Brother Charles Hilken, FSC, Department of History, Chair, Cummins Institute, Residence Hall Director, SMC Board of Trustees

Some children grow up hearing fairy tales. Brother Charles Hilken heard yarns of a different kind. His father shared stories of student life at Saint Mary’s College and of the Brothers who influenced him there.

The elder Hilken played SMC football in the mid to late 1930s, and the Brothers remembered him well, as son Charles found out in his own freshman year at Saint Mary's. “One day, I introduced myself to Brother Albert Rahill. I said, ‘Brother Albert, you don’t know me, but my father went here when you were president.’” Brother Albert fired back “Oh...Fat Hilken’s boy. I remember your father very well.”

Brother Charles’ plan was to join the priesthood at the end of his freshman year, but on his last day of class, he had an epiphany. “I was leaving campus and was walking down the front lawn and I stopped. It would have been my last day and I looked around at the campus and at the chapel and I changed my mind. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave Saint Mary’s.” He says he realized, at that moment, that he’d fallen in love with learning. By the following January, his future as a Christian Brother came into focus. “Everything I’d learned came together – my desire for a vocation and an education,” he says.

Some 40 years later, Brother Charles is an expert on medieval manuscripts, history and the papacy. He’s published two books on monastic history and two essays on the ministry and rituals of the popes, and is currently in charge of the Cummins Institute for Catholic Thought, Culture and Action at Saint Mary’s.

His love for learning remains palpable; not just in the classroom; but in the way he spends his spare time. For the last 23 summers, Brother Charles has immersed himself in the Vatican Library and archives in Rome. He’s also working on a new book on the history of the monastic Chapter Room. Clearly, that seminal moment when he decided to join the Brothers has paid off. It has paved the way for a rich vocational life at Saint Mary’s College, and beyond.