At exactly two minutes after 8 on a Thursday morning, more than 80 young men crammed into the art room at Christian Brothers College High School. This has become the new gathering space for Brothers in Prayer, having previously outgrown another classroom on campus.
It was standing-room only as the guys ate donuts and listened to a few announcements. Then students Luke Hammett and Manny Hamer led a short talk on how to rely on faith in moments of going through the motions in life. Students discussed among themselves afterward, and the meeting came to a close as they shared their prayer intentions for the week.
Hammett, a senior and part of the group’s leadership team, gave fist bumps and thanked students for coming as they departed for class. It’s that kind of personal touch from him and other student leaders that has contributed to the group’s growth in the past several years. In the past year, Brothers in Prayer increased its attendance from an average of 30-50 students, now topping more than 80 guys, roughly about 10 percent of CBC’s student population.
Founded 20 years ago with one student and campus minister/religion teacher Ed Hamer — Manny’s father — the student-run prayer group is a way for students to “lead each other closer to Christ, grow in faith and support each other through the ups and downs of everyday life,” according to Hammett.
Their start time of 8:02 is intentional, a reference to the Gospel of John (8:2), in which the people came to the temple early in the morning, and gathered around Jesus as He taught them.
In the past several years, Brothers in Prayer has expanded beyond morning gatherings. A regular group attends the monthly Encounter evening of praise and worship, prayer and adoration at Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield. Last year, students organized a fall retreat, and now those are offered every spring and fall. They’ve also invited youth ministers, seminarians and CBC alumni as guest speakers. In October, students prayed the Rosary together on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, which has since continued as a weekly prayer group called “Mondays with Mary.” Another student just initiated a group called “Lectio Fridays” as a way for students to deeper examine the Sunday Scriptures.
“All of this is student-driven,” said chaplain Father DePorres Durham, OP. “It’s theirs, they own it. They get to school 40 minutes early — they make a deliberate decision every Thursday morning to get here early for this group. That to me is very inspiring. Of course, the donuts help.”
Sophomore Manny Hamer shared in his talk how he had been going through the motions with his faith. He attended Catholic school and went to Mass regularly, but it was the invitation from a friend — Hammett — to attend a teen ACTS retreat the summer before his freshman year that helped reinvigorate his relationship with Christ.
“Before that, I believed in God, but I really didn’t know what that meant,” said Hamer. After getting involved in Brothers in Prayer, he started paying more attention in Mass and began praying more. After a second retreat, Hamer began praying outside of Mass and other religious activities.
“These past few months, I’m growing closer to Jesus and growing closer to these brothers,” he said.
His father Ed Hamer, the group’s faculty moderator, said he’s witnessed how the growth of Brothers in Prayer has contributed to better participation in other retreats and faith-related activities sponsored by the school. “They come and speak at other retreats,” he said. “It’s really made those things better, because now you have people who have a regular prayer life, and can speak better about it and their real experience of God.”
Hammett was a freshman when Hamer, his religion teacher, invited him to lead one of the meetings. “I was shocked,” he said. “I hadn’t even been at school that long, let alone any Brothers in Prayer meetings. The rest was history. I still remember the morning I led the first time.”
In the past several years, he and others have worked to grow the group. “I’d go around, anybody I’d see in the hallway, it was, ‘Hey come here real quick.’ I had a whole sales pitch.” He also credited the current sophomore class as being very active in the group. “They really built up our number of guys,” Hammett said.
Senior Matt Lewis agreed it’s been the personal invitation — modeled just in the way that Jesus invited others to follow Him — that has led to newfound popularity of Brothers in Prayer.
“We try to create a welcoming environment,” he said. “We do promotions here and there, but that only does so much. What we try to harp on is that personal invitation. If someone wants you to come to this event, that means something. When they have that it makes them feel welcome, feel valued.”