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 Frederick Codair, C.F.X.
Listen to your brothers,
be compassionate with them in their difficulties,
bear with them in their weaknesses,
encourage and support them.
Affirm your brothers in their gifts,
for by doing so you enable them
to realize the gifts that God has given them for His service.
In turn, allow them to affirm you
and call you forth to even greater service of the Lord.
These words of the Fundamental Principles proclaim unequivocally the essence of Brother Bartholomew Varden’s life and his contribution to the lives of all those who came into contact with him over the years. Bart entered the brothers in 1929, a recent graduate and valedictorian of Assumption Academy in Utica. It was at Assumption that he developed his love of sports and an ardent spirit of competition (mainly with himself) that marked his life as a rooter for the Orioles, a would-be basketball guard, and a passionate golfer. It was at Assumption too that he was formed by an association with some of the great men of American Xaverianism of the early part of the 20th century—Pascal, Ernest, Stephen, Theophane, Dionysius, Francis and others. From them he learned not only the math and science that would become his métier during his short teaching career, but also the Xaverian virtues of determination, competence, love of community life and joie de vivre that would be the hallmark of his long years of work as superior, administrator, builder, supervisor, provincial, and superintendent of schools for a large archdiocese.
Bart’s teaching career lasted only seven years. In 1941 at the age of 32 he was appointed president and superior of Xaverian College; three years later he became headmaster at Mt. St. Joseph. In 1950 he began a long period of sixteen years as supervisor of schools and director of education for the American and Northeastern Provinces during which time he not only carried out the duties of these offices with expert competence, but also wrote the educational specifications for ten new high schools, supervised their construction, and purchased their equipment and furnishings. His good friend, Brother Hilary Murphy, summed up this period of Bart’s life with the words, “All his life he has waded into complex and challenging tasks, has brought to each one his own special genius and charm and has moved on to the next with undiminished enthusiasm and contagious optimism.” It was this special genius and charm, the enthusiasm and optimism that made him much more than a mere administrator or builder.
Bart was a lover of people, and especially of his own family and of the Xaverian Brothers. He was the quintessential “community man” — always on the upbeat, ready with a story or an anecdote to make one smile (or guffaw), always available to help, whether setting the table, cooking a meal or offering a ride. Bart’s life was a life of service, of listening, of giving and of attention to others. He never forgot that leadership and authority, whether religious or secular, were forms of service. And this service was always provided with a smile. Even when his days of authority were over, Bart saw an opportunity to do good, and traveled to Romania at the age of 85 to offer his service to the Church of that country by teaching English in the seminary and by sharing the wisdom of his experience in education with the bishops there.
What does Bart’s life have to say to us today? Surely it is neither his expertise in building and equipping schools, nor his educational and administrative skills that we have great need of imitating today, but we certainly could benefit from a deeper consideration of what Hilary called “the unique humaneness of his personality” his “unruffled good humor,” his “contagious optimism,” his willingness to be of service in so many ways throughout his life, and finally his acute appreciation of what it means to be a “good community man.” These are our challenges today: to be truly humane, to be of service to God, to the world and to each other and to do it all with a prodigious sense of humor and a sense of deep communal sharing among ourselves as brothers.
Brother Bartholomew Varden (Matthew Varden)
Born: Elmira, New York, March 25, 1909
Died: Danvers, Massachusetts, October 25, 1997
Thanks so much, Fred. You captured the spirit of man who impressed us all and who continues to be, for me, a model of what it means to be a brother to others.
It is great to see again this wonderful and deeply appreciative reflection on Bart by Fred Codair. One of Bart’s favorite phrases was: “I’d rather die living than live dying.” He lived this fully, always humbly learning and giving of himself wherever he could. May he continue to inspire us all.