Brother Robert Benedict McDonough’s enthusiasm for the bagpipes finds roots in his Scottish-Irish family. He is a featured performer at family weddings and funerals. Brother traces his vocation as a brother and a teacher to the example and encouragement of the Sisters of Charity at Our Lady Star of the Sea School and the Christian Brothers at Monsignor Farrell High School, both schools on Staten Island, NYC.
He recalls the impact of the times of his youth:
As a fourth grader I was trained to be an altar boy along with my brother. The first week of practice was in Latin but the second week of practice was in English. By grade seven I was the official trainer for altar boys…. The nuns had us very involved in the Viet Nam War. We were writing soldiers and sending gifts. In retrospect, the war years and destruction and death had me think about the real meaning of life. In high school I tutored evening at Mount Loreto Orphanage. In senior year Father Aldo Toss (noted authority in religious education in that era) got me interested and excited about liturgy and I was part of a group which planned and set up for school liturgies. This developed a lifelong love for liturgy.
Br. McDonough’s assignments as a Christian Brother have brought him to Saint Cecilia Grammar School and Saint Lucy School in East Harlem, NYC; Blessed Sacrament High School in New Rochelle, NY; Rice High School in Central Harlem; Archbishop Curley Notre Dame Prep in Miami, FL.; Catholic Memorial High School in West Roxbury, MA; and Saint Patrick’s School in Roxbury, MA. While the ethnic groups varied Anglo, African-American, Puerto Rican, Haitian, Dominican, Cape Verdean, the essential formative goal of “teaching as Jesus taught’ remained the constant.
Along the way he obtained a Masters in remedial reading, competency in Spanish, and proficiency on the bagpipes. A creative and successful teacher, dean, principal and district chairperson, he had assumed that schools were his lifelong niche.
He recalls: In May of 2006, I was asked by the Province Leadership to consider moving to Bonita Springs, FL and our Los Hermanos Community. I had been involved in schools since I was a student in kindergarten. This was a shock for me. I spent some time discerning and agreed to go for a year.
For the next eight years he was intensely engaged with the Mexican and Guatemalan immigrant community of Bonita, running the Juan Diego Pantry, coordinating Christmas and Thanksgiving drives, working with church music groups, and facilitating mission immersion experiences of students from the Edmund Rice Network of schools in North America.
He notes modestly: My involvement with the migrant communities here has blessed me greatly. These are God’s poor struggling to survive. I truly have seen the face of Christ ministering to me in these the least of my sisters and brothers.