The young bearded man in the black habit with the rosary is Brother Dylan Perry, a fixture at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis. The 33-year-old Christian Brother teaches religion and serves as academic dean. He spoke with The Catholic Spirit ahead of National Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 30-Feb. 5, and World Day for Consecrated Life, Feb. 2.
Q) Tell me about your beard.
A) I’m a big fan of beards. I’ve had one since I could grow it. But wearing a mask makes a weird crease in a long beard, so when the pandemic began, I trimmed it up. There’s a lot of religious significance to beards, especially in monastic and Orthodox and Jewish tradition.
Q) It’s also kind of hipster.
A) There probably is, as well, an attachment to the intellectual yet rugged outdoorsy kind of thing. Those are tied to my personality. Before I got into education, I worked in urban agriculture.
Q) Ahh, so you must have a beard!
A) What kind of philosopher-farmer would you be without a beard?
Q) Like a skinny chef. I wouldn’t trust you.
Q) What drew you to religious life?
A) I’ve always been attracted to the life of religious brothers and sisters. It’s a humble, quiet presence. Taking the Church outside the building is really important. I studied philosophy and theology in college. It scratched an itch, or got at some of the questions I was having.
Q) What held you back?
A) There’s a vulnerability to having a relationship with the divine that I wasn’t accessing yet. I was pursuing spirituality through service and social justice work, and as important as those externals were, I wasn’t attaching myself to the internals. Then I worked as associate director of LaSallian Volunteers, doing more retreat work and a lot of individual formation, and that helped me make that connection to God for myself.
Q) You appreciated the egalitarian structure of Christian Brothers, who don’t have priests.
A) The idea is that there is no hierarchy among us. The folks who are superior general today could be a middle school teacher tomorrow, and none of those things are more or less important. In diocesan structures, once you’re a bishop, you’re always a bishop.
Q) How could our country benefit from the Brothers’ leadership model?
A) Really well. Knowing your time in charge is limited, that in a couple years someone else will be in charge of you soon and they’ll remember how you treated them when you were in charge. It speaks a lot to the synodality that we’re hearing from Pope Francis and Archbishop Hebda. That’s the way religious orders always operate: gather information and arrive at communal decision making. It’s joy-filled and unselfish and straightforward. It’s uncluttered.
When I read about the early Church and the acts of the Apostles, it’s like: Well, this is how we’re supposed to be doing it!
Q) I like that idea of uncluttered.
A) There’s so much noise we subject ourselves to. Silence is an important part of LaSallian prayer. Making the space to listen. To listen to students. To listen to my own thoughts. To listen to God. Teaching philosophy, I help my students untangle some of their thoughts that are all balled up and cluttered.
Q) How do you do that?
A) They probably think I keep asking them the same questions over and over again, but I’m hoping they pay attention to how it feels and how their answers change.
Q) How did having a twin affect you, growing up?
A) The most important thing in spirituality is recognizing that you’re not the center of the universe. It’s much easier to do that when your parents’ attention is split. It was never a question.
Q) Your twin also teaches at a LaSallian school. It must be in your DNA!
A) I suppose so. We’re first-generation college students. The path to us being educators was not so clear, but caring for people was something my parents always modeled. My twin brother teaches geometry and calculus. Most people think that couldn’t be more different from what I teach. But they’re two sides of the same coin. It’s a way of understanding and describing the worlds. They’re the purest ways of understanding truth: mathematics and philosophy and theology. We’re trying to get to the bottom of things.
Q) What’s the key to teaching religion to teens?
A) Teens don’t want to be told what to think. That doesn’t mean they’re not looking for the kinds of answers religion can provide, but they don’t want to be told what the answers are. They want to be led to find them. My approach is informed by Springtideresearch.org, an offshoot of St. Mary’s Press in Winona. They’re doing remarkable research on the state of religion and young people.
It’s about respecting young people enough to let them engage with the questions. It seems to me that religious educators are afraid that if we let them ask questions then they’ll lose or destroy their faith. And (But?) what really happens is that we provide a safety net to explore: teaching young people to engage with difficult questions, so they don’t leave Catholic school and feel disappointed when they run into problems they weren’t prepared to answer and become disenchanted with religion.
Q) What keeps you young?
A) I like to be silly. I try my best not to take myself too seriously.
Q) What advice do you give your students about developing balance in their lives?
A) We frame our entire theology curriculum in terms of relationship. They talk about tech fasts and self-care. But good sleep habits are probably the hardest. That takes discipline that they’re still learning. Almost all our assignments are submitted online, so they give us time stamps. We can see if a student turned something in at 3 a.m. and ask them about that.
Q) What does play look like for you?
A) I enjoy bouldering, indoor rock climbing that’s not a wall but a lower rock. We just fall on mats. I lift weights. And I like wandering around the city, not knowing where I’m going. All the fun and silly and play are spiritual practices.
Q) What’s your go-to prayer?
A) The Brothers have a Marian devotion. We have a six-decade rosary. I try to say a rosary every day. In that way, the Hail Mary is on repeat in my head. If I’m walking around the classroom, observing the students doing work, I’ll pull out my rosary and pray it. It helps me be more present, rather than going to do some of my own work at my desk, and it’s a good witness to them.
Q Do you feel the impact?
A) Yeah, especially when I attach it to an examination of conscience or a series of intentions. If we can’t completely get rid of the noise in our lives, tuning it out with something positive is the next best thing.
This article was originally written by Christina Capecchi for thecatholicspirit.com