Topic: Cooperator Brothers

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Cooperators in the Mission

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This past Wednesday, November 30, our community buried our beloved brother Raymond Charles Bertheaux, OP.  Br. Raymond was born in 1936 and grew up in San Francisco. He professed first vows in 1954 and served the Order and the Church throughout the world ever since.  Almost 20 years of his life were spent as a missionary in Chiapas, where he traveled from village to village by horseback. Prior to his recent years of service at St. Albert’s as our archivist, Br. Raymond lived in Guatemala, ministering to the poor and the sick. This was after he spent 12 years at Santa Sabina, our headquarters in Rome, where he worked in the bookstore, archives, and on Analecta, a journal dedicated to Dominican history.

 In the old days, Br. Raymond would have been referred to as a frater conversus, or lay brother. Today, friars like myself who are not on the track to ordination, are called cooperator brothers. Although the Dominican Order is primarily a clerical one, forming young men as priests to celebrate Mass, preach, and hear confessions, cooperator brothers have been an important part of our mission since the beginning.

One of the first cooperator brothers of the Dominican Order was Oderic of Normandy. Counted among the 16 original disciples of St. Dominic, Br. Oderic helped Blessed Mannes (Dominic’s brother) to found our community at Saint Jacques in Paris. Since then a number of cooperator brothers have faithfully served the Order in whatever capacity they were called to do so. In the 1400s, Blessed James of Ulm was a designer of stained-glass windows, one of which can still be found at the Basilica di San Patronio, a 10-minute walk from the tomb of St. Dominic in Bologna. Probably one of the most famous cooperator brothers of the Order is St. Martin de Porres, whose feast we celebrate on November 3. In artistic renderings, St. Martin is often shown holding a broom or a basket of bread and wearing a black scapular and capuce/hood (once distinctive to cooperator brothers). These depictions speak to St. Martin’s humility and willingness to serve, especially the poor, but sadly do not portray the fact that he was quite gifted in medicine, using his knowledge of herbs and other remedies to cure the sick.

Obviously the ministerial work of a cooperator brother is different from that of a priest, but other than that we have a lot in common. We all profess the same vows and embrace the four pillars of Dominican life. Our prayer is centered upon the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office, and the recitation of the rosary. Our study is for the sake of preaching, whether it be in word (teaching and giving lectures, presentations, and retreats) or deed (the very witness of our lives as consecrated religious). Finally we all share a commitment to the common life, to growing together in virtue and caring for one another in fraternal charity.

Not only did Br. Raymond know this, he also lived it, and it’s one of the reasons he was such a wonderful example of what it means to be a Dominican.