By Hugo Stern | Contributing Writer

Br. Camillus was interviewed inside the Joseph Alemany Community. (Hugo Stern/COLLEGIAN)

It was 10 o’clock on the morning of Saturday, March 3, when The Collegian spoke with Br. Camillus in his room inside the Joseph Alemany Community.

All around his room were various paintings of the Mother Mary all done by different people: some by famous artists, one by his Mom, and one by him. In the moments before the interview began, it was quiet, and you could hear the fountain from outside.

Br. Camillus is one of the quirkiest characters you can find roaming around Saint Mary’s College, fist-bumping everyone in his path. His lectures are like performance monologues, giving off a surreal and almost psychedelic vibe about him. Though many know his prominent face, many might not know of the rich history of his life.

Br. Camillus was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1929, during the Depression period. His father, who worked at a water and power plant, was put out of work, so he and his family moved down to Mexico where they found out, he says, that the Depression was even worse there. So his mother saved up money from selling clothes she made with her sowing machine and moved them back to Los Angeles, where she got a cleaning job saving five cents a day for her family to get by. When his mother got sick, he and his brother Ricky were sent to live with their godparents, and they went back and forth every year, living between their godparents and their mother.

He entered Cathedral High School in 1943 and graduated in 1946. It was there that he was first introduced to the Christian Brothers, who taught there and inspired him to want to be a Brother and an educator himself. After attending East Los Angeles Community College, where he developed a liking for the liberal arts, he decided to go through novitiate that sent him to Saint Mary’s College, which looked very different from what it looks like today. There were about 700 students (all male, most of them GIs) and about 30 Brothers, who were the only teachers then. He graduated and became a Brother in 1949.

From 1952 onward, he began teaching in various high schools throughout Northern California, including Sacred Heart High School in San Francisco, San Joaquin High School in Fresno, Sunset High School in Hayward, and Saint Mary’s College High School in Berkeley. Although the faculty labeled him as “too kind” and “too forgiving,” he connected with the Mexican students there through the Spanish language.

While he was teaching at Sunset High, the Chicano students had organized a walkout to protest the lack of attention given to them, which was preventing them from getting into university. Br. Camillus and five other Mexican teachers supported the protest by putting on an auction to raise money for scholarships for the Chicano students. The protest and auction was successful, and that year some Chicano students were able to attend Stanford, Mills College, and other prestigious schools.

It was also at Sunset that Br. Camillus first encountered meditation through the Jose Silva Mind Control workshop, where he had a strong experience and a stronger desire to teach it to students. He calls meditation “the deepest focus of the mind, much deeper than prayer,” but to him, mediation is a personal, spiritual experience and doesn’t interfere with Catholicism.

In 1975, his old friend Br. Desales Perez (one of the first Latinos in the US to get a PhD) asked him to come back to Saint Mary’s and to get a PhD of his own. He got his PhD in Psychology at the Wright Institute in Berkeley (later getting his clinical degree in social psychology in 2000.) After finishing all his schooling, he came back to work at Saint Mary’s, where he teaches Beginner’s Meditation (which he’s been teaching since 1989), Meditation & Prayer (since ’97), and Meditation and the Archetypes (’03) to his small classes of eager students. Today, Br. Camillus is proud to call Saint Mary’s College his home of heart and body.

Before I concluded the interview, he taught me the meaning behind his famous fist-bumps, which are a symbol of having open and conscious relationships with people, which he learned from Martin Buber’s “I and Thou.” His fist bumps are personal contacts he shares with his students. He also pointed out that they’re quicker than handshakes.

He says what keeps him going is knowing he has something valuable to teach people, which gives his life meaning. He advises all of his students, and all who will listen, that “learning to connect deeply with yourself and others will help you discover your passion and gift to the world,” and that “inner guidance will give you what you are really here for.”

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