“My mom would tell you that, from a very early age, I was fascinated with everything church,” Brother Michael shares. “But religious life did not cross my mind until my mid-30s, when I was asked one evening, ‘Why the heck aren’t you a friar?’”
While faith was always important for Franciscan friar Michael Perras, OFM, the road to discovering his vocation as a religious brother was neither straightforward nor short. However, long before he had even heard of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, God was preparing him to answer the call.
Brother Michael grew up in Glenavon, a small farming community southeast of Regina, with his mom, dad, and three younger siblings. His parents owned and operated a grocery store, and it was in this environment that God began to form the future friar.
“Early on, we came to appreciate the gifts of service, hospitality, community, and hard work,” Brother Michael explains. “These are core to who I am today.”
His family’s Catholic faith was a key part of his life.
“I loved being involved in the life of our parish. The older I got, the more involved I became.”
Because of his engagement in and love for parish life, Brother Michael seemed like an ideal candidate for the priesthood. It took time and experience for him to realize that this was not what God had planned for him.
“I considered priesthood as a child and in my mid-teens. I even went on a Come-and-See weekend (a live-in experience for men who are discerning a call to the priesthood), but something didn’t feel right about it. I think it was others trying to convince me that I was right for the job, but for me, something wasn’t clicking, and it remained that way.”
Even after ruling out the possibility of the priesthood, Brother Michael felt called to a life of ministry. He began working as a pastoral assistant at Resurrection parish, a large urban parish in Regina.
“My day-to-day demands were life-giving and challenging, and called me to pour myself out,” he says. “I loved it.”
However, Brother Michael sensed a call to something more.
“The challenge was to be quiet enough to listen to the Lord. I am naturally a ‘Martha’ (a very active, busy person) and love every minute of that, so it was in the doing that I began to feel there was more. My doing and ministry was calling to my ‘Mary’ (prayerful and contemplative) side to go deeper in prayer, live a simpler life, listen more intently, and build relationships.”
It was during Lent 2012 that a friar came to Resurrection church on a parish mission. And in the midst of Brother Michael’s growing self-awareness, came the question that changed everything.
“Why the heck aren’t you a friar? That question and the fact that maybe, for the first time in my life, I did not have an answer was when the sense that God might be calling me to religious life began,” he remembers.
“It was in that stunned silence that the still small voice of God was heard in my heart and mind, and so the journey began. It was a bit of roller coaster, really, when I began to go deeper and consider life as a religious brother.”
Before meeting the Franciscan friars, Brother Michael wasn’t even aware that being a religious brother was an option. When he finally discovered the vocation, it was a perfect fit.
“The fraternal aspect of the Franciscans was something that had been fostered in my large extended family, and within the small community in which I was raised,” he explains. “You look out for another and help one another — that is what it means to be a brother.”
In addition, Brother Michael realized how much Franciscan spirituality resonated with him.
“I was drawn to St. Francis of Assisi because I could see myself in him. Even more so I was drawn to the fact that Francis always desired Christ, so as much as I was being drawn to Francis, he was ultimately drawing me deeper into Christ and his love for me.”
St. Francis of Assisi founded the Order of Friars Minor, a religious community of mendicant priests and brothers, in Italy in 1209. The Franciscans were one of the first orders of mendicants, friars who are itinerant priests and brothers willing to go wherever their service is needed.
Franciscan spirituality emphasizes poverty, both material and spiritual, as well as love for God in creation and in the Eucharist. St. Francis’ kindred spirit, St. Clare of Assisi, founded a complementary community for women, commonly known as the Poor Clares.
By entering the Franciscans, Brother Michael has entered into an incredibly rich tradition that stretches back 800 years. After receiving formation in the postulancy (one year) and novitiate (another year), he professed his first vows in 2015.
Today, Brother Michael is a temporarily-professed friar, and is preparing to profess his solemn vows this summer. He lives with eight other friars (brothers and priests) at St. Francis Friary in Edmonton.
When I ask what a typical day is like in his community, Brother Michael replies, “There is no typical day for a friar!”
Much is dependent on an individual friar’s particular ministry, but some of the daily routine is consistent. Morning and Evening Prayer, daily meals together, and community recreation several times a week are important to the friars’ prayerful and fraternal way of life. Spending time in personal prayer each day is also a priority.
The priests and brothers serve in a variety of ministries, including teaching, vocations, and administration. Brother Michael works in retreat ministry and as a spiritual assistant for secular Franciscans. He also volunteers at Edmonton’s St. Teresa of Calcutta School in the literacy program, and helps with daily household tasks at the friary.
Brother Michael says that entering religious life has deepened the intimacy of his personal relationship with Christ.
“My relationship with Jesus is rich, deep, and leaves me in awe,” he says. “It has grown in so many ways, from the way I pray to the way I serve him in others. It has grown because of an openness and awareness of my value as a child of God, and that through my brokenness and the cracks in my life, God pours love in and calls me to life.
“In knowing and believing this I was able to hear the invitation to trust in Christ and live the Gospel in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.”
– Rose Derksen is a pastoral assistant at the parishes of St. Alphonsus and St. Clare in Edmonton.