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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette The Brothers, a nine-member band of friars, perform Feb. 24 at the University of Saint Francis’ North Campus. The band played to raise funds for the Franciscan Brother Minor Seminarian tuition.

  • Brother Leo Maria plays the acoustic guitar during last month’s performance downtown.

Monday, March 06, 2017 10:03 pm

God's band of Brothers

Steve Warden | The Journal Gazette

In the introductory moments of a recent benefit concert at the University of Saint Francis’ North Campus auditorium, a bald, bearded, barefoot and brown habit-wearing friar paced the stage with microphone in hand.

"People are like, ‘All right, what are these monks doing?’ began Brother Jeremiah Maria of Columbus, Ohio, who served as the evening’s master of ceremonies. " ‘What’s with the bare feet? And I don’t know if I want to stay for this.’ "

But people did stay. Nearly 200 of them. They stayed and they sang and they danced and they swayed to the original Christian music of Brothers, a nine-member group of friars who performed to benefit the Franciscan Brother Minor Seminarian tuition.

For two hours, including a brief intermission, Brothers performed 16 songs of faith, nearly all of which were taken from Scripture.

"We use prayer," says guitarist and ukulele player Brother Leo Maria of the Saint Lawrence Friary, 1103 S. Calhoun St. "It started with a prayer book. We didn’t want to put our own words in it; we wanted to use God’s words."

The band began nearly two years ago. As Leo Maria played his guitar, he was joined by Brother Gesinto, whose background was as a professional percussionist.

"So Brother Mariano (Maria) heard us, and he was coming up with some melodies – coming up with some great tunes – and would submit them to us," says Leo Maria. "It was one song, and then another, then another and another. We kind of took off from there. It was something we did on the side."

The friars live the original Rule of St. Francis of Assisi and have taken a vow of poverty. They pray seven hours daily with two hours of silence. It was during their rare moments of recreation when others sat in to sing with Leo Maria or play their own instruments.

"It was like, ‘Hey, this guy’s got a good reggae voice. We can do some reggae,’ " says Leo Maria. "Or, ‘This guy can do really good rock songs. We’ll do rock.’ We just kinda picked guys."

And from the brothers begat the band Brothers, whose occasional concert appearances are for the sole purpose of a freewill offering to help raise tuition money for Franciscan brothers who hope to become Catholic priests.

"Part of our way of life is we take a vow of poverty, and Saint Francis wanted to avoid all money," says Mariano Maria, a 2011 graduate of Bishop Dwenger High School. "The only problem is in order to become a priest, it costs a lot of money."

What money was raised at the concert, and matched up to $750 by the National Catholic Society of Foresters, goes directly to a Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese fund that provides scholarship money to the friaries where brothers hoping to become priests live. The diocese has five seminaries: two in Fort Wayne, one in Decatur, one in Mishawaka and another in Huntington.

"We’re completely detached from it," Mariano Maria says of the scholarship fund. "If something happens, and the diocese needed the money, they could take it all.

"But we’re fundraising for our seminarians, trusting that God will provide and we’ll eventually be able to have the diocese wire the money to whatever seminary that the seminarian goes to."

While certainly its songs and messages were pious in content, Brothers offered several moments of laughter with jokes and stage presence.

"According to the world, we should be miserable, ya know," Jeremiah Maria said. "Look at us. Look at us! Bald head. No money. No wife. No immediately family. But we’re joyful."

The joy was evident when four youngsters were brought on stage. "How’d you get past security?" someone from the band yelled.

One of the kids was asked if she could be any animal, what animal would it be? After a long, shy pause, Jeremiah Maria took her off the hook: "A pterodactyl!"

"I didn’t say that!" the tiny girl shouted back. Later, she said she’d like to be a baby penguin.

And if there was a show-stopping number, it was the "King of Kings/It is Good" medley that had several friars linked hand-and-hand as they performed a traditional Jewish dance across the stage.

"The world has taken the word ‘fraternity’ and taken it in a completely wrong direction," Mariano Maria said offstage. "We live a life of fraternity. Jesus lived in community with the apostles. All good things come from God. And when you have the joy of Christ in your heart, it’s infectious and it spreads."