After 52 years at Chaminade, Bro. Lawrence Syriac, S.M. has retired from teaching. He will remain on the school staff as a guidance counselor, homeroom moderator, moderator of the Social Studies Club, and assistant moderator of the Catholic League.
“I’ve never regretted a single day as a Marianist,” Bro. Lawrence said. “It’s the greatest blessing I’ve ever had.”
Bro. Lawrence began discerning his vocation as a 7th-grader in his hometown of Westfield, Mass. His school gave students the day off to visit a religious fair, and Bro. Lawrence signed up with many of the orders there for more information. The Society of Mary, the Marianists, was one of only two to respond.
“One of the Brothers drove four hours from Long Island through the Berkshires to Westfield – and this is before the age of superhighways – to see me on my lunch period, speak to me and my family for ten minutes, turn around, and drive four hours back home,” Bro. Lawrence recalled. “I was fascinated that the guy would do all of that just to see me.”
In the next few years, Bro. Lawrence enrolled at the Marianist Preparatory School in Beacon, Dutchess County.
“Every Brother was so professional, friendly, spiritual, and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. They were very different than anyone I ever met. They made me into the person I became.”
In those days, the Marianists were ordained as priests, or professed their vows as teaching or working Brothers. A Brother in Beacon suggested teaching history. The idea never came to Bro. Lawrence, but he was told to pray about it. “That was the Word of God,” he thought.
Bro. Lawrence began teaching in 1961 at St. James High School near Philadelphia (The late Rev. Paul Landolfi, S.M. was there, too, and later lived his final years Chaminade in Mineola with Bro. Lawrence.) and then at Colegio San José in Puerto Rico. By 1966, he had come to Chaminade, where he remained ever since.
Generations of Chaminade men know Bro. Lawrence as an authority on all things American – a historian whose knowledge particularly of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars is unmatched. His connections to notable people in history, the military, and politics have made him a legend among students and alumni. Many of his contacts are graduates, colleagues of graduates, or members of organizations with which Bro. Lawrence has worked. He currently serves as chairman of the Friends of Sagamore Hill, a non-profit dedicated to preserving and protecting the former home of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and, for 25 years, as the Chaplain of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.
Whenever he meets someone, Bro. Lawrence said, “The first thing I ask is, ‘Would you like to speak to the Social Studies Club?’”
Military leaders, members of the FBI, even a Saudi prince have taken the invitation. Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin is on a first-name-basis with Bro. Lawrence. She knew of him before they even met; she had family on Long Island. When conversations turned to politics or history, “She told me, ‘the Chaminade boy will know more than anyone in the room.’”
Bro. Lawrence also oversaw Chaminade’s Hiking Club. From there, he pioneered the USA Tour – a longtime summer program bringing students to all corners of the country.
“That helped me teach American History,” he said. “I’ve been to every National Park in America except those in Hawaii. I could bring history to life by physically seeing the Oregon Trail, the Alamo, and other sites of historical importance.”
Bro. Lawrence also spent many years as moderator of the Catholic League, which brings students together to understand, enhance, and protest the religious and civil rights of all people, especially Catholics and the unborn. Each year, Bro. Lawrence traveled with Chaminade men to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Right to Life March.
For Bro. Lawrence, it wasn’t just the places he’s been. It’s was how he could pass his experiences on to students.
“On hiking trips,” he recalled, “I’d tell a student to give me a word – any word – and I’ll start a story. They’d have to continue the story. We could walk 30 miles and tell 50,000 stories.”
It might be a modest estimate.
Through it all, Bro. Lawrence never lost touch with the ever-present figure on every trip he took, every class he taught, or every prayer he said.
“Everything I’ve always done has been connected to Mary,” he said.