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New column: Holy Cross Brother Jesus Alonso

November 22, 2009

This guy has a great story. He grew up the sixth of seven children, all of whom traveled every years to Washington State and worked with their parents in the fields and in the canneries. He went to St. Edward’s University on a scholarship and felt drawn to the philosophy and practice of Holy Cross brothers.

Here’s the link to the column and the full text because we all know these Statesman links don’t last forever:

When poverty’s a sacrifice to embrace, not endure

By Eileen Flynn

Saturday, November 21, 2009

When Jesus Alonso was a boy, he spent months on his knees picking strawberries alongside his parents and six siblings in the fields of Northwest Washington. He knew he would never see the money he was earning. As migrant farm workers, the Alonsos shared everything, and everyone contributed.

“When you come from a poor background, you understand what it means to sacrifice for each other,” Alonso said.

Last month, I watched Alonso promise to make those sacrifices again, this time as a brother in a new family: Congregation of Holy Cross , a religious order that serves poor people and emphasizes education.

On Oct. 25, in a crowded chapel at of St. Edward’s University, Alonso made his final profession of vows as a Holy Cross brother. (A brother is different from a priest in that he doesn’t offer sacraments.)

The vows of this religious order include poverty, chastity and obedience.

Any one of those could give a person pause, especially when the word “forever” is attached.

The Rev. Richard Wilkinson, the priest celebrating the Mass, talked about the loneliness of the celibate. Obedience — following the direction of religious superiors— can also challenge a brother or priest. And poverty means sharing resources and never attaining private wealth.

Wilkinson said these vows provide “the freedom to risk letting go, to stop grasping and be open to serving the world, especially the most needy.”

But I kept wondering how Alonso saw the vow of poverty.

Here was a man who grew up poor in a family of migrant workers in Brownsville. Every spring, his parents, Mexican immigrants who spoke no English, would load up the seven children in a Suburban and drive for three days to Washington to harvest strawberries and blueberries and work in the canneries. They would return to Texas in the fall.

Alonso broke out of that cycle by studying and going to college. He attended St. Edward’s with the help of the university’s College Assistance Migrant Program and earned a degree in computer science. He’s pursuing a doctorate in microbiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

And yet here he was, at age 30, willing to embrace poverty.

He explained to me that growing up in a migrant worker family had taught him a sense of “communal unselfishness.” It’s the same idea in a community of Holy Cross brothers.

After spending several years discerning his call to religious life, Alonso, who lives in a Holy Cross house in San Antonio, said he makes the sacrifice happily.

He first encountered Holy Cross brothers and priests while a student St. Edward’s, which was founded by the religious order. At the time, Alonso wasn’t a practicing Catholic. He stopped going to Mass as a teenager when his parents made church attendance optional.

But he was impressed by the brothers’ spirituality and knowledge. He lived with the them at Moreau House, a campus community of brothers and male students considering religious life. Eventually, Alonso felt a call to become a brother himself.

He had to give up some things — having a girlfriend, for one — but he said life in a religious order is more fulfilling than people might think.

And in many ways, his years with his family in the strawberry fields prepared him for the discipline of religious life.

“My understanding of poverty (is) whatever gifts or whatever talents you may have, you share it with the group,” he said.

The spirituality he has gained, he said, helped him to see how he can share his gifts on a larger stage.

As brother Donald Blauvelt, provincial superior of the southwest province of Holy Cross, confirmed Alonso at last month’s ceremony, he told him, “We, all of us, whether we’re priests or sisters or brothers in Holy Cross … believe that we can change the world.”


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