Stories of persecution suffered by religious led Marist brother to vocation

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Tyler Orsburn

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CNS) — It was
the stories of how his teachers, Mexican-born religious brothers, had suffered
persecution that steered Marist Brother Paul Phillipp of south Texas, now 92,
to his religious vocation.

Reared on a farm
some 25 miles west of Brownsville, young Paul’s parents valued a Catholic
education. So to get him and his siblings to the all-boy and all-girl schools just
north of the U.S.-Mexico border, they bought a brand new 1937 Ford sedan.

It was there at “St.
Joe” that the then-sophomore met English teacher Brother Paul Aleman of
Mexico. Brother Paul said Brother Aleman crossed the Rio Grande in 1906 with
other Mexican religious teachers and brought stories of Catholic persecution
and blood-drenched altars.

inspired me,” he recalled in an interview with Catholic News Service at the
school, now called St. Joseph Academy and coeducational since 1971. “The
persecutions and all these brothers had left their homes (for safety) and came
here to Brownsville to learn English.”

Two years later in
1939, during his senior year, Paul accepted the teachers’ invitation to walk in
their footsteps.

Brother Paul said that
although his parents believed in advancing his post-secondary Catholic
education, they didn’t want him studying overseas. By taking courses in Mexico
he might be subjected to religious harassment. And in Spain, where many Mexican
religious studied, he could die in their waning civil war.

With their prayers answered, the farm boy from La Feria never
had to hit the books outside the United States. Instead the Marist brothers in
what was the order’s Mexican province made arrangements for the future
religious brother to study about three hours north of New York City in

After spending two years securing a teaching certificate along
the Hudson River, the Marist order assigned the young Texan to a school in

Brother Paul said for the next three summers he studied to earn his
bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and a master’s
degree from Our Lady of the Lake University in the same city.

In 1946, he was reassigned to St. Joe to switch with another teacher
who was sick and needed to relocate to a dryer climate. It was during this time
the young Marist brother said he learned the art of maintaining school
buildings and football fields.

And just as the gridiron turf took root in 1962, Brother Paul
was shipped to Pace, Florida, for four years to attend to Cuban exiles who fled
their homeland during the Cuban Missile Crisis and to help organize a new
school there.

From there, he went to Augusta, Georgia, for 18 years and refined
his green-jacket golf swing, and evolving teacher, vice principal and principal

In 1984, the Marist journeyman returned to St. Joe and the Lone
Star state for good and taught seventh-graders, along with typing, business and
physics classes. He even found time to design and polish a then nonexistent
baseball diamond.

In 2006, when he was 82, Brother Paul said it was suggested he
retire. As a tribute to his long career and commitment to Catholic education,
he was awarded a six-month applied-theology sabbatical at the University of
California at Berkeley.

Even then, he wasn’t done.

Upon returning from the gold-rush state, he said St. Joe offered
him the maintenance director position, which he held until 2011.

To get a sense of just how long Brother Paul has been influencing
young Catholic minds, just take a look at gasoline prices during the times of
his many moves:

— 1940, Poughkeepsie, 18 cents per gallon

— 1942, Laredo, 20 cents.

— 1946, Brownsville, 21 cents.

— 1962, Pace, 31 cents.

— 1966, Augusta, 32 cents.

— 1984, Brownsville — $1.13.

— 2006, retirement, $2.59.

“It was a quieter type of life,” he said reflecting on
decades past. “I think there was more home life (for students) back at
that time.”

And hobbies such as building crystal radios from a Popular
Science magazine may have been less distracting, too.

“With all the (new) electronics and so on,” he said
describing students with smartphones, “they’re so engrossed in finger
work. They have their thumbs so active. They’re not looking anywhere, and
everybody has to have one.”

Now the Marist brother volunteers for cafeteria duty and
distributes incoming mail to the various departments. “Helping a little
bit around the school, that’s my life now,” he said with a chuckle.

Keeping students, teachers and principals happy has always been
his life.

“When something went a little wrong (like) change light
bulbs, or when we got into air conditioning, keep those things going, and
getting up on the roof fixing air conditioners. … I think that’s what wore
out my knees climbing up and down. Now I’m paying part of the price, but that’s

– – –

Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article