On September 16, 1932 at the age of 16 years, Harold Boyle entered the Xaverian Congregation and some months later entered the novitiate, taking the name of Brother Climacus. His patron thus became 7th century monk and spiritual teacher John Climacus. In his great ascetical work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, John wrote:
Those who have really determined to serve Christ, with the help of spiritual fathers and their own self-knowledge, will strive before all else to choose a place, and a way of life, and a habitation, and exercises suitable for them. (Step 1, Section 25)
Brother Harold was a person who knew and chose his place. To be in his presence was to realize that one was in the presence of a person whose total orientation in life was to the following of Christ as a consecrated religious.
Although one of his greatest desires was to be a classroom teacher, his career in classroom teaching lasted only 4 years. He then became a school administrator and President of Xaverian College over a span of 23 years. From 1965 until 1981 his ministry was service to the Congregation as Vicar, General Superior, and Provincial of the American Northeast Province. It was not position or role, however, that was the source of Harold’s enduring influence on the Congregation and its members, but rather the inspiration and service of one whose purity of heart and intention pervaded his presence. In word, but perhaps even more importantly in action, Harold was always a teacher of the meaning of the Brothers’ life and call.
In 1975 in reflections which he, as General Superior, offered following his visitation to the American Northeast Province, he wrote of the struggle the community was experiencing regarding the call of the vow of poverty:
Our dress, our personal effects, our living quarters, our means of transport—can these be described as simple? Is the style of living of my community a reflection of the abundant life and the consumer mentality which does not distinguish between the superfluous and the necessary, which believes that the more things we have, the happier we will be? Again, it is not just the use of material goods that is important—it is rather our underlying attitude towards these things. The relationship between my way of life and that of Christ has to be the determining factor for both my theory and my practice. Simplicity of life must be founded on faith, on the mystery of Christ’s emptying himself to become one of us, and having become man lived with less rather than more. We need to reflect on why He chose to be poor rather than rich; how He could be comfortable with both rich and poor people in order to bring His message to them; how He could insist that we be not concerned about what we shall eat or wear and yet was anxious to provide food and drink for many when the occasion demanded; how He could acknowledge a lack of any place to lay His head and yet accept the ministrations of a woman who poured precious ointment upon His feet. Somehow or other, it seems, Christ’s approach to the use of goods was always bound up with love—what He had, He shared; what others needed He tried to provide for them.
Our main task in this problem is, I believe, to establish that contact with the Spirit of Christ by which we can learn what simplicity requires on each level: how to be sparing and not too comfortable on the community level; how to get along with a minimum personal effects on the individual level; how to avoid being obsessed with property or investments or prestige on the institutional level.
Throughout his life, including his years of Congregational service, Harold lived his vowed commitment faithfully on the individual level. He would also speak directly and challengingly, but never stridently, judgmentally, or urgently. He lived in the faith that, finally, God’s will would be done. Yet, he also realized the importance of speaking to his Brothers, firmly and gently, of the challenge of discipleship. He loved and served the Congregation with his whole being, and yet he was capable of appraising both its graced and sinful history.
In 1989 Brother Harold and Brother Jan Devadder published, at the request of Brother John Kerr the General Superior, a monograph celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Congregation. This essay is striking, not only for its description of many of the “major developments in the Congregation” since its foundation, but also for its insightful and even prescient commentary. In its extraordinary candor and acute interpretation of the Congregation’s history, the document is a gift to any contemporary effort of the Congregation at revitalization and renewal. For example, in writing of the failures of the leadership of Brothers Ryken and Terhoeven in realizing the Founder’s original vision of a unified Congregation with a worldwide mission, it reads:
There were other factors too that were detrimental to the Congregation’s inner growth and external development. In spite of Ryken’s conviction of the necessity of in-depth spiritual formation of candidates, and in spite of his excellent ideas concerning the unity between contemplation and action that had to be a life-giving force in a religious institute like that of the Xaverian Brothers, he himself fell short in the implementation of the ideals he had fostered and the programs he had spelled out. Unfortunately, things did not substantially change under Ryken’s successor, Brother Vincent. The publication of Xaverian manuals of prayer and of spiritual advice could not replace the most sorely needed formation programs. In this respect the testimony of Brother Ferdinand DeMuynck is very enlightening. . . . “In England the Congregation’s weak spot was the absence of a genuine novitiate training. . . There was no systematic formation, no adequate period of probation . . . As soon as they had finished their studies at the normal school these young Brothers were assigned to “a responsible position” as they used to call it. . . . when candidates were available, their spiritual formation was neglected and, consequently, their perseverance was jeopardized.
Throughout the history of mixed (that is, active-contemplative) religious orders, the tension in practice between contemplation and action has been both creative and destructive. In truth, the demands of ministerial commitments and the difficulties of sustained spiritual practice have often resulted in a drift in religious communities toward the loss of their spiritual identity and contemplative foundation in favor of that of efficient service organizations. The ongoing fidelity of the Xaverian Brothers to the vision of our Founder is due to the commitment of those many Brothers, Harold Boyle among them, who faithfully, although, of course, never perfectly, determined to follow Christ by committing every aspect of their lives to “the place, the way of life, and the habitation” that is the religious family envisioned and established by Theodore James Ryken. As we remember them and him, we attend to the call for our present and our future that their lives offer to us.