Brother Camillus Chavez, FSC ’51

This biography by A.J. Lastra
was written for the 2008 Latino Alumni Awards at Saint Mary's College of California

There are circumstances in a person’s life that often indicate a special pattern.

Br. Camillus’ birth seems to have such a special pattern.  His parents Elias and Cruz Chavez were married at St. Peter’s chapel which was adjacent to the grounds of Cathedral High School which Br. Camillus later attended, and they set up housekeeping within a mile of Cathedral High School.  He was born on June 14, 1929 which is the birthday of St. Benilde, who was a DeLaSalle Christian Brother.  Thus several  circumstances related him early on to the Christian Brothers.

In January 1943 he graduated from Hazard Grammar School.  To insure that he received a Catholic education, his godparents enrolled him at Cathedral High School. Br. Camillus initially resented this move because he was separated from his grammar school class who mostly matriculated to Lincoln High School.  However, within two weeks he was completely won over by the Brothers whom he found personable, affable, excellent teachers and had surprising discipline over their classes in an all boys school.  The thought of  becoming a Brother then began to fill his mind.

At Cathedral there were mixed groups of Irish, Italians, Slavs, and Mexicans.  They all got along fine, a real tribute to the Brothers ability to create a cohesive community based in large part on the Brothers care and concern for their young men, solid education, and firm discipline.  After graduating from Cathedral High School he junior college he noticed in the adjacent school, Garfield High, that the Mexican students often seemed angry and resentful towards their school.  One circumstance that then motivated him was the desire to join the Brothers to help Mexican youth attain a good Catholic education. He prayed earnestly for God’s guidance and under the impetus of the Holy Spirit joined the Brothers in August 1947.

He went to the Brothers’ novitiate at Mont LaSalle, Napa for a year and a half, then matriculated to Saint Mary’s College where he graduated in August 1951.  Then teach young men young men he did, a number of them Mexicans and Latinos in different high schools, Sacred Heart, San Joaquin Memorial, Christian Brothers, and St. Mary’s College High School.  Then Br. DeSales at Saint Mary’s College invited him to come teach Spanish.  This was an answer to a prayer.  After  21 years of teaching high Spanish to often resistant freshmen he felt a real need for a change.  This was a blessing indeed.

Br. Camillus began teaching at St. Mary’s College in 1975 and has been here ever since.  He was soon appointed Coordinator for Hispanic Students to halt the exodus of Mexican and Latino students.  At that time there were only about 5% Hispanic students. Eighty would matriculate to Saint Mary’s College and more than half of them would leave at the end of the year.  He instituted a strong retreat program for the students, which united the group and increased the perseverance rate.  One of his main goals was to establish a sense of “familia” where students came to know and care for one another.

He also instituted a small but dedicated group of students who worked from his office to do outreach and provide support for Latino students

Br. Camillus had begun a graduate psychology program in 1978 from the Wright Institute from which he graduated with a Ph.D. in 1985.  Shortly thereafter, to obtain experience as a therapist in several internships, he resigned from the position of Coordinator for Hispanic Students.  He then also began to teach in the Psychology Department.

His latest focus has been to help students develop psychologically and spiritually by teaching meditation.  He initiated courses in Transpersonal Psychology and Beginners’ Meditation in 1989 and has expanded St. Mary’s College offerings in this area to include  Prayer and Meditation, Meditation and the Archetypes, and meditation workshops to the general public on different areas.

An extrovert, he has forever enjoyed interacting with and teaching students, watching them grow and develop as human beings. Intensifying his focus on spirituality in 2005 he became a member of Campus Ministry, now Mission and Ministry.  Thanks to Pamela Thomas of Mission and Ministry he now offers Lasallian Meditation Retreats and thanks to Carol Anderson he now has a web site on meditation at brothercamillus.com.  Whatever number of years he continues teaching at St. Mary’s College he will dedicate to teaching meditation with the hope students and others will learn to develop themselves deeply and spiritually as human beings. Br. Camillus says, “Amen” to all this, and “Thanks be to God, to our Lord Jesus, and to our Lady of Guadelupe for all blessings bestowed on his life.”