“During this retreat, I’m spending time in reflection, to prepare for renewing my vows. I am being guided in going back to the Constitution, to the roots, and considering my vocation in that light. Is the desire to be a Salesian still there? Is my missionary vocation rooted in this Province? My spiritual director helps by talking with me and guiding me to scripture to study and reflect on, and other reading that will help, and we meet each day to talk through how this has affected my thoughts and feelings about my vocation.”
Like many other members of religious congregations, the vocation Br Martin was reflecting on before renewing his vows is ‘multi-layered’: a call to be a Salesian; a call to the priesthood; and a call to serve God as a missionary in a new country.
I was surprised that during a retreat where he is considering such important matters, Br Martin was so chilled-out, and that he had the freedom and time to chat to me at all. In my experience, from a different branch of Catholic spirituality, retreats are silent - and pretty heavy stuff! Br Martin was amused by this: “Don Bosco said ‘A sad saint is a sorry saint’, so we are happy on retreat. It inspires others when they see how happy you arel!”
We talked about his experience on the retreat team at Savio House, and the impact it has had on how he sees his vocation. “For me, it has been an eye-opener. It’s a very encouraging experience – I’ve never known so many lay people in a community. It’s both challenged and strengthened my vocation. Living with young people and getting to know them more closely – I have so many brothers and sisters now!”
Br Martin has learned to adapt quickly to aspects of British society that are quite different from those in his own country. “At first, when I was talking to young people, I’d ask about their family, who lives in their house with them. In my culture, separation and divorce are rare, but here there are all kinds of different families, and children don’t always have the role models in their families that I was used to.
“There is a ‘temporariness’ in British society that surprised me, where at home, we try to make things last. Even a pair of shoes, I would choose them to last for years, but here, people buy things expecting to throw them away soon “
So, what about the impact of SDBs and their vocations on the young adults who are part of the Savio House community? Br Martin pointed out that spending a gap year – in some cases more – as a volunteer on the retreat team is not just about working with the young people who come on retreat: “We create an opportunity for the young adult volunteers to share our community life, to see our prayer life, and to join us in prayer.
We are all conscious that fewer young people are entering religious life now. Does he think projects like the shared SDB and lay community at Savio House can influence this situation?
“People who have been part of the community do want to come back to the Salesians, and they are staying in contact. They are touched by the Salesian spirit.
“A gap year somewhere like Savio House is a step into exploring your Christian life. God’s call to the priesthood or to religious life can take some time, but this kind of experience is getting vocations, not necessarily priests, but in other ways. The volunteers have the chance to explore many vocations. Am I called to be a youth worker, or a teacher? Am I called to have my own family? It’s God’s work – any vocation!”
Br Martin has applied to study for a BA in Theology at St Mary’s University, and is waiting to hear if he has a place. “God willing, I will study there for 3 years, and I’ll be based in the Salesian community at Battersea.”
Please keep him, and all our brothers in formation, in your prayers.
Br Martin in the chapel at Savio House
with Fr Kieran Anderson (Missions Director), Fr Gerry Briody (Provincial) and Fr Roman Szczypa (vice Rector Savio Houuse)
Photo: Jonny Dearden