The Valley Catholic
The congregation at the Mass for World Day for Consecrated Life erupted with a loud chorus of, “wows” when it was announced Brother Patrick D. McCormack of the Congregation of Christian Brothers was celebrating 75 years of religious life.
The congregation jumped to its feet and applauded as a spritely Brother McCormack, 92, walked up to the altar of the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine to accept a crucifix and congratulations from Bishop Daniel E. Flores and Auxiliary Bishop-elect Mario A. Aviles at the Feb. 4 Mass.
Brother McCormack said he was humbled by the reaction of the people and admitted he too is in disbelief that it has been 75 years since he, at just 17-years-old, hopped a train from his hometown of Butte, Montana to West Park, New York to join the Congregation of Christian Brothers, whose charism is the Christian education of youth.
“I’m still amazed that I have this vocation and that God has blessed me so richly,” he said.
Brother McCormack said it was God and the witness of the Christian Brothers, who operated the high school he attended, that fostered his vocation.
“I was really impressed by the brothers and liked being around them,” he said. “They positively impacted generations of students in my hometown
“We often have former students tell us that the brothers made a big difference in their lives, not only in Butte but in all the places we serve.”
Brother McCormack’s parents, who were both Irish immigrants, met on a blind date arranged by a mutual Irish friend. They married and had six children.
He was a freshman in high school when his father died from a work-related illness borne out of years working in the copper mines. Brother McCormack and his siblings banded together to help their mother with expenses and household duties.
Though he left home at 17, he has remained close to this family. His nieces and nephews are planning a celebration for his 75th anniversary in Montana, which will be held in June. Brother McCormack dedicated his ministry as a religious brother to Catholic school education. He served in high schools in Vancouver, Canada; Illinois, Montana, Hawai’i and Washington state. He taught English, religion, typing and business classes and later served as a school principal. He was also an advisor for many extracurricular activities, including band and the school newspaper.
Today, Brother McCormack lives in community with Brother Arthur Williams, a teacher at Guadalupe Regional Middle School in Brownsville and Brother Ross Wielatz, a counselor at Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley at the old rectory of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Brownsville.
Though Brother McCormack is retired, he volunteers at Guadalupe Regional Middle School on occasion, especially on Mass days and is well known and beloved by the students, said Lupita Alvarado, principal of the school. He also enjoys cheering on the various sports teams at athletic events.
“He is full of energy and has such a positive attitude,” she said. “He’s an inspiration to us all.”
Brother Wielatz credits Brother McCormack’s longevity to Adoration and staying active. Brother McCormack spends two hours at the gym and at least one hour before the Blessed Sacrament every day.
“He is very faithful to the spirit of the vow and the spirit of community life and prayers,” said Brother Wielatz, who was a student at Leo Catholic High School in Chicago when he first encountered Brother McCormack, a teacher there at the time. “He is upbeat and cheerful and a joy to be with. His prayer life and positive attitude have no doubt contributed to his good health.”
Brother McCormack said serving in Catholic schools has been a true blessing in his life.
“The faith changes the whole atmosphere of a school,” he said. “At Catholic school, we begin each day with prayer over the PA system. We pray before the game and after the game and the fans pray with us. The faith is part of everything we do.
“It’s a wonderful life.”