Brother Michael Collins’ life helping youth was a song he sang well

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | January 18, 2012 | 0 Comments

Brother Michael Collins during a 2007 interview. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Christian Brother Michael Collins gave us a tangible sign of Christ’s resurrection in his life of helping and educating youth, including the poor and disadvantaged, said St. Cloud Bishop John Kinney at the funeral of Brother Michael, longtime education leader and president of DeLaSalle High School.

“What a powerful sign of the resurrection that is for us today,” said Bishop Kinney, Brother Michael’s DeLaSalle classmate who delivered the homily at the Jan. 14 funeral at the Basilica of St. Mary. “Michael gave his life to help young people grow in faith, knowledge and leadership.”

Brother Michael, whose religious name was Brother Junian Fidelis, was a member of the Christian Brothers for 54 years. He died Jan. 8 at age 74 from complications related to lung cancer.

As part of a long and distinguished academic career, Brother Michael is recognized for leading an effort during his 20 years as DeLaSalle president that resulted in doubling the downtown Minneapolis school’s enrollment; raising more than $25 million from benefactors; and creating an academic environment in the past decade in which at least 96 percent of graduates annually attend college.

A leader in Catholic education, Brother Michael served for a number of years on the National Catholic Educational Association.

Thousands at funeral Mass

Archbishop John Nienstedt presided at the Mass. Bishop John LeVoir of New Ulm also concelebrated.

Overflow seating in the Basilica’s lower level accommodated some of the more than 2,000 family, friends, fellow Christian Brothers, students and alumni. Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak were among the mourners.

DeLaSalle’s A Capella Choir and Symphonic Band, and several other musicians performed during the funeral.

Following the liturgy, Tim Keane, DeLaSalle alumnus and chair of the school’s board of trustees talked about Brother Michael’s passion for helping youth and inspiring them to achieve. With warmth and concern for the total person, he practiced the “MBA management style: Management By walking Around” to stay engaged with students, staff and faculty at DeLaSalle, Keane said.

“He had a magical gift of elevating everyone around him, students, staff, faculty, peers,” he said. “He had high expectations for himself and everyone he touched.”

Brother Michael’s passion for educating young people was equaled only by his passion for music, Keane said. A gifted singer and acclaimed choral director, he led choirs at DeLaSalle and other schools to perform nationally. He was sought after to sing at weddings, and occasionally snuck away to perform at piano bars in downtown Minneapolis, Keane said.

Following the funeral Mass, alumni of a choir Brother Michael led when he taught at Shanley High School in Fargo, N.D., performed the African-American spiritual, “O Happy Day.”

Brother Michael sang well the unique song of his life, Bishop Kinney said. “No wonder Brother Michael couldn’t stop singing with his beautiful life,” he said. “He couldn’t keep from singing.”

From a working class family

While growing up in north Minneapolis, Brother Michael’s working class parents encouraged him to achieve at DeLaSalle and other then-mostly-white schools, said Christian Brother Michael Lee Anderson, a long-time friend who shared his reflections. As Brother Michael became successful, he brought his parents up with him, Brother Michael Lee said.

Father Ralph Goman, a 1956 DeLaSalle graduate, remembers singing in the choir with Brother Michael, who graduated a year ahead of him.

“I wonder with his voice why they needed the rest of us,” he said.

Father Goman, who is retired from full-time ministry, said he appreciates how Brother Michael grappled with problems of low enrollment and financial debt to raise DeLaSalle’s quality. “I admire how he pulled DeLaSalle up to be a standard-setting school,” he said.

Christian Brother Larry Schatz, provincial of Midwest Province of the DeLaSalle Christian Brothers, said Brother Michael was a friend who was bigger than life. “He was a titan for urban education.”

Jessica Luckett, a 2008 DeLaSalle graduate, said Brother Michael inspired her, even though he sometimes could be intimidating. “He touched every life he came in contact with,” she said.

Luckett said Brother Michael encouraged her to pursue college and she will graduate this spring from Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill.

“If not for Brother Michael I wouldn’t be where I am,” she said. “I owe my life to him.”

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