Brothers unlock new ways to raise awareness for vulnerable children

3 mins read
Brothers vulnerable children
A brother enjoys a meal with youths. Courtesy photos

On a recent Sunday, Brother Joseph Holthaus posted a photo of a child on a trash heap. He captioned it with a prayer for “those who dig through garbage dumps in search of recyclables and food.” The prayer intention was that caring adults might help them to find a healthy and wholesome life.

Other weekly postings on the Facebook and website pages of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart offer prayers for children who are snatched from their families and forced to join an army, children who have no spiritual center, those in institutions or with serious illnesses. There are prayers, too, for children who are unloved and unwanted, and those who have been bullied, exploited and sexually assaulted.

Read more Spring 2023 Vocation stories here.

They are the at-risk children that the province holds up in prayer in their Youth on the Margins series of postings.

“We were founded to work with young people with whom no one else was concerned,” said Brother Ronald Hingle. “Our founder, Father Andre Coindre, took young people out of prison and young people who were living on the streets of Lyon, France. They were in the margins of society.”


The Brothers of the Sacred Heart, whose province is in New Orleans, came to Mobile, Alabama, in 1847. Those first five missionaries were the foundation of a community that eventually founded schools in North America, Australia, England, Africa and the Philippines.

They are an apostolic order, now numbering 102, of religious educators called to live in chastity, poverty and obedience, with a focus on educating and serving youth. “Our founder said that the first thing you do when you reach out to young people is to offer them hope, love and faith, and engage them in a relationship,” Brother Ronald said. “That’s how we evangelize.”

Kids on the margins need care and attention.

He got the idea for the Youth on the Margins series when he became provincial in 2018.

“As a community, we could reach only a certain number of people in our mission and ministry,” he said. “We are only a few people, and there’s a great need and a great number of youth on the margins. We wanted to keep the needs of those we serve, and those we did not serve, in the uppermost minds and thoughts and in the prayers of the brothers as well as our partners in mission. They are lay colleagues in our schools and those who work shoulder to shoulder with us.”

Brother Ronald writes the prayers and reflections that were initially just in the community’s monthly newsletter. Then Brother Joseph, dean of St. Columba School in England, started posting them on their Facebook and website.

The prayers come from the experiences of the brothers who have seen youth marginalized and at risk around the world.

“In the Philippines, we have a home for street children, so we take them in and give them food, shelter, clothing and love,” Brother Ronald said. “I just returned from Zambia in Africa and we are in touch with young people there who literally have nothing. Some of them have only the clothes on their backs and shoes. They struggle for survival.”

Closer to home

The need is not just in Third World countries.

“We have a pre-novice living with us, and he commutes to London,” Brother Joseph said. “He works with young people who are in gangs, and a lot of them are in gangs for their own safety. There are adults getting young people to carry drugs for them. He counsels them and takes care of them if they run into legal and medical problems. We have kids in our own school, too, who come from broken families or abuse at home.”

Joy can be found even in difficult situations.

Students have opportunities for service projects working in the states with the poor and marginalized and victims of natural disasters. The brothers, students and staff can spend breaks serving the Navajo people at St. Anne’s Mission in Klagetoh, Arizona, where some have no running water, electricity nor indoor plumbing.

“It’s almost like another world,” Brother Ronald said.

Adults are invited to join the brothers on their mission trips to Africa, the Philippines and Arizona.

The weekly postings of Youth on the Margins, he noted, are a way to make people aware of what some children are facing globally. And that includes vulnerable children in America who are being abused and trafficked.

“I think we get so busy and wrapped up in our own little worlds and schedules that we don’t often think of them, or bring them to prayer on a regular basis,” Brother Ronald said. “Hopefully with prayers, you will put a face on some of those realities and bring them a little closer to home. Prayers are a way of carrying the youth in our hearts all through the day.”

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.