Brothers Talk About Lives of Vocation and Change


Not long after Brother Dominic Berardelli joined the Christian Brothers in the 1950s, he received a phone call that would take him a world away from his Pittsburgh roots.

"I was teaching high school when the Brothers told me to pack my bags and get ready to move to the Philippines," Brother Dominic recalled at a Saint Mary's Staff Forum on December 13.

Brother Dominic was assigned to the Brothers' Asia-Pacific Bureau, where he worked to support colleagues facing harsh conditions ranging from civil war in Sri Lanka to military dictatorship in Burma. "I smuggled money into Burma in everything you can imagine," he remembered. These experiences left him with a deep affinity for Asian cultures, something, he said, "I never would have envisioned when I was a soda clerk as a teenager back in Pittsburgh."

Brother Dominic, who works in the College's Development office as a major gifts officer, was one of four SMC Christian Brothers who shared their reflections about their lives at Saint Mary's and beyond at the "Meet the Brothers" Staff Council Forum in Hagerty Hall. The other three speakers, Brothers Dominic Ruegg, Myron Collins and Richard Lemberg, were all Saint Mary's undergraduates before they started teaching at the College. The four brothers on the panel have given more than 200 years of service to the Lasallian order, including more than 120 years to Saint Mary's College.

Moderator Sharon Sobotta of the College's Women's Resource Center posed a number of questions to the panelists about their reasons for becoming Brothers, their observations on how Saint Mary's has changed over the years and the lessons they have learned during their time in the Brotherhood.

Each of the Brothers explained that an early experience in a Christian Brothers educational institution guided their decision to join the order.

"From the time I was 6 or 7, I had an idea that I wanted to serve the church in some way," said Brother Dominic Ruegg, a professor emeritus with more than 40 years of teaching experience in the SMC Classical Languages Department. He was so impressed with the Brothers at San Francisco's Sacred Heart High School that within the first week of his freshman year he decided, "This is it."

The panelists discussed the strong call of vocation to the Christian Brothers, but also indicated that the order has changed them in ways they never would have imagined.

Brother Myron, a professor in SMC's chemistry department for three decades, joined the junior novitiate when he was 13. As a student at Saint Mary's in the early 1950s, he excelled in languages. "But back then, Saint Mary's needed science teachers," he recalled, "So I ended up going into chemistry."

The panelists acknowledged that they have seen Saint Mary's change in significant ways over the decades. Brother Dominic Ruegg drew a sharp contrast between the student body of today and the all-male undergraduate SMC he attended in the 1930s and 1940s. "Back then, there were 250 students, and around 100 of them were football players. Now, it's a much more complicated place."

Brother Richard, who is in charge of the SMC Library's campaign to digitize its book and musical holdings, was recently reminded of just how much things have changed since his days as an SMC student in the early 1970s. As he was using a record turntable in the library, one of his students asked him what it was.

"Then again, this year's freshmen at Saint Mary's have had no experience with the Soviet Union," Brother Richard noted. "So you always have to prepare for change and accept it."

--John Grennan
Office of College Communications