By Paige Gilliard
For Brother Michael Meister, the glass is always full. Raised in the small Northern California town of Ferndale, Brother Michael grew up playing in the creek and watching Hollywood executives filming movies in his idyllic hometown. Hiding in places where he wouldn’t be noticed, an adolescent Brother Michael would sneakily attempt to take photos of the filming, some of which occurred right outside his house. “Dustin Hoffman once sat on my front porch,” Brother Michael recalled.
Although now a Christian Brother with the Joseph Alemany community at Saint Mary’s College of California, Brother Michael hasn’t lost his mischievous side. As fellow Christian Brother Dom Berardelli tells it, Brother Michael once wanted to tell people that they kept the ashes of the dead Brothers in an ancient Chinese urn displayed in their dining room.
According to Brother Dom, Brother Michael masterminded a plan involving the ashes from the wood-burning fireplace in the living quarters of the Saint Mary’s College community of Brothers. “When the winter comes, I want you to go down and scoop out some of the ashes,” Brother Dom recalled as being his instructions, “put them in the urn, and we will tell everybody this is where we keep the ashes of the dead Brothers”.
Serving as director for the Joseph Alemany community these last twelve years, Brother Michael was drawn to the Brothers’ community out of a desire to teach. After reading about the Christian Brothers in a book at his Catholic elementary school, Brother Michael met a Brother who came to his school to talk about the life of a Christian Brother. After striking up a correspondence, Brother Michael decided to attend a high school in Napa owned by the Christian Brothers for those interested in joining their community.
After graduating high school and officially joining the Brothers, Brother Michael taught at a high school in Los Angeles and later served as principal for De La Salle High School in Concord. While serving as principle at De La Salle, Brother Michael completed his Doctorate at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, joining the Brothers’ community at Saint Mary’s fulltime after its completion.
A teacher in the Theology Department at Saint Mary’s College of California, Brother Michael loves to teach, especially his class on Dante and the Divine Comedy. “I love teaching, I die for it, it’s really important, and it’s really energizing, and it’s really draining, it’s hard work, but it’s also a lot of fun,” Brother Michael said. “There’s no reason for us to be Brothers without you,” he said of the students at Saint Mary’s.
Having lived with the Brothers for the last 32 years, Brother Michael can confidently say that they are not too different from anyone else. “We’re pretty ordinary, quote normal people,” Brother Michael said. As a community, the Brothers attend Mass, celebrate birthdays, give gifts at Christmas, and find special occasions to have parties.
A positive person by nature, Brother Michael acknowledges that although he can occasionally be frustrated when his visions for the future don’t materialize, he still continues to view things in a positive light. “I’m usually an up person, the glass is totally full, not just half full,” Brother Michael said.
When it comes to being a member of the community of Brothers, Brother Michael describes it as the highlight of his life. Although he admits that it can be difficult to live with a large community of people, he has never regretted joining the Brothers. “That group of people really keeps me alive,” Brother Michael said. “I have the Brothers, and I have the students”.