• Jeni Kelsch

Brother John


When I first began writing my thoughts down I discovered a couple hard truths. First, practically everything I know can be said in five hundred words or less. And second, practically everything I know everybody else already knows too. Armed with this wisdom the only thing left for me to do with my thoughts was to try to write about them in a compelling way. I have learned from years of family life that the best way to get a point across is with humor, and the most necessary ingredient for family humor is humility. In other words, I can only make fun of my children if I make fun of myself more. Armed with this knowledge I have been writing stories about my failures as a Mom for years now. My audience is small, consisting mostly of my husband, my children, and the dog, but the one special person I forced to read my writing (by printing it out and mailing it to him as he sat in a hospital bed with no visitors allowed) was our family priest, Brother John.


Brother John was a Franciscan priest, which means taking a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience when he entered his order. In practical terms this meant he owned nothing but the clothes on his back. In spiritual terms, this meant he was one of the most forgiving people I have ever met. He simply carried nothing with him, not criticism, not resentment, not judgement. The one possession he held dear was humor, and he thought we were pretty funny. One of my first memories of Brother John interacting with our family was after Mass on Sunday. As we were headed out of the church our littlest one managed to disengage from the crowd and make a quick escape. After spending the last hour performing Cirque Du Soleil in the pew to keep her in our general family unit, I was not in my best place when Brother John witnessed her escape and said, “You lost one.” I quickly, too quickly, responded, “That’s Ok Father, we can make more.” Except you’re not to supposed to say that out loud…to a priest…at church. Brother John looked at me for a minute with a stunned expression, I saw him process my flippancy, and then he laughed and laughed, and we had him over for dinner and he became our dear friend.


Brother John was around our family a good bit over the years, he celebrated the birth of our children with us, he baptized them, and he let us in the church door despite the fact that on any given Sunday there was a chance someone would be missing a shoe. He watched as one of our children pushed the stroller carrying our newest child into a ditch in the park and used the experience to explain a spiritual truth in his next homily. He didn’t use names, but the scenario was way too specific to deny the source. I guess you could say Brother John assisted me on my path toward humble motherhood.

Brother John eventually was called away to another parish. He had guided our family through all the early years and although he assured us of our ability to navigate the next stage without him, I didn’t want him to go. Brother John was stubbornly untechnological and was the last man on earth to not have a cell phone or an email. This meant I had to send him actual letters, which I was very bad at. When we learned that he was sick and stuck in quarantine in the hospital I packed up a stack of stories and mailed them to him, hoping that I could give him back some of the love he had given us. We saw Brother John one last time before he died. He told me he had gotten my stories and he and another priest had read them, one a day, and laughed. I thought, how like him to take something so small and make it last for days. And how like him to laugh. Peace be with you, Brother John.

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