In 50 years, Brother Ed has learned to wear many hats
NORTH CHARLESTON—Back in high school, Edward Bergeron was, like every other kid his age, trying to discover his place in the world.
He ended up finding the answer in the lives of the men who taught his classes and led his Catholic high school in Schenectady, New York.
They were members of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, an order founded in 1802 in Waterford, Ireland, by Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice.
“I was very impressed by them, and I wanted to be like them,” he said. “As a young child I had thought about joining the priesthood, but then I saw these men. They were so accessible, I admired how they reached out to us. They were great role models.”
He began formation right after graduation, and 50 years later, “Brother Ed,” as he is known, is celebrating his jubilee year.
He currently serves as parish life facilitator at St. John Church in North Charleston, where he arrived as part of a team of three Christian Brothers who established a new ministry there in 1997.
Since he first professed vows, Brother Ed has spent much of his life in a classroom, teaching everyone from high school students to adults learning about the faith. He also works with the poor. Both charisms are central to his order.
Back in the early 19th century, Blessed Edmund Rice wanted to provide quality education for the poor. He initially established Catholic schools for poor boys in Ireland, which were illegal at the time. As he realized the importance of providing for all the needs of the poor, the Brothers’ work expanded.
The Christian Brothers were working around the world by the end of the 19th century and first came to North America with ministry in Newfoundland in 1876. They arrived in the United States in 1906. Today, they serve on six continents in a wide range of ministries, from education to parishes, missions and serving the homeless.
Brother Ed went through formation in New York and New Jersey, where he also completed a degree in Spanish at Iona College.
After professing final vows, he taught for one semester at Essex Catholic High School in Newark, New Jersey, before being sent on an adventure that would take him far from his roots in the northeast.
The Brothers sent him to Peru, a country where everything was new to him except the Spanish language.
He would spend the next 17 years there, teaching at a high school in Chimbote, leading adult education and parish ministry in the town of Monsefu, and working with other brothers in formation in Lima. His living quarters ranged from rural villages to an all-inclusive Catholic community in Chimbote, which included its own parish church, school, convent and the brothers’ residence.
“It was different, so thoroughly and totally different that I wouldn’t know how to describe it, but I loved it,” he said.
After Peru, he was called back to the U.S. where he spent six years as director of cross-cultural work at a center for mission studies run by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, and then five years as director of lay formation in the Archdiocese of New York.
In 1996, the Christian Brothers were seeking new places to work with the poor. Brother Ed and two others visited dioceses around the Southeast.
When they came to South Carolina, Bishop David B. Thompson suggested a visit to St. John in North Charleston. They saw the potential for ministry there, and the bishop asked the Christian Brothers to stay.
“Eighteen years later, I’m still here,” Brother Ed said.
Brothers Bill Cronin and Tony Quinn, part of the original group, have moved on. Christian Brother Spencer Tafuri currently teaches eighth-grade religion at Christ Our King-Stella Maris School.
Meanwhile, Brother Ed said he doesn’t want to be anywhere else.
“This place is heaven,” he said. “I know I am a northerner and when I first came here it took a while to gain people’s trust, but the people in North Charleston have been wonderful and welcoming to me. They’re very supportive and very engaged with the parish.”
He loves every facet of his work at St. John, he said, and is especially proud of a dedicated group of parish volunteers who “do everything from secretarial work right down to vacuuming the church,” said the man who also mows the lawn.
Brother Ed is also proud of St. John’s involvement with the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, an interfaith organization dedicated to making Charleston a more just place to live. The parish has served on a series of projects to improve early childhood education, reduce incarceration of youthful offenders and local unemployment, and prevent “wage theft,” which occurs when workers aren’t paid overtime or are forced to work without pay.
“Without a doubt there have been moments of challenge in my life as a Brother, but right now I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’m going to be where I am for a long time.”