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Syndic Literary Journal

My Religious Vocation

By LeRoy Chatfield


Seventy years ago, 1950 – at  age  fifteen –   I entered the Mont LaSalle Junior Novitiate to begin my religious training to become a member of the Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious teaching order founded in 1684 by a cleric,  John Baptist de La Salle,  in Reims France.

The only thing I knew about the Christian Brothers was that I admired Brother Gilbert, who during my freshman year at Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento (CA) was the Prefect of the school’s boarding department where I lived. Because I wanted to become like Brother Gilbert and work with high school teenagers as he did, I applied to be accepted into his religious order, and I was admitted.

I also knew the principal of the high school, Brother Bertram, because  after I graduated from Our Lady of Lourdes elementary school in Colusa (CA) I met with him in his office at 21st and Broadway to ask if I could be admitted to the school and live in the boarding department. I also explained that my parents did not have enough money to pay for my tuition and could I work my way through school?

After the short interview, much to my surprise,  he admitted me and offered me an after school job of  mopping the gymnasium locker rooms and laundering the towels  to help pay for my tuition and room and board. I readily accepted his offer.

Finally, I knew Brother Andrew, a very young religion teacher at the school because he recruited me, along with six other freshman classmates, to be cell members in his newly established Catholic Social Action Group. We met once a month in the evening, recited a special prayer together, and  listened to him explain how important it was for us to: Observe, Judge, and Act if we wanted to remain in good standing with the social action group. At such a young age, I did not understand what I was to observe, what my judgment should be, and how I should act but I faithfully attended the meetings, said the special prayer in unison with the others, and listened to Brother Andrew’s exhortation.

I am not sure whether my boarding school experience, or my freshman year  at Christian Brothers High School, or being a social action cell member, or mopping the gymnasium locker rooms and laundering the towels,   qualifies as a “calling” to  a religious vocation,  but as far as I can discern, these three Brothers ~ Gilbert, Bertram and Andrew – made an impression on me and are the reason why I made the decision  to enter the Mont La Salle Junior Novitiate, which was located in the foothills seven miles west of Napa (CA)  in the Mount Veeder  wine region.

Fifteen years later, October 1965, I resigned from the Christian Brothers to pursue a new vocation –  working with Cesar Chavez and his farmworker movement in Delano (CA).  I was thirty-one  years old.



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