Profile: Scott Brookbank Marks 25 Years as a Friar

Stephen Mangione Friar News

This is the second in a series of profiles of friars commemorating their 25th and 50th profession anniversaries in 2020. The first featured Stephen Kluge, OFM.

LONG BEACH ISLAND, N.J. – Although he was a public school special education teacher in upstate New York for five years, a weekend retreat changed everything for Scott Brookbank, OFM. It reignited a call to a religious vocation that could be traced back to his days as a student at Bishop Kearney High School in Rochester, New York, where he was inspired by the fraternity of the Order of Irish Christian Brothers and their devotion to educating young people.

He entered the Christian Brothers formation program after high school graduation, but dropped out six months later, realizing he may have been too young for such a weighty decision about his future. It wasn’t until that fateful retreat that the religious calling he had felt so fervently as a teenager awoke from its long slumber.

“I’ll never forget that feeling of God calling me back to religious life. It was a self-discovery moment. I knew I had to revisit religious vocation. I enjoyed what I was doing as a special education teacher, but I felt like something was missing in my life,” said Scott, who left his teaching career in 1993 and entered the Province’s postulant program at St. Francis Friary in Rye Beach, New Hampshire.

Since he wasn’t seeking ordination to the priesthood at the time, Scott was drawn to HNP because of the opportunity to profess vows as a brother-friar. “I waffled about ordination for several years, so I needed a congregation that had ordained priests and [a religious brother component]. I didn’t know much about Franciscans, but the Province had both – and after meeting with friars and some of the guys in formation, it felt like the right fit for me,” said Scott, who this year is marking his 25th anniversary since his first profession as a Franciscan friar.

Scott is among a group of friars being honored in June at the Province’s jubilarian Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City in celebration of their 50th and 25th anniversaries of profession.

The Rochester native says that the “openness” of the Franciscans also caught his attention. He credits the Province’s characteristic with providing the time needed to find his way through his indecision about ordination.

“There’s no cookie-cutter mold when it comes to friars. The Province recognizes that we each have distinct talents and gifts. We are uniquely individual, but we journey together as a family,” said Scott, who has been stationed at St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island in South Jersey since August 2017.

Serving Others, Teaching Central to Friar Life
“We journey as pilgrims not only with our brothers but also with the people at our ministry environments. Franciscans are very open and welcoming. We greet people wherever they are in their [faith] journey,” added Scott, who takes pride in being a member of a friar fraternity that embraces the larger community.

Scott Brookbank with his mother and father during the summer of 2019. (Photo courtesy of Scott)

The youngest of three children, Scott came from a devout Catholic family that was active in their parish – his father, an engineer with the Eastman Kodak Company, serving on the buildings and grounds committee, and his mother was a part-time secretary at the parish school.

Before joining the Franciscans, his career pursuit as a special education teacher led him to Nazareth College of Rochester, where he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in religious studies and a master’s degree in special education. Although he left the classroom for a religious vocation, Scott never stopped serving others and teaching.

He was received into the Order on June 24, 1994, at the novitiate in Providence, Rhode Island, and made his first profession a year later in 1995 at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, also in Providence. While in formation from 1995 to 1998 at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland, Scott decided that he would not seek ordination – which resulted in him obtaining a degree in pastoral counseling at nearby Loyola University.

He completed a one-year internship as director of guidance at Paterson Catholic High School in New Jersey in preparation for his solemn vows, which he professed on Sept. 25, 1999, at St. Francis Church in New York City. His first assignment was at the counseling center at St. Francis Chapel in Providence, a three-year run that ended in August 2002 with a transfer to St. Bonaventure University, where Scott counseled students at the SBU counseling center. His two years at the Allegany, New York, campus turned out to be a crossroads as a friar.

“I started to think about ordination again. Friends encouraged me to give it some thought. They felt that I had what people needed. These words stuck with me so I prayed on it,” recalled Scott, who ended his waffling on ordination and was ordained to the priesthood on May 24, 2008, at the same church on 31st Street.

His first assignment as an ordained friar came two months later when he was appointed parochial vicar at St. Mary’s Church in Providence, where HNP had been tasked by the local diocese with pastoral and administrative control in order to breathe new life into the parish. It was a comfortable landing for Scott because he knew many of the parishioners – and he was a familiar face to them as well – from his previous assignment at St. Francis Chapel.

Novice Work Humbling and Inspiring
He performed a number of typical pastoral ministries, among them coordinating funerals and care for grieving families, serving with the parish ministry that made home visits to shut-ins, and anointing the sick at a local hospice care facility. He remained at St. Mary’s until 2012 when he was assigned to the friar team at the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington, Wisconsin. His background in counseling and psychology made him a perfect fit to work with young men in discernment.

“Being able to journey with these novices, helping them through their struggles and watching them emerge into adulthood, was humbling and inspiring,” Scott said.

In his third year at the interprovincial novitiate, he was appointed guardian of the Wisconsin friary, working with the novice director on the spiritual formation of the solemnly professed community.

Friars who made solemn vows in 1999, from left: Scott Brookbank, John Gill, and Steve Kluge) with the Minister General Giacomo Bini, OFM. (Photo courtesy of The HNP Provincial Annals)

“The entire experience gave me the unique opportunity to work alongside friars from other U.S. provinces and international communities from Ireland, Australia, and Canada – which is why I support the ongoing Revitalization and Restructuring Process (which will eventually create a singular province from among six U.S. provinces). During my three years at the interprovincial novitiate, I learned that friars are more similar than we are different,” Scott said.

As much as he enjoyed his three-year ministry at the novitiate, he felt as though he was losing touch with the outside world – “the body of Christ,” he says – because he was not connected to a parish and the “very people I was training the novices to serve.”

Seeking a return to pastoral work, he was assigned in September 2015 to the University of Georgia in Athens as the associate director of campus ministry – and where he also served as a spiritual assistant for the Secular Franciscans at the UGA Catholic Center.

“I found it rewarding to work with lay people who try to live the Franciscan life by expanding their community and growing as individuals in the spirit of St. Francis,” he said. “When you study about St. Francis, you realize he was more than the ‘birdbath’ image. For me, St. Francis is about accepting and embracing everyone.”

After two years in Georgia, he moved to his current assignment at St. Francis Parish. One of the attractions for Scott was the counseling services offered at St. Francis Community Center, the parish’s comprehensive, longstanding outreach and social services facility. He put his counseling background and experience to use by obtaining certification in professional counseling from the State of New Jersey.

“This gave me the opportunity to use my professional counseling skills more formally,” explained Scott, whose certification license has him counseling victims who have been traumatized by criminal acts, domestic violence, sexual assault, and vehicular accidents, as well as people battling depression and anxiety.

Pastoral Ministry a Privilege
Scott speaks of the dynamic and challenging environment at the parish, which consists of four churches.

“In the winter, we have our core parishioners – the people that you get to know on a deeper level. But in the summer season, you’re constantly moving around and meeting a lot of different people, which creates a great opportunity for growth. The challenge is to feed them spiritually without holding them hostage – give them what they need, even if it’s a small takeaway – and without monopolizing their time so they can get to the beach and other vacation activities,” explained Scott, who enjoys nature and the outdoors, and also likes to get lost in a captivating murder mystery when he finds time to read.

Friars in Providence, Rhode Island: (standing) Charlie O’Connor, Michael Joyce, (seated) Scott Brookbank, Frank Sevola. (Photo courtesy of Scott)

He added, “I enjoy being around parishioners, whether helping them get through their grief at a funeral, or presiding at a joyful baptism or wedding, or anointing the sick. It’s a privilege to be with them at these times, journeying in a very different and sacred way. A friar once taught me that it’s not about you, but rather your ministry and what you bring as a friar.”

Although immersed in pastoral ministry, Scott still maintains a hand in the Province’s formation program, providing an annual three-day workshop for postulants at Holy Name College.

He singled out two deceased friars as the most influential on his two-and-a-half decades of religious l life – including the then-retired Peter Sheridan, OFM, whose “wisdom and shared experiences,” Scott said, “were inspirational during his initial formation and later when he was studying for a master’s of divinity degree, which he received in 2008 at Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C. Juniper Capice, OFM, who served as the resident tailor at the Silver Spring formation house, also left a profound impression on Scott, who recalled how the friar would always provide a supportive and sympathetic ear when he [and other friars in formation] were facing difficult times or seeking advice.

In reflecting on the past 25 years, Scott says it’s difficult to pinpoint his most memorable assignment or ministry.

“The entire journey has been gratifying, with a collection of assignments and environments that have continually prepared me for whatever comes next,” said Scott. “But if I had to single out an aspect or two, I would have to say that my first profession and solemn vows have been the most important because they made this journey possible.”

Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.