An Introduction to the Penitent Brothers
There are questions that are often asked pertaining to who and what the Penitent Brothers are all about. We hope that this introduction will assist you in your discernment.
Q: Who are the Penitent Brothers?
A: The Penitent Brothers are a Secular/Religious Association of Christ’s Faithful comprised of Roman Catholic men, who are committed to “The Rule of the Penitent Brothers” whose basis is “The Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis of Paola” approved by Rome in 1501. We live independently, are self-supporting and are striving for spiritual perfection by following the Gospel life as exemplified by St. Francis of Paola.
Q: Are married men permitted to become Penitent Brothers?
Q: Are single brothers permitted to marry?
A: Yes. Single brothers are permitted to marry if they feel called to the sacrament of matrimony. Widowed and divorced brothers are also free to re-marry if so called. A single brother also has the option to make a vow of perpetual celibacy to better serve the Kingdom of God if it is his calling. Ordained religious must remain single in accordance with their vows or promises.
Q: How do you consider the Penitent Brothers to be “secular/religious,” isn’t that a conflict in terminology?
A: No, not at all. The term secular/religious can be thought of in a couple of different ways. In the literal sense, the Penitent Brothers allow for the inclusion of two types of members; “secular” members (i.e. Roman Catholic laymen) and “religious” members (i.e. Ordained Priests and Deacons as well as those who are part of a “traditional” religious order who are in affiliation with us). Therefore, in one sense the term secular/religious can be thought of as a distinction between types of members. In another sense, the Roman Catholic lay-members, who live a secular life, respond to an inner calling to infuse a religious comportment into their everyday lifestyle by following The Rule and Constitution of the Penitent Brothers. In this sense, the term secular/religious can be thought of as a term that describes a particular combined lifestyle that one desires to lead. All members of the Penitent Brothers, whether strictly religious or secular/religious are equal, and each has a strong calling to the Gospel way of life as exemplified by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Q: Saint Francis of Paola started an order of hermits who eventually were called the Order of Minims. Are the Penitent Brothers a part of the Order of Minims?
A: No. We have simply chosen to follow a rule that is strongly based upon The Rule of The Third Order of St. Francis of Paola. This rule, as further delineated in our Constitution, best exemplifies the way of life we choose to live and best defines who we are and what we are about.
Q: Is there really any difference between the Penitent Brothers and other secular orders?
A: Yes. Some of the differences are as follows:
• We follow The Rule and Constitution of the Penitent Brothers where we promise the evangelical virtues of charity, humility and penance.
• We are an association consisting only of Roman Catholic men.
• We live a penitential lifestyle dedicated to both prayer and service, and our ministries are many and varied.
• We are democratic when it comes to selection of our leadership and in making decisions that affect the community of brothers.
• As part of our evangelical witness, we wear habits when performing some of our ministries and when gathered together in community.
• We have no affiliation with any first order religious community. We are an Association of Christ’s Faithful as defined under Canon Law 298 ß1, ß2 and 299 ß1, ß2, and ß3.
Q: What is the charism of the Penitent Brothers?
A: Our charism is expressed by our promises of the evangelical virtues of “Charity, Humility, and Penance”. To be a Penitent Brother, one must stand in repentance and live life according to the Gospel.
Q: What is the vision of the Penitent Brothers?
A: In hopes of one day entering into eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven, we strive for our personal sanctification by means of a life-long process of continuous conversion to God through faithful observance of a simple lifestyle focused on prayer, contemplation, the sacraments, charity, humility, and penance as prescribed in The Rule and Constitution of The Penitent Brothers. We are strengthened by the fraternal support and friendship of like-minded brothers with whom we share our spiritual journey. In charity, we strive to be of service to Holy Mother Church in whatever capacity she desires. In communion with our fellow brothers, we humbly live in the hope that, through our actions and through our very being, we may be used as instruments of the Holy Spirit to help to bring others to Christ and to fulfill God’s purposes.
Q: What is the mission of the Penitent Brothers?
A: We continuously develop our personal relationships with God to build the Kingdom of Heaven within ourselves so that we in turn can be used to bring the Kingdom to others. We give a personal witness to the primacy of God in our lives and the supremacy of the spiritual over the temporal through greater dedication to prayer, contemplation, and the sacraments and by living simplistically. We joyfully give this witness in the hope of inspiring a greater awareness and desire for God in those that we encounter. We live the Gospel through vital apostolic involvement in our church and in our communities to provide a leaven from which to bring about a spiritual renewal in the family, the workplace, and society. We are promoters of peace, forgiveness, and justice.
Q: What are some of the ministries that the Penitent Brothers are involved in?
A: The Penitent Brothers are of service to Holy Mother Church and are of assistance to the parish priest in many ways. Some examples are as follows: We are in-service to Christ’s Altar. We are actively involved in pastoral care ministries to the sick and to those in hospitals and nursing homes, as well as to the homebound and the dying. We are active in bereavement ministries. We perform para-liturgical activities such as prayer services and graveside services, and we function as “parish-life ministers”.
Q: How is the Penitent Brothers community structured?
A: There is one overall Penitent Brothers community that is composed of members from several regional communities.
Q: How are the Penitent Brothers governed?
A: The overall Penitent Brothers community is overseen by a Minister Servant that is elected for a term of four years. The Minister Servant has an advisory council consisting of two Vicar Minister Servants who are either the two original founders of the community or are elected depending upon circumstances as further described in The Rule and Constitution of the Penitent Brothers. Each regional community is headed by a Regional Minister who is appointed by the Minister Servant. The Minister Servant also appoints a Secretary, Treasurer, and Vocation Director for the overall Penitent Brothers community. Individual regional communities may also select and invite a Spiritual Advisor for their communities.
Q: How are voting matters decided?
A: All leadership elections, proposed changes to the Constitution, and other voting matters take place at a General Assembly gathering of the entire community that occurs every four years. Voting pertaining to the overall community consists of one vote from each regional community, one vote from the Minister Servant, and one vote each from the two Vicar Minister Servants. Further information on voting can be found in The Rule and Constitution of the Penitent Brothers.
Q: Do the brothers live in community?
A: No, we do not live in community. The brothers live independently, have regular jobs, and support themselves and their families. We gather together in our regional communities monthly. Overall Penitent Brothers community gatherings occur during retreats that take place twice per year. General Assembly gatherings for voting matters occur every four years.
Q: How is the Penitent Brothers community self-supporting?
A: The Penitent Brothers are a non-profit association. Each member of the community makes a monthly financial contribution to help cover the overall Penitent Brothers community and regional community expenses as well as to facilitate charitable support. In addition to monthly contributions, each member of the association is responsible for his own community retreat and General Assembly gathering expenses as well as the expense for his habit. Further details can be found in The Rule and Constitution of the Penitent Brothers.
The Penitent Brothers are member of Christ’s faithful. We are by virtue of our Baptism, incorporated into Christ, and made to share in his priestly, prophetic, and kingly work, and are empowered to play an active part in the mission of the Church. We facilitate our common priesthood by working in service to Holy Mother Church.
As secular/religious, we live in the world and do God’s work. The Penitent Brothers serve to illuminate the world with the light of Christ and live in union with Him. We as a community of brothers do not deny life in the world. Instead, the Penitent Brothers seek to find God always and everywhere present.
*As Brothers, we stand with one another on our journey toward Spiritual perfection, seeking the Beatific Vision of the Father.
*(Sources: Catholic Update September, 2012; Scripture; Canon Law)
The Penitent Brothers
836 Sanders Avenue
Scotia, New York 12302-1134