One of the unfortunate yet inherent realities of religious brotherhood is that most of the tremendous good works brothers perform on a daily basis remain unseen by the community at large, and fail to garner the recognition they truly deserve. Thankfully, however, there are special occasions like the Annual Religious Brothers Mass and Dinner on March 19.
Religious brothers from all over the Archdiocese of Los Angeles gathered at the St. John of God Care Center in Los Angeles to honor a fellow brother for performing exemplary service that helps improve his community. This year’s very worthy honoree was Brother John Montgomery, a member of the De La Salle order who has served as principal of Cathedral High School for the past 20 years.
As expressed in the laudatory opening remarks of fellow Cathedral faculty member Brother James Meegan (who was likewise assigned to Cathedral in 1997) during the dinner following Mass, Brother Montgomery is the campus’ consummate Jack-of-all-trades, whose efforts are marked by “dedication and vigor.” He’s a perpetual presence in all aspects of student life at Cathedral, where, thanks to his ambition to honor the De La Salle vow of serving the poor through education, student enrollment has doubled during his tenure, and Cathedral leads archdiocesan high schools in enrollment of low income students by percentage.
But, as you’d expect from a religious brother, Brother Montgomery approaches tasks that he knows will likely remain unnoticed with equal enthusiasm, arriving in his office every morning several hours before the custodian’s keys have even touched the locks at 4 a.m., teaching students in his history class and even gardening throughout the campus on Sundays.
During Brother Montgomery’s speech on March 19, he explained that no one was more surprised than him when, in 1997, at 32 years of age and mere months after being approved to pursue his doctorate, he received the phone call assigning him to Cathedral for two years. But as two years have ballooned into 20 and Cathedral’s population of low-income students has blossomed with every passing year, Brother Montgomery proudly proclaims that he’s never been happier.
“My mission is aligned with my vows,” he explained. “In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the brothers of my order take a vow of service to the poor through education. At Cathedral High School, I’m very proud we’ve been able to enroll as many low income students as possible. What we say matches what we vow.”
Much of Brother Montgomery’s extraordinary drive is fueled by his genuine love for the youths of the world and his awareness that a Catholic school education has the capacity to play a pivotal role in a young person’s life. “The thing that drives me is the students that we serve,” he stated. “That’s what makes life meaningful: seeing young people grow up, mature and grow in their faith and be successful in life, not just financially, but, most importantly, in God’s eyes.
“When you receive a Catholic education, you’re exposed to the values that sustain you as an adult throughout your married life, which most people choose, and then you can transmit that faith to your children,” he continued. “To be part of a system that educates the current faith and then passes it on to future generations is the reward. Because without that transmission of faith, our Church will die.”
And just as Brother Montgomery recognizes the significance of students receiving a Catholic school education, he likewise understands the importance of that education being a well-rounded one, as evidenced by his successful efforts to bring an $18 million fine arts building to Cathedral High. He jokes that the brand new building, located on Cathedral’s campus at the corner of Bishops Road and North Broadway Avenue, will give students the chance to “perform on Broadway.” “The arts are very important, but are often lacking on campuses, and we have some very talented students,” he assessed. “We want them to develop a full understanding of theater, drama, art, band, and even television production.”
Brother Montgomery knows that, outside of his tightknit community of religious brothers who gathered to honor him, people may never hear about his efforts to make improvements to student life, such as the new fine arts building, and almost certainly will never see him pruning the hedges outside the theater on Sundays to come. But he also knows that recognition isn’t the point.
“Our service doesn’t generate much acknowledgement, and that suits most of us just fine,” he said to his fellow brothers. “We know that the person who really matters is the person who is marginalized, and that the most important thing is making Christ visible to the marginalized. We can’t give what we don’t have, so we have to be people of faith. If the Holy Spirit enlivens our work, and we feel like we’re guided by the principles that Christ wants, then we’re doing the right thing.”