The primary ministry of the Patrician Brothers is providing a Catholic education for youth. This was the mission given to the Brothers by their founder Bishop Daniel Delany in 1808.
The Catholic faith in Ireland suffered much after more than two hundred years of Protestant English rule. Catholicism had been suppressed by the British and their Penal Laws: no priests, no Sacraments, no schools. This is why the boy Daniel Delany had to flee to France so he could become a priest. (Photo: A section of the Delany window in the Tullow parish church depicts the early years of the Brothers’ ministry as they educate the young in the Catholic faith.)
However, by the beginning of the 19th century many of the English Penal Laws had been relaxed to a certain extent and so the opportunity arose for Bishop Daniel Delany to openly educate the adults and children of his diocese in the Catholic faith. While certainly not ignoring the adults, his hope was with the children. He started choirs and Sunday schools for the children. He eventually had women and men volunteers to help him with these activities. The Bishop would instruct his volunteers and they would instruct the children.
This work was so successful that it really required full-time workers, and he put this idea to his volunteers, and some agreed to give their lives over to the Catholic education of children as Brigidine Sisters (1807) and Patrician Brothers (1808).
So, for the next 160 years, wherever the Brothers ministered around the world they did so as teachers in Catholic schools.
Brothers Patrick (l) and Louis with their students at Albury, NSW, in 1885.
Catholic education will always remain the primary and essential ministry of the Patrician Brothers, but by the 1980s in Australia some Brothers began to move into other ministries. There were several reasons for this, but perhaps the main one was that with the influx of lay teachers back into Catholic schools from the 1970s the need for teaching Brothers was no longer so crucial and Brothers, mainly those who had already worked in the classroom for many years, began to look for other ministries, other “crying needs”, to which they could respond.
There was no avalanche of Brothers moving into non-educational ministries, young men had joined the Brothers to be teachers, but over the years some Brothers moved into parish work, giving retreats, adult education, chaplaincy in hospitals, gaols, and schools.
In Australia, if a young man wanted to become a Brother but wanted to work in a ministry quite removed from teaching, for example health, it would be suggested to him that he join a Congregation for which that ministry is primary such as the John of God Brothers.
Brothers gathered with the Patrician-linked schools to celebrate Delany Day
In Papua New Guinea, for various reasons, young men joining the Brothers are given three ministry options. They can teach in schools, assist in parish work, or move into health work. Again, Catholic education is main work, but in PNG the Brothers work in very isolated regions of the country where apart from a need for teachers there is also a very real need for parish workers and health officers.
Becoming a member of any religious congregation is first and foremost about living a spiritual life, a life given to God through prayer, through vows (such as poverty, chastity, and obedience), and through community living. The ministry or apostolate, such as teaching, is integral but secondary.
Through the inspiration of the Breastplate prayer and our founder Bishop Delany, Patrician ministry has at its heart recognising and responding to the Divine in those we serve, and striving to attain “peace and charity” for those in our care.