
As the mountains are round about
So the Lord is round about His People,
From this time forth and forever. (Psalm 125: 1-2)
We invite you to reflect on Brother Isidore’s story and consider leaving a comment about someone (a Brother, a colleague, a friend) who embodies similar qualities to Brother Isidore. Share with us that individual’s special qualities, so that as a community we can share in your gratitude!