Brother Michael Avila, FSC, Department of Theology and Religious Studies

by Ginny Prior | April 26, 2016

Brother Michael Avila came to the Christian Brothers in a most unconventional way. He likes to say he was “left like Moses—in a basket at the Brothers’ door.” In reality, his mother asked the Brothers in Berkeley to take two of her three sons in the wake of a difficult divorce. Brother Michael was enrolled in Saint Mary’s College High school as a boarder from the 3rd grade through his junior year and was deeply touched by the selflessness of Brothers who taught him.  

“It was something I wanted to be a part of, but I doubted I could be a teacher and I wanted to be free.” That dichotomy would surface time and again in Brother Michael’s life, including twice as a novice at Mont La Salle. A seminal moment, he says, was the night, shortly after arriving, when he snuck down to the Director's office, ready to call it quits. “I went down to make a phone call home, but I was afraid the director’s phone would light up and he would see it,” he admits.

By 1966, Brother Michael’s first year as a scholastic at Saint Mary’s College, he was much more at peace with God’s plan and recalls that in his first seminar class. “I discovered a man I wanted to model my life after - Socrates.” In the Apology, Socrates cited his poverty as proof that he wasn’t a teacher. Similarly, Brother Michael, in those early years, doubted that teaching was his strong suit. Yet he went on to get his Bachelor’s degree, two Masters and a PhD.

For the last 25 years, until recently, Brother Michael has been the director of the Christian Service Internship class, matching students with service internships in much-needed regions worldwide. It’s been a life-changing experience not only for him, but for many of the 800 participants, some of whom have gone on to careers serving the underprivileged. And Brother Michael, himself, has come to a realization. “I want to draw even closer to the God who first called me in my youth, and with whom I’ve wrestled all my life.” Like the prophet Jeremiah, Brother Michael says he feels the fire in his bones.