Br. Sean Sammon was the Superior General of the Institute from 2001 to 2009. Now he lives in New York. In March, Br Sean Sammon gave an interview to Sr. Camille D’Arienzo published in the National Catholic Report. We share a part of this conversation where he speaks about the religious life. You can read the whole interview here.
Sr. Camille: Your professional credits include a doctorate in clinical psychology and a position as international clinical director of House of Affirmation from 1982 to 1987. You’ve published 10 books and often have served as keynote speaker at conferences of many kinds. In which of these arenas have you found the greatest challenges?
Br. Sean: My work as the international clinical director of the House of Affirmation was both rewarding and challenging. In the first place, I had the privilege of working with outstanding colleagues. Also, many who came to the house for its residential and educational programs were an inspiration: people willing to face challenging questions about life and the changes taking place in our church and its religious orders.
There has, however, never been a “golden age” in religious life. Each era has had its challenges. We need to use our energies to address today’s, including the changes that very few welcome.
Sr. Camille: What impact have these changes had?
Br. Sean: We’ve learned much from all that’s transpired. One, religious life was never intended to be an ecclesiastical workforce. Two, our way of life belongs within the charismatic church and not the hierarchical church. Three, religious life is meant to be the church’s conscience, reminding that large body continually about its true nature, about what it longs to be, can be, must be.
Young people coming to religious life today are reminding us that community and a vibrant life of prayer are as important a part of religious life as the ministry of our congregation.
The challenge that faces us today is building a future for religious life — dreaming, taking risks, being willing to change yet again so that this way of life can continue to be the leaven within church and society that it is meant to be.
Sr. Camille: What led you to religious life?
Br. Sean: Personal contact with the Marist brothers. When I met the brothers, I found myself drawn very much to their way of life and the work that they were about. They seemed very human, had a strong sense of community, and were friendly to one another and to us, their students. I found a clear sense of family among them; moreover, their expression of faith seemed very much tied to everyday life.
Sr. Camille: What have you considered the blessings and challenges of the Marist international missions?
Br. Sean: Helping young people fall in love with God is both a blessing and a challenge these days. Our founder, Marcellin Champagnat, was fond of saying that “to teach children and young people, you must love them first and love them all equally.”
Though many associate the Marist brothers with schools, our work has always been evangelization of the young, particularly poor young people. Our founder gave us the name “the Little Brothers of Mary,” and quite honestly, it’s the one that I prefer. He saw schools as the means in his time for evangelizing, but he didn’t set out to establish a school system.
Today, almost 4,000 Marist brothers and approximately 40,000 laywomen and men work with 650,000 young people in Marist institutions in 80 countries throughout the world.
We also have a desk at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva advocating on behalf of the rights of children. Our apostolates today are diverse, from elementary schools to large universities. We have a school for handicapped street children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We work with boy soldiers and host an international volunteer program for young people looking to give a year or two of service.
We take to heart the instruction of our founder: “A brother is a man for whom the world is not large enough.”
Sr. Camille: You’ve held many positions in and outside of the Marist community. Which among them offered the greatest challenges and satisfaction?
Br. Sean: As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been lucky enough to have enjoyed just about everything I’ve been asked to do in life. During the time that I was president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, our leadership team — Christian Br. Paul Hennessy, Marianist Fr. Patrick Tonry, Fr. Roland Faley [a member of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis] and Sulpician Fr. Jerry Brown — visited the Congregation for Religious and other Vatican offices each year. Most years, we went to Rome with the officers of LCWR. For me, these joint trips were the most effective of those we made. Sr. Janet Roesner was then its executive director, and Dominican Sr. Nadine Foley and Sister of Providence Kathleen Popko were presidents successively. Members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious taught me a great deal about sisters’ love of this way of life; their zeal for the mission was inspiring.