[Hpn] San Francisco, CA - Hey, Brother, can you spare a moment? - San Francisco Chronicle - August 16, 2002

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Sat, 17 Aug 2002 05:52:18 -0500


Hey, Brother, can you spare a moment?
Friar Brady always does. He lives to help Tenderloin residents
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Heather Knight - San Francisco Chronicle - August 16, 2002

For Brother Bob Brady, a chaplain at St. Anthony Foundation,
interruptions make up life's most precious moments.

As he ambles genially along the streets of the Tenderloin, Brady
is easy to spot. He wears a brown, hooded friar's robe, sandals
and a white rope around his waist with three knots representing
his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. And just as soon as
he rounds any given corner, people approach.

Brother Bob, where can I get work?

Brother Bob, my girlfriend's sick.

Brother Bob, read the Bible with me for a minute. Please.

Brady always stops. He always listens. Interruptions that would
jangle the nerves of most ordinary people don't faze him.

"A lot of people want to be prayed for or prayed with," Brady,
53, said. "Sometimes that comes at a time when I'm on my way to
do something else, but there's a true value in being interrupted,
in being stopped."

It's a sort of stop-and-smell-the-roses view of life, but in
Brady's corner of the city on Golden Gate Avenue, there are few
sweet smells or blooms to enjoy. And that's why, he says, it's so
important to pause and listen.

"One of the most offensive things is when homeless people aren't
even acknowledged when they beg on the street," Brady said. "Some
people here go for days without anyone even saying 'Hi' to them.
There's truly a spiritual value to go beyond our world, to be
called out of ourselves. That's what the homeless can sometimes
do for us. Smile at them. Say hello. Recognition on a human level
is so important."

Brady has many responsibilities, duties and appointments to keep
during his busy days and hides a small digital clock and cell
phone in one of his robe's 10 pockets in attempt to stay on
schedule. But frankly, even those conveniences rarely help.

Father John Hardin, executive director of St. Anthony's, has
known Brady for almost 20 years. He likened Brady to a pied piper
in the neighborhood, with people swarming after him wherever he
goes.

"He gives his undivided attention -- if he's late for something
else, well, that's the way it is," said Hardin, 54. "It can be
problematic for some people who don't understand that not
everybody is bound by a clock or a schedule, that there are some
things that are more important."

Specifically, anybody with a need or just wanting to talk comes first.

" "He doesn't meet a stranger in that sense -- it's just another
friend," Hardin said.

Brady's days sometimes begin as early as 4:30 a.m., when he prays
and enjoys a rare moment alone. He and the 10 other friars who
live at St. Anthony's pray together once at 8 a.m. and again at
5:45 p.m.

Brady begins many of his days working as the doorman at St.
Anthony's Free Medical Clinic, greeting patients with a cheery
"Good morning!" He then keeps office hours, welcoming people who
need counseling. A sign on the door reads, "When I am present,
please know that I am actually here for you. You would not be
disturbing me at any time."

He drops by the St. Anthony Dining Room just about every day,
breaking bread with those who get free meals there. He often
greets the diners by name, kneeling before those in wheelchairs
to hear them better.

Donna Lachica started eating her lunches there three years ago,
after her home in the Mission burned down amd she moved to a
residential hotel. She has many health problems, including severe
arthritis and a deteriorating spine, and has taken comfort in
Brady's kind words.

"He's a beautiful man," said the 59-year-old. "He's a good man
with a good heart. He loves his job. It's rare to find someone
who will come visit you at the hospital -- he always comes."

Robert Marcado, 43, also eats at St. Anthony's and became friends
with Brady a few years ago.

"We thank God we have him here," he said in between bites of
turkey jambalaya on a recent afternoon. "I wish we had more
people like him -- it would be a better world."

After lunch, Brady often heads to meetings to plan retreats for
the elderly or to discuss sick people's care. Every Monday, he
drives up to St. Anthony Farm near Petaluma to visit people who
are in alcohol and drug rehabilitation. there.

And every Tuesday, he visits Doris Vanderberg, a 73-year-old
blind, sarcastic spitfire. Last Christmas, she gave Brady a gold
watch, and Brady tried to return later because its not in keeping
with his vow of poverty. She scolded him for not noticing she had
had the watch inscribed with his name, so he couldn't possibly
return it the jeweler's. Every Tuesday, without fail, she asks
him if he's wearing his watch. He tries to remember to bring it
with him.

Each week, Brady escorts her slowly through the Tenderloin up to
the Walgreens on Van Ness to purchase toiletries.

"He's a doll," she said. "If it weren't for him, I wouldn't have
much."

San Francisco is familiar to Brady, who grew up in Bernal
Heights, the seventh of nine children. His dad did sewer repair
for the city's Department of Public Works, and his mom was as a
homemaker. The family went to church every Sunday and was active
in charities and outreach programs for the poor.

When he was 12, Brady met Brother Dominick, a friar at a parish
in Bernal Heights. He took care of the poor -- and he was cool.
He did sculpting. ("Not very nice sculpting," Brady said with a
laugh. "But he was an artist.")

Brother Dominick shuttled packs of kids between their homes and
schools in his blue-green Dodge station wagon, and sometimes,
Brady got to ride in the car. At the time, he was thinking about
working in medicine, counseling or teaching. Brother Dominick,
who seemed to do a little of each, inspired Brady to become a
friar.

"I can't remember any kind of conversation with him at all -- it
was just him being there and doing that so consistently," Brady
said.

When he was 18, Brady attended a retreat in Danville and then
seminary college in Oceanside. At 21, he took his vows. Though
some would find them constricting, Brady doesn't.

"The vows are really a freeing agent -- not to have to worry
about property that I own or have to care for," he said. "A value
in obedience is just being available, leading more of the
interrupted life and being able just to drop everything."

He said his close relationships with friends satisfy his need for
intimacy, and that his busy schedule wouldn't allow him to be a
good partner anyway.

His work as a friar has led him to a wide variety of places and
jobs over the years. He has worked at an Oakland hospital, at
churches in Sacramento and Rome, with a youth group in Phoenix,
at a commune near King City (Monterey County), at a Salvation
Army shelter -- even as a credit counselor in Las Vegas.

He befriended Cesar Chavez while Chavez was fasting in support of
lettuce pickers.

He joined St. Anthony's in 1999 as one of its four friars. (The
other friars who live there are assigned to other parishes.) He
lives on $200 a month, which covers toiletries, haircuts and
occasional movies and dinners out.

His other needs, such as room and board, are fulfilled by the
friary.

The friars' main function is to serve as "the spiritual glue,"
said Elizabeth Chur, St. Anthony's communications manager.

"He just kind of walks around, sees how people are doing," Chur
said. "That might be someone's only interaction all day long --
like if someone gets a haircut, we try to notice. We might be the
only ones who say 'Hey, nice haircut.' And also, this is sad, but
if they die, they'll be remembered. They don't just disappear."

Brady spends his evenings with his mother, who lives at Laguna
Honda hospital and has severe dementia. She doesn't recognize any
of her children anymore, but Brady feeds her ice cream, plays
Irish music and tries to make her laugh. He also tries to make
time for his siblings, all but one of whom live in the Bay Area.
And he likes spending time with his 29 nieces and nephews and
their 30-plus children.

At night, it's back to the friary for popcorn, TV and catching up
on e-mail.

After praying, he's usually in bed by midnight. At the end of the
day, Brady said, he just has one hope:

"That my presence, wherever I've been during the day, has served
to build up the values of fraternity -- being able to be of
service to someone.

"And to live the interrupted life well."


E-mail Heather Knight at hknight@sfchronicle.com.
2002 San Francisco Chronicle.
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