The Alexian Brothers have concluded their active ministry in the Archdiocese of St. Louis after more than 150 years of service.
The last three brothers living in St. Louis departed in October for ministry in Signal Mountain, Tennessee. They included local community superior Brother Steve Fogt, Brother Jeffrey Callander and Brother Tom Keusenkothen. A fourth, Brother Warren Longo, departed in August for ministry in Milwaukee.
“It was an extremely difficult decision to make,” said Brother Daniel McCormick, CFA, provincial of the brothers’ Immaculate Conception Province, based in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. “We are certainly cognizant of over 150 years of service to the people of St. Louis. There’s been a profound sense of tradition to the archdiocese, and we’ve taken it very seriously.”
Several factors were included in the decision, including the age of of the brothers in St. Louis (three of them were in their 80s), as well as an overall decrease in vocations for Alexian Brothers, which was founded some 800 years ago in Europe as a lay, apostolic community of religious brothers to care for the poor, sick, aging and dying.
The brothers’ residence in St. Louis also was aging and in need of significant repairs, Brother McCormick said. “Our Brother Jeffrey who was there was a fixer and managed to keep the house limping along,” he said. “We were maintaining a residence with 24 bedrooms for just three brothers, and that was becoming problematic.”
The Alexian Brothers’ St. Louis roots date back to 1869, when Brother Bonaventure Thelen arrived from Chicago to help open Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis. The facility had a particular focus on caring for the poor and those with mental illness.
The hospital was later renamed St. Alexius Hospital and is known as the site of the only documented exorcism in the United States. In 1997, the brothers relinquished its sponsorship to a private health care system. The hospital has been under several owners since that time, and in early 2021 was renamed South City Hospital.
The brothers also have had a significant ministry here to low-income seniors over the years, including two nursing homes, Lansdowne Village and Sherbrooke Village in St. Louis, which are now under new owners; the PACE Program for adult day care and in-home services; and Alexian Court senior apartments. The Alexian Brothers were involved in homeless outreach in St. Louis and raised funds for their ministries in the Philippines.
The Congregation of Alexian Brothers began in the Middle Ages in Europe. Small groups banded together to carry on Christ’s commands, tending to the sick, feeding the hungry and burying the dead. After caring for so many people during the Black Plague that spread through Europe, the Alexian Brothers took St. Alexius, a fifth-century saint known for his care for the poor and sick, as their patron. The community came from Germany to the United States and started the first of several hospitals in the Chicago area in 1866.
As religious brothers, the Alexians are not ordained, but instead make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The brothers’ charism is described as: “In discipleship with Jesus, our response is reaching out to the poor, sick and dying, especially the marginalized and the powerless. Our charism calls us to conversion and total self-giving in continuing the healing and reconciling mission of Jesus in collaboration with others.” The charism “is the prophetic and daring response of a faith community to the Gospel of Jesus … rooted in prayer and simple life style.”
Brother McCormick said the brothers’ ministry is a countercultural lifestyle. “There is a decrease in the number of men who are willing to accept the challenges of poverty, chastity and obedience,” he said. “We do it for the love of the poorest of God’s children. That’s what motivates us.”
Despite an overall decline in vocations like many other religious communities, the Alexian Brothers have two men scheduled to visit the community as they discern a potential vocation. The brothers also have communities in Davao City, Philippines, and Győrújbarát, Hungary, which continue to grow. Other brothers minister in England, Ireland, Belgium and Germany.
Brother McCormick said these vocations are “opening new ways of ministry. We have to think about the future in a global sense. There’s a lot to do here (in the United States) but we’re also brothers with a tradition worldwide.”