Dominican Brothers Clement and Gerard served at St. Vincent de Paul Louisville’s inner-city campus from May 23 to July 27.
They weren’t hard to miss.
Dominican Brothers always wear a habit, which comes from the Latin “habitus” and means clothing. The habit is symbolic for one’s full commitment to God. It has been a tradition for two Dominican Brothers to visit SVDP each summer.
“I was amazed at the variety of ministries provided by St. Vincent de Paul Louisville,” Bro. Clement said. “I first thought St. Vincent de Paul was a thrift store and not much beyond that … It’s been a great experience just being present with the people, hearing their stories, and them listening to us.”
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Brothers Clement and Gerard volunteered in the Food Pantry, Open Hand Kitchen, Ozanam Inn Men’s Homeless Shelter, Tranquil House Apartments, and the Family Success Center’s summer programming.
At Tranquil House, they enjoyed connecting with the residents and competing in UNO and cornhole.
“Jeffrey (a longtime resident) won every single round. At first, I thought we would need to make it a little easy on them, but then eventually, we realized when we’re trying they’re wiping the floor with us,” Bro. Gerard said.
The Brothers are located in Washington, D.C., in their second of seven years until they’re officially ordained as Dominican priests. Their lives are marked by poverty, chastity, and obedience to God.
They don’t have phones—except for a community phone when they’re driving—or even personal belongings.
“All of my personal belongings came in a duffel bag,” Bro. Gerard said.
The Brothers both came to faith their senior year of high school, though they grew up on opposite ends of the east coast. They shared their stories with us.
Brother Gerard’s path to poverty came through wealth.
An Italian raised in Long Island, New York, his parents are business owners and non-practicing Catholics. Bro. Gerard was expected to go into the family business, but his life changed after his high school selected him to visit Israel along with five other Catholics and six Jewish students.
“There were a couple of things that brought me to a point where I needed to make up my mind about Catholicism,” Bro. Gerard said. “One of them was the Jewish kids on the trip asking me about Catholicism and I knew nothing about it. Two, I saw the Orthodox Jews in Israel, where religion had formed every part of their life. I think I realized that’s what religion means.”
Bro. Gerard returned home and studied different religions, finding a lot of reasons to believe Catholicism is the true religion.
He wanted to “give himself in the most radical and generous way possible to God.”
Bro. Gerard graduated with a double major in Business Management and Philosophy at Boston College. He learned “life isn’t about accumulating more and
“Since I was in a wealthy family, working with the poor was something I never knew how to do,” Bro. Gerard added. “In college, there was this great ministry, St. Joseph’s project. We gave clothes and food to the homeless. After four years of volunteering, I had friends on the streets.”
Brother Clement grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where “the family was around the water quite a bit.” They had a marine business.
His father was a Jew and his mother Protestant, though they didn’t practice beyond the traditional religious holidays. At the age of 7, his father committed suicide and his mother was in and out of the hospital with kidney disease.
“One way my mother would talk about it was you could either get bitter or better,” Bro. Clement said.
He attended a Catholic high school because his mom wanted him to go to a religious school and that was the closest to their house.
“John Paul II lost a parent as well, and I found this deep connection with him. I think God was giving me another father to look up to,” Bro. Clement added. “Over the next four years, God was softening any of those rough and hard edges that were growing from the hardships I went through.”
As a high school senior, Bro. Clement became Catholic on Jan. 28, the same day his father died eleven years earlier.
He attended Massachusetts Maritime Academy and graduated with a degree in Marine Transportation. He knows celestial navigation, meaning he uses the stars to determine where he is at sea.
“We would be on the ships with over 200 people, but there were moments you could find yourself alone at night looking up at the stars glowing brightly that you don’t see at land,” he said.
“It was a deep questioning for myself, ‘What did God want for me?’”
Bro. Clement returned home to work in the family business “while he tried to figure things out,” but shortly thereafter felt called to go into the Dominican priesthood.