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Religious Life

Finding his purpose

Special Report Writer

Geoffrey Clement spent the first decade of his adult life striving after money, influence and titles. He succeeded in both the military and in the cash culture of Wall Street. Yet he sensed “a void” in his life.

Every workday Clement devoted 12 hours to making money. He recently told a hotel ballroom full of vocations directors, “I was not producing anything tangible or lasting. I made no difference in the world or in anyone’s life but my own.”

“Why don’t I feel fulfilled?” he kept asking himself. “God blessed me with gifts. Does he not have some purpose for me?”

During his days of discernment Clement discovered that he needed some structure to “nourish, affirm and guide” him along the way. The military was too structured for him. He revisited the Franciscan Brothers who had been his teachers and role models at St. Anthony High School in Brooklyn. “Here were men who had none of the things Madison Avenue said you need to be happy yet they seemed to be genuinely joyful people.”

He noted the “very human and personal touch” of the individual brothers. Though “not the Brady Bunch,” they dressed alike and yet differed in temperaments and had unique personalities. “Their charism touched me on a deep level,” Clement said. “They had an abiding faith in Christ’s mercy that was palpable.”

Clement found that the greatest roadblock to his fledging vocation was his own indecisiveness. Again the questions came: “Would I be happy here? Is this the right thing to do? Can I live without a wife?” Clement joined the brothers in 1993 and took his final vows last year. “I found the brotherhood fits like a comfortable shoe,” he said, adding that while it is not perfect, it does afford him the structure he needs.

By day Clement teaches global studies to 190 sophomores at St. Francis Prep in New York City. He also coaches hockey. Any doubts that he had about never having children of his own have been replaced, he said, by “spending 45 minutes every day with my kids, which for many of them is more time than they spend with their parents.”

While sophomores consider their 30-something teacher “an old man,” when Clement goes home to his community each evening, “I’m the baby. It’s ‘Hello, young man. Hello, son,’ ” he said. The majority of his community members are his dad’s age and beyond.

The work of vocation directors is edifying and much needed, Clement said, but noted that they “can only do so much. It’s the teacher, the moderator and the coach who gave me a gentle nudge that planted the seed and made me finally call the vocation director.”

National Catholic Reporter, February 23, 2001