Brother Brian Vetter, C.F.X. (Brother Roger)
At times you will discover that God’s ways are not your ways,
And God’s thoughts are not your thoughts.
When this happens try to surrender yourself trustingly into
The arms of your Father who knows you, understands you
And loves you.
Brother Brian entered eternal life very peacefully on the morning of Jan. 14. For the final time, Brian surrendered himself ‘trustingly into the arms of the Father’ in whose love Brian has grown as a Xaverian Brother. In death as in life, Brian exemplifies the essence of our Xaverian spirituality.
A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Brian was born on July 4, 1943 to Bernadette and Stewart Vetter. He is survived by his two sisters, Suzanne and Sherry, and his brother, Blaine. The love and affection Brian had for his family was clear to all. Graduating from Saint Xavier High School in 1961, he began his college studies at Bellarmine. In 1964 Brian would respond to God’s call to follow Christ as a Xaverian Brother. He entered Sacred Heart Novitiate in Leonardtown, Maryland and on September 8th received the Xaverian habit and religious name ‘Brother Roger’.
After finishing his degree at the University of Maryland, Brian taught at both Holy Cross and Holy Name elementary schools in Brooklyn. His ministry would then take him from Brooklyn to Baltimore. Brian would spend the next twenty-three years at Mount Saint Joseph High School as a most effective teacher, track coach, counselor and Dean of Students. Brian earned his Master’s Degree at Loyola, Baltimore.
In 1993 Brian responded again to God’s call, this time to join our mission in Bolivia. He would spend twenty-five years in Bolivia, first at the Colegio San Francisco Xavier in Carmen Pampa, then at la Escuela de Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Chinguri and finally at la Casa Nazaret, an orphanage in Cochabamba. Upon returning to the United States, Brian asked permission to join those ministering to refugees at the boarder in El Paso. When he returned to Louisville, he offered to help his brother-in-law care for his sister, Sherry, who needs full time attention.
This list of the ministries and places do not reveal the genuine gift that Brian was and is to the Congregation, to his family and friends and to many young people. Brian most humbly and simply ministered ‘God’s healing touch of love to all whom he met’ (FP) throughout his journey as a Xaverian.
The following quote from our Fundamental Principles, I believe, captures Brian’s spirit.
Brother, it is the communion with the living God which is at the heart of
your life as a son of the Father, disciple of Jesus, witness of the
Holy Spirit, quickened member of His Body and brother to the world. (FP)
Brian was ‘brother to many.’ Quiet, humble and reflective by disposition, it is no surprise that Brian understood that communion with God needed to be at the heart of his call as a Xaverian. He truly desired to integrate his experience of community and ministry through his daily commitment to contemplative prayer. On occasion, Brian would talk about that desire. His understanding of the exhortation in our Fundamental Principles ‘to spend time each day in solitude and prayer’ was clear and firm.
Brian’s quest for communion with the living God was apparent to those who lived with him. As I was reflecting about Brian, a striking image came to mind. I found myself back in the Brothers’ house in Chinguri. Our rooms were across from each other. Since we taught in the afternoons, our mornings were free. Brian’s door would be closed for a couple of hours. This was sacred time for him. He spent it in prayer and reading. We all knew that. Occasionally he would share what he was reading or thinking or praying about.
Brian’s prayer life flowed into his relationships and ministries. While at Carmen Pampa I asked Brian to take charge of a new dorm for about twenty middle schoolers. At times, they were a real handful. Ardillas (squirrels)! During a visit to Carmen Pampa, Michael McCarthy visited the dorm. He saw that Brian had created community with these kids. They trusted him. He never raised his voice when correcting them. He was always calm and present to them. They ended each night forming a circle in the middle of the dorm for night prayer. As Michael shared with Brian, ‘No one else in the Congregation could do what you are doing.’ It is so true! And not just true in Bolivia. No one else could do what Brian did — whether with young people in Brooklyn or in Baltimore or with refugees at the boarder.
Those who knew him well quickly point out that he never drew attention to himself. He never had to be the center of attention. Brian embodied simplicity. He had very few needs. Brian was comfortable just being ‘Brian’. He could connect with young people others had struggled with. Brian was a gifted listener. His empathy and compassion for what others were going through made a real difference in so many lives.
Men presently in their fifties or sixties whom Brian coached in track at the Mount in Baltimore were deeply saddened by the news of his stroke. One, in fact, drove to Louisville to be with him after his stroke. A classmate from St. X and lifelong friend, Paul Seadler, shared that ‘Brian is one of the few people you could talk to and be on the same wavelength. He understands what it means to be human as well as any person I have ever known.’
Brian’s spirituality led him most naturally to those in need of ‘God’s healing touch of love.’ (FP) He was especially collaborative in mission, especially with communities committed to advancing peace and justice. Brian found the support needed to live Jesus’ mission in these communities—be it his own Xaverian community, or the community of the Precious Blood Sisters at Casa Nazaret, or the ecumenical prayer group in Cochabamba. In his quiet way Brian influenced so many people. He made lifelong friends. Precious Blood Sisters Joyce and Mary Catherine from Missouri, Father Theo from Holland. A family from Germany that had been missionaries in Bolivia sent Michael McCarthy a copy of a very touching letter they had sent to Brian upon news of his stroke. His German friend Ardell writes:
I am crying as I write you this note: out of so much gratitude and so much awe that God has blessed us beyond words with the fact that we have shared a major part of our life journey with you. These times were beyond challenging, filled with so much suffering and so much joy all the while being so very sweet. Thank you for being our friend and brother in the midst of it all. Our family loves you so much, Brian.
Be at peace, my love. We’ll see you again.
Today we offer a prayer of gratitude for the life Brian shared with us. Confident that Brian is enjoying the peace Christ promises us, we celebrate the wonderful example he gives us on how to live our Xaverian spirituality and charism until the end.
The gift you have received, give as a gift. (FP)
Gracias, Hermano Brian.