Woodworking is Prayer for Br. David
Updated: Mar 13
From Altar Server to Altar Builder
When he entered his first year of discernment with the Augustinians, David was asked by his formation director to describe himself in one word.
“I remember saying, Well, I’m technical.”
True enough. After all, he had just graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Automotive Engineering Technology in 2017 from Ferris State University. He had made a living as a mechanic for Mercedes and Chevrolet. He had even been named “Applied Technology Student of the Year” at Stagg High School in Palos Hills. His skill set was sure to be unlike most of those entering religious life.
The response he received from his Director has stuck with him. “He told me, ‘Well, yes, you are technical. But there's more than that label. You are ultimately a child of God’”
“In our society, we like to title people by what they do,” explains Br. David. “It was important for me to realize how much we all have to give that lies outside of those employable skills we can offer a business. What identifies us is how God has made us to share life with one another.”
Already Br. David has found many opportunities to integrate his technical training into his religious vocation. Currently a member of the Augustinian community at Providence Catholic H.S., Br. David is fresh off the completion of his master’s degree in Pastoral Studies and in the midst of a second master’s in STEM Education from Illinois State University. His year of pastoral ministry at Providence has opened him to the possibility of a career in teaching.
“I enjoy talking to students about design and engineering. I try to get them to think about everything we come in contact with through our lives. Just to open a car door-- the manufacturing, the materials, the design, the ergonomics of it all—we can bring an awareness to how interconnected we all are.”
Ministry at Providence Catholic has also afforded him access to woodworking equipment and a humble workspace, located in a garage just behind the tennis courts. Through mostly self-instruction, he has made rapid progress as a carpenter and is using his skills for the benefit of his Augustinian brothers.
When the Midwest Province decided to establish a new Pre-Novitiate in the summer of 2021, they quickly had to furnish an entirely new friary. Br. David took on the formidable task of building an altar, the tabernacle, and other liturgical furniture for the friary’s chapel.
Once Br. David was able to present his work to the community, he was struck by the moment of witnessing his altar be formally consecrated by Bishop Daniel Turley, O.S.A. “It was rewarding to know I put my own energy and hands into it. But it was not about me—it was a moment of gratitude for the gifts we get from God and realizing how we can share them with others.”
These God-given talents for building were apparent from very early in Br. David’s life. “I have always liked just tinkering around, and as a kid I always was drawn to Legos and Erector sets and other building toys.”
While a student at Stagg High School, he took every applied technology class he could, and focused in on automotives as a possible career path. After graduation, he began taking automotive technology courses at nearby Moraine Valley Community College and worked as a car mechanic.
It was following his move to Michigan to earn his bachelor’s that Br. David began seriously contemplating a call to religious life. He had grown up in a Catholic family, and his mother was even an Associate with the Sisters of the Holy Cross at Notre Dame, whom they often visited together. He had loved serving as an altar boy for daily mass, but the question of a religious vocation did not come to him.
While an undergraduate student, he began praying about his vocation at the university’s Newman Center. God’s grace led him to the Confessions of St. Augustine, and he was struck by the saint’s relatable story.
“I began looking around the internet for different religious communities. But it was really St. Augustine, his life and his example, that drew me to religious life. His profound simplicity and his profound awareness of who he was: a sinner who has been made by God.”
By way of the internet, Br. David made contact with the Midwest Augustinians and he was invited by Vocation Director Fr. Tom McCarthy, O.S.A. to experience Augustinian life as a temporary resident with the community of friars at St. Rita High School.
Looking back Br. David is able to see how God had been forming him and calling him through his technical gifts as a craftsman and “tinkerer.” Woodworking offers him tangible analogies to articulate the experience:
“We always have to remain open to changing our plans to follow the will of God. Before a carpenter cuts into a piece of wood, he measures and marks, ensuring every line is straight and square. But when we cut, we may open a split in the grain or go off the mark for any number of reasons. How can we adjust? That is how God sometimes speaks to us too. We have our own plans, but then God introduces a little bit of a detour. And for me, it is very spiritual now how I go about crafts and design.”
Between his graduate studies and ministerial work at Providence, only spare moments are available to spend with his woodworking machinery. Yet, these brief windows have become for Br. David an opportunity for prayer and reflection in the midst of a busy life.
“It is an act of prayer to just sit and focus on what I'm doing and what the product is going to be used for. This piece of wood will not have its end purpose to be a table, or a stand, or a candlestick, but it's for something greater in a fraternity of friars sharing God’s love.”