Christmas with the Brothers

As Santa’s sleigh streaks across the starry sky, the Brothers at Saint Mary’s College will be making their own yuletide magic. It starts with Christmas Eve mass at 4:30 p.m. in the Chapel, hosted by the SMC Community of Brothers.

After mass, Brother Mel Anderson says the Brothers and their guests gather in Fenlon Hall for some Christmas hors d'oeuvres and cheer. It’s a scene straight out of Currier and Ives, with a crackling fire and Brother Raphael Patton’s Christmas train chugging round the base of the glittering tree. “It’s sensational,” says Brother Dom Berardelli. “They always get a fresh, live tree and they put the tree right in the center of the room where the ceiling sweeps upward.” A picture of each SMC Brother peeks through the rail car windows with Brother Raphael’s photo ‘riding’ in the caboose.

A rich holiday tradition takes place around the fire after dinner. “The Yule Log Ceremony was introduced to us many years ago by Br. Ives Tracey, an Englishman who taught at SMC for several years,” says Brother Martin Yribarren. Brother Richard Lemberg says it involves sprinkling the log with liquid and spices before tossing it in the fire. “The oldest Brother (Brother Mel Anderson) blesses it with salt and the youngest Brother (Brother Michael Murphy) blesses it with brandy.

Meanwhile, the Joseph Alameny Community has its big celebration on "Little Christmas"—the Epiphany. Brother Charles Hilken says a special part of the celebration is the Liturgy of the Word at mass. “Each Brother brings a reading to share before the epistle and gospel. The liturgy takes a long time because of this. It is a leisurely moment of Kairos.” 

The ritual actually dates back to the founding of the Alameny Community in December of 1973. Brother Michael Meister says the Brothers share poems, stories, reflections and carols. It ends with the Brothers singing the Gloria after the regular readings for the mass and the Gospel. “After this, we light the fire as a symbol of our faith and recite the Creed. The rest of the Liturgy is celebrated around our dining room table with much singing of the prayers.”

When it comes to gift giving, both Communities of Brothers take part in this seasonal custom. But Brother Dom Berardelli says occasionally the Brothers are more naughty than nice. He remembers one gift, in particular, that didn’t exactly hit the mark—a piggy bank filled with $75 in pennies. “It was the most useless gift in the world,” he laughs, saying no bank wanted to take all those pennies so he was forced to dispensed handfuls whenever the occasion would allow.