The De La Salle Christian Brothers, who founded Milwaukie's La Salle Prep in 1966 and are on staff at De La Salle North Catholic High in Portland, will leave Oregon at the end of the school year.
Brother Joe Kirk, one of three men from the order now serving in Portland, says the Brothers' San Francisco District is consolidating members into larger households. The aim is to strengthen community life and improve recruitment, Brother Joe says. He will join a house in San Francisco that serves De Marillac Academy, a free Catholic school for low-income children.
"I really enjoy Portland. It's a big small city and I'll miss it," says Brother Joe, who lives with the other brothers in a house across the street from St. Andrew Church in Northeast Portland.
To help maintain the brothers' charism — or founding ideas — at the Oregon schools, the district will provide programs and retreats to staff and students. For example, religion teachers from the 10 affiliated schools in the west gathered this winter for a session and a half dozen De La Salle North students went on a Brother-sponsored vocations retreat. Those kinds of programs will continue.
The Christian Brothers first came to Portland in 1886 to teach at a school linked to St. Michael Parish downtown. Archbishop William Gross had informed the superior, Brother Bettelin McMahon, that he need not send the strongest men. Even older Brothers whose stamina had waned would be welcomed. Three Brothers, including an infirm Brother Aldrick McElroy, weathered a difficult voyage up the coast and arrived in Portland to find rough teaching and living conditions. They had 140 students to teach and no furniture to speak of.
Brother Aldrick died two months after his arrival. But the Brothers as a whole endured longer. More men came and took teaching posts at St. James Academy in Vancouver, Wash. In 1908, the Brothers opened a new business college at Northeast Clackamas and Grand on Portland's east side. The school, which advertised enthusiastically, lasted only until 1920 and the Brothers departed from Oregon for the first time. In 1966, they returned to open La Salle Prep in Milwaukie. Despite a sharp drop in members and new vocations, the order's leaders assigned Brothers to teach there until 1991, when the men left for the second time. When lay people in 2001 founded a Catholic high school in North Portland for those without much money, the Brothers stepped forward and sent teachers.
Brother Dan Fenton taught science. “I want students to realize that there is much more to learn than what I was able to teach them, and I want them to be hungry for more,” Brother Dan told the Catholic Sentinel in 2004.
Brother Martin has taught art, photography and computers at De La Salle for eight years. He also serves as his community’s bookkeeper and sits on a committee guiding a Vietnamese youth society at Immaculate Heart Parish.
Brother Joe came five years ago and has led Lasallian Youth Ministry, a combination of campus ministry, volunteer service, student activities and student government. Brother Anthony Nguyen works at Our Lady of Lavang Parish and at De La Salle North.
Also leaving will be the young post-college volunteers who serve with the Brothers. They have taught and been on staff at De La Salle.
Leaders at De La Salle North say they will miss the community.
The departure leaves the school with five staff slots to fill. Officials are planning their own volunteer program.