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Home : News : Local
Two Brotherhood of the People of Praise members ordained deacons
Kristen Hannum

By Kristen Hannum

Of the Sentinel

All 10 members of the Brotherhood of the People of Praise were present at All Saints Church last Friday night as two of their number - Rev. Mr. Michael Kueber and Rev. Mr. Chuck Wood - were ordained transitional deacons.

It was an historic occasion for the association's members, who belong to a group founded 18 years ago, one which Archbishop John Vlazny describes as a gift to this archdiocese.

The group is in Portland because Cardinal Francis George invited them and Archbishop Vlazny has worked with them, making it possible for the group to become a private association of the faithful, officially approved by the archbishop earlier this year.

The Rev. Mr. Kueber was one of the catalysts for the quest to make it possible for Brotherhood members to become priests within their community, for he has long sensed that he had a calling to the priesthood.

Both he and Rev. Mr. Wood are longtime members of the People of Praise, a covenant ecumenical community established in 1971 in South Bend, Ind., that now boasts 3,000 men, women and children in 21 branches across the United States, Canada and the Caribbean, including one in Corvallis and one in Yakima.

The members meet weekly in small groups with one another, but also worship in their local churches. Holy Cross Father Thomas Bill, the charismatic liaison for the archdiocese, says the movement's members are solid, mature and committed Catholics in their parishes.

Visitors who attend the group's monthly public meetings at All Saints' meeting hall here in Northeast Portland know the People of Praise for their lively music, heartfelt testimonials and ecumenism. Those who find themselves touched and called forth at the meetings are invited to come back regularly and consider joining the community.

The Brotherhood of the People of Praise grew out of the larger community in the late 1970s. It began when several members of the People of Praise decided to live a mutually supportive celibate life of apostolic activity, prayer and charity. They shared a house near Notre Dame University.

There have been several moves in the history of the Brotherhood, but the most significant began in the early 1990s when the group began looking for an ordinary who would recognize their statutes - paving the way for their members to become ordained priests.

Then-Bishop George of Yakima responded positively and invited them to come to Yakima. The only problem was that there was no seminary.

Within a week Bishop George's office called the brotherhood to tell them that he would be Portland's new archbishop - with Mount Angel Seminary nearby.

Today, five men live in a Brotherhood community in the old convent at All Saints here in Portland, and five live in a Brotherhood house in St. Paul, Minn.

'Groups like this have a marvelous potential for bringing the Gospel to the world,' said Archbishop Vlazny at the reception following the men's ordination. 'They have a wonderful leavening quality, just by the attitude they bring,' he said.

Father John Kerns, pastor of All Saints, agrees. 'Their commitment to the faith sets a good example here.'

The men in the Portland house include the Rev. Messrs. Wood and Kueber, Peter Smith (also studying at Mount Angel and to be ordained a deacon next year), Tom Gray, and Glenn Rymsza, who is on staff at St. Michael the Archangel as campus minister at Portland State University.

'He's doing an excellent job,' says Father Bert Griffin, pastor of St. Michael's, of Rymsza. 'And gradually wielding quite a following.'

Their life includes morning and evening prayer, and frequently also night prayer.

Although their lives in community are in many ways similar to those of men in religious orders - especially now that they are having members on their way to being ordained as priests - there are substantial differences between orders and associations.

Father Griffin explains that canon law recognizes four levels of associations within the church. The most loosely organized are movements, and then de facto associations. De facto associations are the most common type of organization, and include the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Many of these associations choose not to have their statutes recognized.

Private associations, like the Brotherhood of the People of

Members of public associations like the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine make public vows as well as private ones.

The Brotherhood is theoretically an ecumenical association, although all of its members are presently Catholic. If a non-Catholic were to join, he would not be able to be elected to a position of authority.

Joel Kibler, head of the Brotherhood, says he hopes that the Brotherhood will attract non-Catholic members, for part of the charism of the association is to love each other as brothers and sisters, married and single, and in Christian unity.

'Protestants and Catholics should be able to live together in love,' he says. He offers Pope John Paul's Ut Unum Sint, in which he says the pope calls for people to long for, pray for and work for unity, as a good reason for embracing ecumenism.

Lest anyone be concerned that the church might be losing members to Protestant churches within the People of Praise, be reassured that Kibler can think of only a couple instances when that has happened, usually because of marriage. It is somewhat common, however, for Protestant members of the People of Praise to convert to Catholicism. Either way, conversion is never pushed. About ninety percent of the movement's members are Catholic.

Heather Ronayne, a lay member of the People of Praise and currently a parishioner at St. Joseph, Vancouver, says she thinks the ordinations will bring some extra blessings to the lay group. After all, she remembers clearly the rich spirituality that Father Perron Auve was able to offer the Yakima group, of which she was a past member. Father Auve is a member of the People of Praise, as are several other priests and deacons, including Deacon Francis Potts of the Archdiocese of Portland.

Ronayne doesn't, however, think that the presence of priests ordained within their Brotherhood community will feel like a big change for the broader community.

Dave Beskar, a St. Paul brotherhood member who once taught at Central Catholic here, agrees. 'But for the Brotherhood it will be different,' he says. 'The challenge will be to maintain our community life as they serve the church.'

Rev. Mr. Woods' story his Catholic life sheds some insight into the association. He joined the People of Praise within a month or two of his going to school at Notre Dame. He'd been in the Charismatic Renewal Movement in his hometown of Washington, D.C., an experience that he says awakened him to a real relationship with God and changed his life.

Notre Dame hadn't even been on his list of colleges, but when he decided to give the decision to God, Notre Dame became the clear choice. Within a month of making that choice he learned about the People of Praise at the college.

Once there, he began attending their meetings, and they asked him to join.

He discussed the invitation with his parents and priest back home, all of whom encouraged him to do it if he thought it was right for him. So Wood joined. 'We socialized, hung out, studied and prayed together,' he says. They were also active in campus outreach of the People of Praise.

'I could see that kind of environment would be very good for living out my faith, being challenged, encouraged and consoled when I needed it,' says Rev. Mr. Wood.

He's come to call it 'the righteous enjoyment of life.'

'It's encouraging to find a community of solidly, committed Christians who enjoy good things - shunning everything that's ungodly, but embracing all that's good for people,' says Rev. Mr. Wood, with the enthusiasm typical of his association.

Interestingly, the Rev. Mr. Wood began as a 'definitely not' both times when first asked to became part of the Brotherhood of the People of Praise and then the priesthood.

As Archbishop Vlazny pointed out in his homily, however, the Holy Spirit upset both new deacons' plans.

Archbishop Vlazny began that homily with a poem by David Pierce, an Irish patriot who wrote it from a jail cell in 1916.

'I have squandered the splendid years . . .' wrote Pierce, who went on to make the point that it was folly not to do so.

'Tonight our friends Chuck and Michael set out to attempt impossible things,' he noted. 'Is it folly or is it grace?'

Towards the close of the talk, the archbishop charged the men with their duties. 'I remind you to be good and faithful servants and God will be pleased,' he said.

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