WE REMEMBER. WE CELEBRATE. WE BELIEVE
REMEMBERING BROTHER VINCENT DAMIAN
given by Brother Owen Ormsby
brothers. We are professed religious who have heard the call
of Jesus and have chosen to follow him. But we are not just
brothers…we are Marist brothers and we take as our model St.
Marcellin Champagnat. We live by his spirit…he guides our
footsteps …and our decisions…and we believe that we are heirs
of his charism.
should not come as any surprise that the parallels between
Father Champagnat and Brother Vincent Damian are striking:
witness to the cause of beatification described Marcellin
Champagnat in this way: “He was a little daunting to meet at
first, but he quickly put at ease whoever came into contact
with him. He was feared by some who knew him poorly, but he
was loved by those who knew any thing of his real self.”
Because he was a true son of Champagnat, one might also
describe Brother Vincent Damian in the same manner. He could
be a daunting much at ease. Some feared him, most respected
him, but there is no doubt that he was very, very loved by
those who knew him well…
young curate Marcellin was assigned to a small hamlet parish
where he had to travel distances daily in order to serve those
entrusted to him.
Francis Philip left his home at the age of 14 to enter the
Juniorate of the Marist Brothers. After his profession of vows
he spent 5 years at St. Helena’s High School in the Bronx
where he taught French and Typing. During the summer of 1962,
the young brother received word through the grapevine that he
was being re-assigned to “the Plains of Scotch.” There he was
to begin the Marist Brothers presence at Union Catholic High
School. Little did Vinny know at that time that he was to
spend the rest of his years as a Marist Brother living in the
Garden State and serving the Church of Newark for more than 45
Vinny’s first introduction to RC [Roselle Catholic] also came in September of
1962. The Brothers residence was still being built at Union
Catholic, so Vinny moved into his first New Jersey home – St. Walbereger’s Orphanage. Bro. Vincent and Bro. Faustin lived
here at Roselle Catholic and commuted daily to Union Catholic
for an entire year. Vinny often recalled his bedroom. It was a
first floor sitting parlor. quite large with huge florescent
light bulbs hanging from the ceiling by a thin metal chain.
Vinny did not sleep very well.
Marcellin faced challenges everyday of his life. He started
our congregation in 1817 with just two brothers and at the
time of his death the Institute had grown to 240.
1980 when Vinny became principal of RC for the first time the
student enrollment was 352 students. The entire faculty and
staff numbered 34. Robert James can vividly remember walking
the halls with him wondering how they could fill the empty
classrooms. They made one classroom into a Faculty Room,
another into a Finance Office, and when Vinny finished his
second tenure as principal, Roselle Catholic boasted its
highest student enrollment. And in his last year Vinny had to
make a Faculty Room back into a classroom in order to
accommodate the number of students.
Champagnat was a builder; he had a deep devotion to Jesus and
Mary and was confident that his work would succeed because he
was convinced that it was their work…
date was November 24, 1982. As Vinny drove down the hill by
the Brothers House into the RC parking lot he was met by the
sight of a complete company of fire engine. The Fire Chief
approached him. “Are you Brother Vincent? Please come with
me.” And as he walked down the hallways everything he saw was
melted; the damage was universal; the smell all encompassing;
nevertheless, Vinny’s worst fear was calmed: no one had been
in the building, so no one was hurt.
might think this would be a terrible memory for any
principal…but it was not so for Vinny….Anyone who has ever
heard him tell the story can tell you of the swelling pride in
his voice when he spoke about the community of people who
banded together to meet the challenge before them…
was hauled out, large exhaust fans ran around the clock, and
one week later school was back in session. And no one would
have even known that there had been a fire.
course, there are those who claim that Vinny acted so quickly
because he didn’t want to use up all his snow days!)
Marcellin Champagnat was a man of vision and an excellent
administrator. To say that Vincent was a superb
administrator is nothing less than an understatement. He has
served among us as principal, Director of Education and
philosophy on school administration was very simple: people
are more important than buildings. Employ capable people, and
support them as they do their jobs, and always remember that
we are here for the students.
Vinny’s philosophy of education rested solidly on these words
of our Founder. “Those confided to you have been created in
the image of God. What respect we should have therefore, for
the students we teach. They are none other than the dwelling
place of our God and Creator.”
Vincent’s sense of vision was not, however, limited to school
administration. When we celebrated our Marist Centenary in
1986, Vinny and his life-long friend, Roy Mooney, provided an
experience which I dare say every brother in the United States
can vividly remember more than twenty years later. Their
approach was simple: provide opportunities to let the brothers
be with each other and enjoy each other, and together they
helped, I believe, without even knowing it, to forge a spirit
of pride in who we are and lay a foundation for the subsequent
merging of the two provinces.
matter how we chose to interpret past events, I am sure
everyone would agree that Vinny loved to throw a party: the
bigger, the better.
Champagnat was a “take charge” kind of person. He was able to
size up a situation and act upon it, regardless of what others
Centennial liturgy in St. Patrick’s Cathedral Vincent took
charge. School representatives and the Brothers of both
provinces were made to line up outside on the sidewalk.
Vincent saw the procession of concelebrants leave the
vestibule and begin to walk down the side aisle. The Cardinal,
he was told, wanted to start on time. As the Cardinal
Archbishop approached the main aisle, Vincent halted the
rector, who stood stunned and mystified, providing just enough
time for Mike Brady to come huffing and puffing through the
front doors leading the procession of Marist schools. In a
booming voice Michael halted the procession “Stop! We
will proceed with dignity.” The Cardinal Archbishop had to
wait as schools from around the US proudly carried their
school banners down the Cathedral’s main aisle, followed by
all the Brothers, the Provincials, the Centenary Committee and
last, but not least, Vincent and Roy.
Champagnat was persistent; he toiled selflessly to get the
approval for his congregation, and he was relentless in his
efforts when he wanted something.
not think I need to expound on this similarity. On a good day
Vincent was “persistent,” on other days one might simply say
he was “stubborn.” Just yesterday his brother, Vincent,
recalled that one his all time favorite songs was Frank
Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way.”
Champagnat had a deep sensitivity towards the poor. His
institute of brothers was founded to serve the children and
families whose poverty would not allow them to attend the
schools of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, and he wanted
his brothers to serve them in what ever way they could.
Renowned for his love of restaurants, you might be wondering
what I will say next, but I can draw a parallel.
1978 Vinny left Roselle Catholic to start a Marist Brothers
presence at Queen of Angels in Newark. While he quickly
realized that he was not an elementary school educator, his
dedication to the people of Queen of Angels and his support of
our Marist work among the African American community is
noteworthy. Vinny holds the distinction of living in our
Newark community for 17 years – longer than any other American
Champagnat deeply valued a sense of Family Spirit. The first
thing he did after moving in with the brothers was to craft a
table around which they would gather.
know how deeply Vinny loved Maplewood. For the last 17 years
his life centered around making it a “home” for those of us
who lived with him and those who visited. He enjoyed cooking
and sitting by the fire. He insisted on celebrating
birthdays, anniversaries and jubilees. He loved Christmas and
his Christmas village.
Marcellin Champagnat was a man of passion and compassion.
ways hidden and unknown to most, Vinny has deeply cared for
the myriad of people that made up the tapestry of his life
whether they be Brothers, colleagues, family members or
friends. Like our Good Mother Mary, he brought the Gospel to
life among us and gave us an opportunity to do the same.
all, Marcellin loved the brothers. And in his final days, one
of Vinny’s last decisions was to spend the rest of his days
“among the brothers.”
Marist Brothers, and Father Champagnat taught us that our sick
brothers are a blessing not a burden. Raoul and I have
witnessed no greater example of how Marist Brothers do this
than walking with Vinny these last few months. We have seen
our provincial, a man Vinny faced with in a run-off election
for the office, hold a glass of juice to his parched lips in
“servant leadership.” The administration, staff and brothers
of Champagnat Hall at Mt St Michael opened their arms to him
and cared for him from the very moment he arrived in their
midst. And neither Raoul nor I will ever forget the memory
that on the day we brought Vinny to the Mount, his good friend
Robert James was sitting on a bench outside waiting for him.
Vinny’s room above his bed hangs a remembrance of his 30 day
retreat experience. It is a single verse from Isaiah which
spoke volumes to his heart and speaks volumes to each of us
says the Lord, who created you and formed you, Vincent.
not, I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You