My vocation story began in Bayonne, New Jersey where I attended St. Henry's elementary school in the late '50s and early '60s. Our school was staffed by the Benedictine Sisters of Elizabeth. I believe it was the example of those sisters that inspired my vocation as a religious brother.
Alone, my mother struggled to raise my younger brother and me. She made sure we got a solid Catholic education at the same school she attended when she was young. As a child, I knew I wanted a closer relationship with God and the Church. I wanted to be involved with its mission and ministries, although I wasn't sure in what capacity.
It was in third grade when I learned about St. Francis. There was a story in our "reader" entitled "St. Francis and the Birds." I read that story over and over. I became fascinated with St. Francis.
It was around this time when I learned that religious brothers existed. I never met a brother, but I wanted to be one. In those days there were vocation rallies where many different religious congregations were represented. They all had displays, exhibitions and literature explaining their various ministries and way of life. I discovered that the "brother" vocation could be so diversified. A brother could be a teacher, a nurse, administrator, librarian, counselor, etc. This vocation was exactly what I was searching for. I wanted to live in religious community while working with people.
I was 14 years old, entering my second year of high school, when I decided to attend a residential preparatory school to prepare for religious life. After about eight months, I was politely asked to leave. I had a difficult time following all the rules. Today I realize that 14 was much too young to make such a drastic decision.
I returned to public high school and put the "brother" idea on the back burner. After graduating high school at 17, I landed an entry level job in a bank in the financial district of downtown Manhattan. I switched to the insurance industry shortly after that. I did extremely well in my career. I loved the excitement of working in New York City. I stayed in that field for 20 years, receiving many promotions. Financially I was a success. I had everything a guy could want: a new car, a nice apartment, some money and great vacations. I thought I was happy. But, I knew something was missing.
Somewhere along the line I asked myself if I wanted to do the insurance thing for the rest of my life. What would really make me happy?
Then, the notion of "brother" struck again.
I started looking at different religious communities and I found the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. It appeared to be a good match. The congregation offered many different ministerial opportunities to the brothers. Our brothers serve as administrators, nurses, guardians of houses, chaplains and counselors. One brother serves as procurator general in Italy. The brothers help staff St. Christopher's Inn, a homeless shelter which is also a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Garrison, New York. Some brothers serve the senior friars at Graymoor, the headquarters of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. Some assist in parishes.
This year, I am celebrating my Silver Jubilee as an Atonement Brother. I entered the postulancy in 1990 in Washington, D.C. I was received into the novitiate at Graymoor in 1991. I professed first vows on August 2, 1992.
After profession, I was assigned to St. Christopher's Inn. While there I earned a bachelor's degree from Fordam University. (Something I thought I would never do.) I learned and performed detoxification acupuncture. In addition to being the assistant director of the "Inn," I opened a very successful three story thrift store which continues to operate today.
I even directed a men's choir without ever taking a music course in my life! I couldn't read a note of music and I can't sing! (Again, something that I thought I would never do.)
The Holy Spirit guided me through that experience.
Today I am assigned to the Chapel of Our Savior located across from Westgate Mall in Brockton. I serve as guardian and gift shop manager.
God has been very good to me in my lifetime. I have the very special privilege of serving God as a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement. I am happy!
To learn more about the Friars visit our website: AtonementFriars.org.
BROTHER THOMAS BANACKI, S.A., SERVES AS GUARDIAN OF THE CHAPEL OF OUR SAVIOR IN BROCKTON, WHERE HE IS ALSO MANAGER OF THE GIFT SHOP.