The Departure of a Legend
Alexander Landowski ‘19
To those of us students who think about the era that included the end of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal as ancient history, just think of this: Brother Casey has been at Strake Jesuit dutifully serving our school since that era. For 43 years the community here has been blessed by his presence, but all good things must end. Brother Casey is leaving Strake Jesuit at the end of this school year and is heading to Grand Coteau, Louisiana for his third stint in that little town. Needless to say, he will be greatly missed.
The story of Brother Casey and his arrival here at Strake Jesuit begins with a boy from Tampa, Florida arriving in Grand Coteau, Louisiana in the early 1960’s, where he began his Jesuit walk serving as a Novice and attending the Seminary. He grew close to the town’s people and did some coaching of 7th and 8th grade boys basketball teams, which he really found to be enjoyable. His religious and educational training led him to New Orleans Jesuit High School in 1965, where he was informed that he would be involved with discipline and athletics. Since he had not yet received his degree when he arrived in New Orleans, he attended the Jesuit Loyola University in New Orleans part-time until he completed his degree work there and attained the designation of Brother in the Catholic Church.
A Brother takes the same vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as priests do, and studies in the Seminary. Brothers can participate in the sacrament of baptism, “can help out in the church as a sacristan, and get involved in parish activities,” Brother Casey said, but they do not “lead the sacred ministry and administer the sacraments, and say Mass or listen to confession, as priests do.” His initial experience in New Orleans as a high school educator instilled a love in him for helping to mold teenage boys into Godly men, a mission that would stay with him for his entire career.
In 1971 Brother Casey was called back to Grand Coteau for a challenging assignment that was reflective of the times. This town, whose population was little more than 1,000 people, had two Catholic churches — a church for white and Cajun parishioners and a church for black parishioners. The head priest for the parish was given orders to integrate the two churches that had always been segregated, as was not uncommon in the South during those days. According to Brother Casey, “The old timers in both churches didn’t like the idea, and a Jesuit Brother ended up agreeing” with the rebelling parishioners, which got him in trouble with Church officials, resulting in his being removed from his post. The Church was not willing to accept any result except for the desired integration of the two different churches. At that time, Brother Casey was called from his New Orleans Jesuit position to take charge of the infirmary, to replace the departed Brother, and did so willingly. Although the position was supposed to last for one year, it ended up lasting two years. Knowing the significance of the racial integration of the two churches, Brother Casey was happy to assist in this historic measure. Still, he knew his heart lied in working with high school students, and he desired to get back to that environment as soon as he could.
When his Grand Coteau infirmary position ended and a new pastor arrived, it was time for Brother Casey to seek a new position.When asked where he would like to pursue work in a Jesuit high school, his native Tampa or back to New Orleans was his reply. However, there were no openings at either of those locations, so the Grand Coteau director advised Brother Casey that he should visit Dallas and Houston to see if either of those locations suited him. Perhaps not surprising to those of us who live here, he found Houston to be more welcoming than Dallas. There was another aspect of the Houston job that appealed to him. He felt strongly that he was greatly needed here, where a Jesuit high school was suffering from severe financial problems and was facing imminent bankruptcy. According to Brother Casey, “The Jesuits said that the school either needed to withdraw from Houston or get help.” He claims that his hero was Father Mike Alchia, the new President of the school, who inherited the financial problems. “He really influenced me by his actions. There was no job that was too small for him,” Brother Casey told me. He felt this place was a calling for him, and thus he began his tenure here at Strake Jesuit in 1973.
Brother Casey started his work in the Dean’s Office serving in a disciplinary function and as an athletic trainer. In other words, he might administer your PH at lunchtime and tape your ankles for the big game that evening. After six years of performing those dual jobs, he discontinued the disciplinarian function and transitioned full-time as the athletic trainer while beginning a position involved with alumni activities. He continued work in the Dean’s Office until he was 71 years old, but started feeling stress and removed himself from that in 2011. “I’ve seen many Jesuits get messed up because of stress that would result in health or addiction problems,” Brother Casey said. Ever since he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education and a minor in health, he has had an emphasis on maintaining good health. In fact, he proclaims that he has as a hobby determining how to maintain good health. “Beware of the stress that you face in life itself,” he warned me.
From interviewing Brother Casey, it became readily apparent to me what aspect of his life here at Strake Jesuit that has brought him the most pride and is the most memorable for him. In the 43 years of serving this institution, he has experienced multiple generations of the same family. “I’ve seen the second generation come in. What was student, now is dad,” Brother Casey stated. “It prides me just to see a dad take the responsibility of being a dad.” He went on to define the comical element of that familial relationship, telling me “the son makes the same mistakes or booboos as the dad did. I laugh to myself whenever I see this,” he claims. “Dad is correcting the son for the same booboos he committed. Like the old cliché, what goes around, comes around.” He truly believes in that old saying, because he’s witnessed it time and again. It has brought him great pride to see the teenage boys that he worked with now being the dad of a Strake Jesuit student, which really is strictly a function of being here for such an extended period of time. It is amazing for him to see someone who was maybe the class clown now being the dad who is “doing his job to make sure that his son does the right thing.”
Working with the teenage boys in helping them to develop their God-given talents has brought Brother Casey the most joy in his work here at Strake Jesuit. During the “crazy adolescent stage of their life, adolescence — it’s not an easy thing, because you’re getting to know yourself, both physically and mentally”, he stated. “I’m there to correct them when needed.” In seeing teenage boys develop into manhood, transform into a Man for Others, and then finally become a dad produces great joy for him.
The part of Brother Casey’s life at Strake Jesuit that has been the most difficult happened when he was faced with the death of teenage boys and alumni during his tenure here. He utilized his talents to bring comfort to the community during such sad times.
The greatest changes which Brother Casey has witnessed during his tenure here at Strake Jesuit coincide with the August 2001 arrival of Father Lahart. He was impressed how Father immediately asked the teachers here what was needed to enhance the educational experience at Strake Jesuit and increase its status as an academic institution. “At the same time, the school was trying to get in UIL, which was originally turned down, until a Supreme Court appeal order allowed for it to happen,” Brother Casey informed me. “The public schools didn’t want Strake Jesuit to be able to compete with them,” which was a dynamic that Brother Casey said was unique to Texas in athletics in his experience. In the time spent here he personally witnessed the school going from near bankruptcy to achieving a ranking of one of the most esteemed Catholic high schools in the United States. In his opinion, the reason for this is based on the school’s high academic standards and “the work in the intellectual and spiritual aspect of life itself in the quest of getting to know God.”
When asked if there have been any noticeable changes in the philosophy of the school during his time here, Brother Casey didn’t really sense that. Rather, he maintains that it has been relatively consistent throughout his days here. “The teaching philosophy that has been followed here is about teaching kids the right thing, putting God into their life itself, and to get along with people, and to put God into their actions, too — being a Man for Others,” he exclaimed. Although change for the sake of change is not desirable, he has never had a problem with the changes that he has seen in his 43 years at SJ. He believes that anything new in attempting to make the school better deserves a chance to succeed. “Sometimes changes are needed in the ministry itself,” he said.
After 49 years of Jesuit high school work, Brother Casey knows that his time here has run its course. “I’m 77, going on 78,” he told me. “What helped me to decide is the fact that . . . I don’t have the energy that I used to” needed in working with teenage boys. This past year he realized that he needed to start slowing down. When asked if he has anxiety about leaving a place that he has called home for 43 years, he claims that he doesn’t really have any anxiety about leaving. He simply stated, “I’m going to miss this place.” Strake Jesuit will miss you, too, Brother Casey! He did acknowledge that going back to Grand Coteau for the third time makes leaving a little easier.
So, Brother Casey is riding off into the Sunset. Actually, he is riding off to Grand Coteau. Sunset, Louisiana is the name of the little town across the interstate from Grand Coteau, and a part of the same parish, he informed me. Don’t think that Brother Casey is going to retire completely, though. Grand Coteau needs personnel to assist the novices there, and it’s a place where many Jesuits go to retire, making it a perfect fit for him at this point in his life. It certainly will have a slower pace for him than he experienced in the hallowed halls of Strake Jesuit. He does intend to return here whenever he can to attend school events and to visit all of the people that have meant so much to him for the last 43 years. In “Grand Coteau the Jesuits are semi-retired or retired altogether,” Brother Casey told me. “I will be semi-retired. I’m going to find something to do.” After arriving there, he hopes to see some of the men that he coached as seventh and eighth grade boys more than 50 years ago. So, there is much for Brother Casey to look forward to awaiting him in Grand Coteau. “And, I love the Cajun food,” he proclaims. Many blessings to you, Brother — and, laissez les bons temps rouler!