Brother John McGowan is 45 years a member of Little Brothers of the Gospel, a Roman Catholic order, founded in 1956 and inspired by the life and writings of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, whose pending canonization Pope Francis approved in May.
One of only two Americans in the order, Brother John had been living in fraternity with his brothers in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, for nine years when health concerns required him to move back to the United States in 2017. He currently lives alone in Everett, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, where he was scheduled to undergo his third open-heart surgery in July.
Despite heart troubles, Brother John had been active in Everett, volunteering at a senior day center and developing an English-language tutoring program for first-generation American high school students, until last year, when COVID-19 hit.
At about the same time, Brother John discovered the Lumen Christi Institute — he doesn’t remember how — and began attending webinars during the lockdown. He was impressed by the way the institute addressed matters of faith with great respect for difference and diversity, reflected in its programming, but also in the mix of men, women, clergy and laypeople among its speakers and the varied perspectives they presented.
Welcoming the other in their difference is part of the charism of the Little Brothers of the Gospel, who take on menial jobs and live among the poor and marginalized, witnessing to the Gospel through what Brother John calls “a Nazareth life” — community, simplicity, hospitality and friendship.
In his religious vocation, Brother John has lived in Canada, Algeria, Lebanon, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico and New York. In these various places, he labored in sweatshops, studied Arabic and theology, dined with monsignors and assisted AIDS and Alzheimer’s patients. While everywhere he experienced “wonder at the difference,” he approached everyone based on a fundamental truth of the human person, he said.
“At the basic level, at the level of friendship, we’re all the same. We are all beloved of God, and we try to meet others at that level,” he said, explaining his order’s apostolate of friendship. “The Lumen Christi lectures keep me within that tradition,” he added.
Brother John also expressed appreciation for Lumen Christi’s non-dogmatic approach and how it encourages people to think about the faith, engage in the intellectual life of the church and “incorporate theology with life.”
“The spirit of learning and knowing at the Lumen Christi Institute is fascinating,” he added.
Brother John said the many webinars he attended offered him a “rereading” of his faith through his “exposure to the differences of our faith and the way it’s lived out.” He offered as an example the Hispanic Theology Series.
“You’re never too old to learn,” said the 70-year-old.
Grateful for Lumen Christi’s mission, Brother John joined the Fidelitas Society, comprised of donors who commit to monthly giving. Living on a meagre fixed income, Brother John has pledged $10 monthly.
“The Lumen Christi Institute has helped me grow,” said Brother John. “And I believe in giving back. I believe in sharing.”