Brother Michael Perras is what you would call a good guy. Friendly, open, kind, simple. You would want him as a friend. And for good reason. He likes people and likes to be of service. He listens to others. Arms wide open.
His parents, until recently grocers in a small town in Saskatchewan, quickly gave him a sense of community. Born into a practising Catholic family, the eldest of four children, he soon learned the meaning of hospitality and welcome, of putting the other first.
His community included the parish, where he was very involved when he was young. His sense of justice and involvement are probably why, as a child, he wanted to be a police officer. He also thought of becoming a teacher.
A full-fledged Franciscan
In 2012, Franciscans were visiting the parish where Michael worked as a pastoral assistant in Regina, Saskatchewan. Postulant asked him a question. The question. The question that changed his life.
Why aren’t you a Franciscan?
“It was one of the few times in my life that I didn’t know what to say.”
From that moment on, a seed began to sprout in Michael’s mind. Supported by the prayers of his family, his colleagues and parishioners, he made his decision.
From temporary profession to novice, he journeyed within until he was ready to make his solemn vows, which he did on August 23, 2019. Before his family and friends, and of course before the brothers of Holy Spirit Province of Canada, he made a commitment to follow in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi. Like all Franciscans, he made vows of poverty, chastity and humility.
Routine is not part of his daily life. “Except for prayer and meals.” “My life is based on hospitality. It’s who I am. I am a contemplative who lives an active life. My ministry is rooted in a life of prayer.”
At one point, his voice changes. With emotion, Brother Michael continues.
“I am grateful for the gift God gave us, his Son born for us. He promised us he would always be with us, until the end of time. He gave us the gift of the Cross and the Resurrection. We always live in hope and we know how much God loves us.”
Joining the retreat centre team
Since the summer of 2019, Brother Michael has been a member of the Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre team in Cochrane, a few kilometres from Calgary, Alberta.
“Retreats have always been a big part of my life, since high school, actually.” “I want to be present for people who are on the journey, in search of spirituality in the world today.”
Throughout the year, groups come to the retreat centre to journey in their faith and to have access to good spiritual support. Different types of retreats are offered at Mount St. Francis, from a one-day retreat to a week-long retreat. “I also prepare retreats for parishes that request them.” Being a member of the retreat team also means doing various tasks such as preparing the chapel, setting up the dining room and welcoming guests to create an atmosphere that is conducive to interiority and contemplation.
At home in the kitchen
For someone creative like him, the magic happens in the kitchen. Baking is probably what interests him the most, but no matter what ingredients he has on hand, he likes to create. “I especially like making cookies or desserts, but when I’m not baking, I enjoy cooking any dish with whatever ingredients I happen to find.” In a kitchen, he quickly finds his bearings!
“Cooking is good for me – it’s a therapeutic hobby. When I don’t have time to cook, I miss it a lot.”
And of course, bringing together the people he loves, family members and friends, around the same large table, is a must for his vision of hospitality. And of happiness.
At a time when COVID-19 is paralyzing the planet, all the retreats that were planned for the coming weeks at Mount St. Francis have been cancelled until the summer. With his daily activities on hold, this break simply leaves him more time for prayer. He therefore spends his days praying, reading the sacred scriptures, taking part in an online prayer group, and meditating on this wonderful gift of life. Writing his weekly blog during this unprecedented time, he says, is always on his to-do list.
Committed to family values and friendship, Brother Michael doesn’t miss an opportunity to show it. He is close to his many nephews and nieces, and has the joy of being a godparent four times. “I keep in touch with friends, with family and with brothers around the world to offer them a word of encouragement, let them know about a useful resource or share a good recipe or two.”
“And because I have more free time right now, I am a bit busier in the kitchen than usual.”
This new reality of the pandemic means that new needs are emerging in the population. “I want to keep listening to people and do my best to be useful.”
Always there. Always ready to help. Like a friend.