The transition of the spirituality of the Christian Brothers in Australia from a traditional to a contemporary mode


Nangle, Paul G.. (2014). The transition of the spirituality of the Christian Brothers in Australia from a traditional to a contemporary mode [Thesis].
AuthorsNangle, Paul G.
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

This thesis grew out of my own experience as an Australian Christian Brother. After nearly thirty years of living and teaching as a Brother in Australia, I was appointed for the next twenty-six years to the Fiji Islands. For most of that time there was no Brothers’ community near to my assigned work for me to live in and, in isolation from the Brothers, I continued to follow the spiritual practices and customs of the Brothers’ tradition. When I left Australia, the Brothers’ expression of their spirituality was defined by a highly prescriptive routine of daily prayer and exact observance of many external practices. On my return to Australia and on my re-joining a Brothers’ community, I observed, to my confusion, that this traditional form of spirituality had been radically transformed into a variety of individual expressions, freely chosen by the Brothers to suit their personal needs and relevant to the changed conditions of society. Community life, as it had been once lived, had virtually ceased to exist. The thesis has been generated by my efforts to understand the new ways in which my confreres perceive spirituality, to explore the contemporary ways in which they express it and to consider how the traditional structures of the Religious Life might need to be changed to accommodate these contemporary expressions of spirituality. To begin with, an examination is undertaken of spirituality as it has been conceptualised from the Christian medieval mystics to contemporary times and a clear distinction is made between spirituality and religion. Further, the research study examines how the different social milieus in which the Brothers have lived in Australia over the last one hundred and fifty years have influenced the manner in which they express their spirituality. It attempts to determine the effect on the Brothers’ developing spirituality of the initial formation they received in the Religious life. This was a qualitative research study where interviews were used to collect data. Seventeen Australian Christian Brothers across Australia, ranging in age from their forties to their late eighties, agreed to participate in the project to share their stories. The focus of the interviews was to discover the participant’s understanding and expression of spirituality through their years as Christian Brothers. It was found that various social and religious influences brought about a transformation in these expressions of their spirituality from traditional forms to more contemporary forms. Given the age range of the participants, the researcher was able to compare and contrast different aspects of spirituality manifested by the Australian Christian Brothers in the times before and after the Second Vatican Council, a time when much change was happening within the Catholic Church. It became clear that if the traditional form of life of living in community is continued, respecting the individual member’s ways of relating to God will need accommodation and some adaptation both in structure and practice.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Religious Education
Final version
Publication dates01 Feb 2014
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