In the most recent edition of the Society of Mary “e-BULLETIN,” which is distributed to all Marist fathers and brothers in the United States, the retirement and life of service by Brother Robert Sokolowski, s.m., was celebrated and remembered. He had been serving at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Savannah, Ga., for the last 27 years, and in that time, Sokolowski has contributed to 1,116 weddings, 634 funerals, 1,507 baptisms, Sunday masses, holy days and weekday masses.
Remarkable stats, to be sure, but consistent with many other Marists serving in the U.S. and abroad.
So take a look at the June 18th Marist e-BULLETIN passage (available below) about Sokolowski. Then read an IRISH magazine article published in late 2012 about two other Marist brothers—including our own Br. Louis—who have served in the Notre Dame community for more than 50 years.
NOTE: The Marist Fathers and Brothers in the United States provide the Catholic sponsorship and educational-program management at Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy.
Br. Robert Sokolowski, s.m.: “A life of creativity, service and devotion"
Originally published in the Society of Mary e-BULLETIN, June 18, 2015
The Savannah Diocese newspaper, Southern Cross, featured Marist Robert Sokolowski in its May 28 article titled “A Life of Creativity, Service and Devotion,” which captured highlights of Robert’s 27 years at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Local television network WTOC reported on “a beautiful ceremony” held on the feast of Pentecost, May 24, at the Cathedral “to honor a beautiful life, that of Brother Robert.” The Cathedral’s tribute program included a string ensemble concert “in celebration of the ministry” of Robert which concluded with remarks by Savannah’s Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer who noted that Robert’s duties were always carried out with great care.
Br. Robert Sokolowski, s.m., is shown in front of the congregation at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Savannah, Ga.
“I realized that I have been blessed to be able to utilize my creative gifts to glorify God here in the Cathedral,” Sokolowski acknowledged as he spoke to those gathered to celebrate his years of service as he retires. A special edition of the Cathedral’s newsletter, “The Twin Spires,” recalled Sokolowski’s “many contributions over the years to the beauty of the Cathedral” with articles published since 1998. Sokolowski is most famous for his Christmas and Easter decorations, which draw many pilgrims (estimated over 18,000) to view his creations of flower arrangements and crèche scenes.
“The Twin Spires” concluded: “It’s hard to imagine the Cathedral without him! He has shared with us his time, treasure and talent in ways we can never measure. God bless you, Brother Robert.”
Providing critical support to ND for many years
Originally published in the fall-2012 issue of IRISH magazine.
NOTRE DAME BROTHERS: Marist brothers have been providing critical support to the ND schools for nearly 60 years. In an article first published in "IRISH," the magazine for Notre Dame alumni, read about how two of them have made made a big impact in Harper Woods and Pontiac.
A recent survey by the Catholic Church indicated that there were approximately 40,000 priests in the United States, which includes about 27,000 diocesan priests and 13,000 religious priests. Religious sisters were at about 61,000, with nearly 16,000 religious brothers in ministry in this country.
Today, people are still choosing to become priests, sisters and brothers, but in fewer numbers. In fact, the number of men and women religious today more closely reflects a number consistent with the beginning of the last century.
In a basic definition of the difference between a priest and brother, a priest is ordained for a distinctive role as a minister of the sacraments, while a brother is a layman who also commits himself to Christ by the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience and who usually lives in a religious community, but typically works in a ministry that best suits his talents and gifts. A brother cannot perform the sacramental duties of a priest, but might be a teacher, electrician, cook, lawyer, technician, parish minister, office manager or even an artist. He tries to live his faith by being a “brother” to others.
There have been a number of Marist brothers who have played key roles in the history of Notre Dame, both in Harper Woods and Pontiac. But their roles have differed to a large extent from the Marist fathers who have been at Notre Dame. In general, the role of religious brothers in the church has not changed much over the years as they have continued to provide the structure and hard work upon which many religious communities and schools are built.
That is never more evident than with the Marist brothers who have served at both Notre Dame High School in Harper Woods and Notre Dame Prep in Pontiac. Two brothers in particular are spot-on examples of how important the vocation has been to the ND community. Brother Leonard Haley, s.m., and Brother Louis Plourde, s.m., have spent more than 40 years combined providing an incredible amount of support to Notre Dame, including the Marist priests, the teaching staffs, the countless parents, and most importantly, the students.
Fr. Leon Olszamowski, s.m., current head of school at NDPMA and who was principal at Notre Dame High School for seven years, said that above all else, the brothers always put the kids first.
"And both Haley and Plourde have been instrumental in keeping the Notre Dame 'engine' firing on all cylinders, beginning in 1961."
Brother Leonard Haley, s.m., arrived on the Notre Dame campus in Harper Woods in 1961 from the Boston area, a fresh-faced 22 year old. “I took the train from Framingham to Detroit on an overnight trip that got me into the city at eight in the morning,” he said. “It was my first experience on an overnight train and when I got to the station in Detroit, Fr. Omer St. Onge, who was principal of NDHS at the time, was there to pick me up.” Also on the same train that day was the principal of Regina, Sr. Bernadette, who St. Onge also picked up and delivered to her school. It was Haley’s first time in Michigan. “I didn't know a soul and it was my first experience traveling alone. It really was something—a little scary!”
At a party held in Boston in Oct. 2009 celebrating his 50th anniversary as a Marist, Br. Leonard Haley, s.m., poses with four sisters of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Now 73 years old, Haley has retired from active ministry and is living at the Marist retirement community in Waltham, Mass. He grew up in nearby Somerville, Mass., just outside of Boston, where he and his brother attended St. Theresa parochial school. Haley notes that Somerville is about a mile from Harvard University. “My mother worked a long time at Harvard and she actually knew an NDHS graduate there by the name of Don Jurivich (‘72),” he recalled. “In fact, one time during a summer vacation home, I went into a store near Harvard and who did I see? Jurivich. It was pretty cool.”
After graduation from Somerville High School, Haley entered the seminary and, afterwards, while working at Notre Dame, he also earned degrees in business and religious studies from Macomb College and U of D.
“When I was at U of D in the fall of 1972, there were actually three ‘72 Notre Dame grads also attending who I recognized right away,” he said. “That was a bit strange for me.”
With his business training and willingness to get just about anything done, he spent his tenure at ND assisting the school’s business office and administrators and did many other things that helped make the school run like a top. The late Joe Pompeo, who ran maintenance at Notre Dame for many years, once told Br. Leonard that “if you ever leave the school, it will take five people to do your work!”
Haley was at ND for a total of 11 years, but after what he said were the first nine enjoyable years at the school, he came to the conclusion that there might be something different for him to do with his ministry. “I wanted to do something different, so Fr. St. Onge encouraged me to finish up my degree and then decide my next move.”
He says he always wanted to work with the elderly and there just happened to be a parish on McNichols and Van Dyke in Detroit called Holy Name that needed someone to work with older parishioners. “I really enjoyed working at Holy Name,” Haley said. “The only thing was that it was a very Polish community and it took me awhile to learn how to best communicate with some of the people there. I even met a number of people whose grandsons had gone to Notre Dame or who still were students there. The Cendrowskis, for example. Mark ‘77, Dwight ‘70 and Gary ‘72. I met their grandparents at that parish.”
Haley was at Holy Name for about three years when he asked to be transferred back east because his mother was in failing health and living alone. So he moved back to Boston and got a job helping with elderly patients at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“I actually worked at the hospital when I was in high school, so there were still some familiar faces there, which made it nice, “ he said. “From there I went back into parish work in the Boston area for the next 20 years or so working with the elderly. I also did office work at the Marist House in Framingham and took care of most of the garden outside the house. Ultimately I was asked to work with the elderly, retired Marist priests, which I continue to do to this day.”
Haley said he had several opportunities to come back to Notre Dame after he went back east, but because his mother was in need of help, he decided against it.
He says the three most enjoyable “jobs” he’s had since becoming a Marist brother were those at Notre Dame High School, Holy Name Parish in Detroit, and his time working at Mass General in Boston. “Especially Notre Dame, he said. “I used to hate when school ended for the summer and I had to go on vacation. I thought, now I have to wait almost three months for school to start again!”
Brother Louis Plourde, s.m., began his Notre Dame career in 1982 when he set foot on the Harper Woods campus. His job was to assist in the business office and with general work inside and outside the school.
“At first I was helping out with setting up for things like bingo, parents events, liturgies and then later on I started to help out in the office,” he said. “One of the things I was doing on a regular basis was to help count Fr. Bryson's money. If you knew anything about how he was, he would just throw everything in a box—change, dollar bills, everything—and turn it into the office. I would then have to sort it out and get it ready for the bank.” He said he really got to admire Fr. Bryson during that time, and all the good things he was doing for the school.
Br. Louis Plourde, s.m., above, at one of his favorite places, William Kozyra Alumni Field (football).
Plourde grew up in Lowell, Mass., about 30 miles north of Boston, where he attended St. Marie grade school followed by high school for the first two years at St. Joseph, which was run by the Marist Teaching Brothers, and then to the Marist Fathers high school seminary, called Marist Prep Seminary in Bedford, Mass. “Fr. (Clifton) Moors (teacher and administrator at NDHS) was one of my teachers in Bedford,” he recalled.
From when he was very young, Plourde says he always wanted a religious vocation and thought initially about becoming a priest. “But when I found out you can be a brother, I decided to pursue that instead.” That pursuit led him to the Marist Seminary in Framingham and, during his second year there, decided to enter the Novitiate.
“Fr. George Szal, s.m., who was a Marist brother and then a priest, was in my class at the seminary in Framingham,” he said. “Fr. Szal actually went to high school at De La Salle. Also, Fr. Leon was a year behind me at the seminary.”
In September 1967, Plourde took his vows in Rhinebeck, New York, along with both Ken Parent (faculty NDHS and NDP) and Gerry Timmerman (later Fr. Timmerman, who spent time at NDHS).
“My first assignment after I professed as a brother was in Bedford and then in Framingham doing mostly maintenance work. “Myself and a few other brothers did most of the work on the house in Framingham, turning it from a seminary into a retreat house,” Plourde said. “It really was a big job!”
Then it was on to Harper Woods to Notre Dame. “Fr. Demers was the rector at ND and he wanted a brother there so I got chosen to go,” Plourde said. “I thought it was time for a change. I had been in the Boston area for a long time, and it was an opportunity to go and work somewhere else.”
“I spent 12 years at Notre Dame High. I enjoyed working in the office with Chuck Stys '60 (NDHS), who was the school’s business manager, and Dolores Lynch, an assistant to Chuck. I also drove a bus route for the last three years there. Bill Raymond and Fr. Leon were the principals during my time at NDHS and I worked a lot with Doreen Vermiglio and Rosemary Patterson, who worked in the main office.”
He says some of his favorite times at NDHS were the festivals and carnivals the school hosted on an annual basis.
Plourde came to the campus of Notre Dame Prep in 1994 and fell immediately in love with the school.
“I still love it here—I love Notre Dame Prep,” he says unabashedly. “Even if I had an opportunity to be transferred back east, I would still prefer to be here. It would take a lot to get me out of here.”
Currently dividing his time between handling the campus mail and running the school’s printing and copying department, Plourde, 67, is a definite fixture on campus. And his devotion to school athletics is legendary. Known as “super fan” at NDP, he has been a regular attendee at many, many of NDP's athletic events over the years. His enthusiasm for the school and especially for its student-athletes has contributed greatly to successes on the field and court over the past 17-plus years. In fact, the Catholic High School League honored Plourde with its “Distinguished Service Award” at the league’s annual Hall of Fame banquet in 2011.
He says there are a lot of great NDP memories, especially being present for the 2007 state championship in volleyball. “It was lots of fun, huge! Fantastic season! CHSL champs too! Unbelievable!
“In general, I hopefully have a positive impact on the kids,” he said. “But the students and the parents also have always been extremely nice to me. And I can be a complete advocate and fan of the kids! As always, it's about the kids!”
He says he also enjoys his role in setting up for and participating in all the many liturgies during the school year. “I am officially the sacristan for the school.”
Olszamowski sums up Plourde's devotion to the school by saying that if "Louis had his way, he would never die and always be at some event at Notre Dame Prep." Olszamowski also says that he wants Brother Louis to do the eulogy at his funeral. "I can’t trust anyone else.”
Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.
About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.