Marie Brouwers of Azusa was just eight when Msgr. Anthony Brouwers, her second cousin, died. He had married her parents, along with baptizing, confirming and giving one of her sisters her First Communion. Her father admired his first cousin greatly. Whenever Monsignor came calling to their house in El Sereno, it was a special occasion — especially like the time he brought back a hand-carved ivory set of the Holy Family from Africa.“I think the most vivid memory all of us have was when he baptized my younger sister,” Marie pointed out. “Her name is Antoinette Josephine after him, and we went to St. Paul’s where he was pastor. He’d been in a wheelchair for some time because of his cancer, but he actually stood up to do it. “She was born Nov. 18, 1963, and he died Jan. 14 in ’64. So that must have been one of the last sacraments he performed. And he stood up to baptize her, which we thought was miraculous.”Older sister Lissa Brouwers, a teacher in Northampton, Mass., also will never forget the baptism of her younger sister, who the family called “Tony-Jo.” During the first part of the rite, Msgr. Brouwers sat in his wheelchair. But when it came time to say the sacred words, “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost,” the priest rose up to pour water over the newborn’s forehead. “I could see his face and tell that it hurt him to stand,” Lissa recalled. “But he was bound and determined to do it.”Lasting LegacySo what is the legacy of Msgr. Anthony Brouwers — born 100 years ago last month, but whose life was tragically cut short by cancer at age 51 — after being a priest for 25 years and 37 days?It’s hard to find a Catholic Angeleno today who even recognizes his name, never mind knows about the fierce opposition he encountered with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, then-national head of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and famed TV personality, as well as from Msgr. Benjamin Hawkes, Los Angeles archdiocesan chancellor and vicar general. The 1950s were a time when the Catholic Church in America was overflowing with religious vocations, and laymen and laywomen need not apply to be missionaries. And there was also the matter of liability. The late Msgr. Lawrence O’Leary, assistant director of the archdiocese’s Propagation of the Faith from 1959 to 1964, and later director, reported in the biography “‘For We are God’s Helpers’: The Life of Monsignor Anthony Brouwers — Visionary of the Lay Mission Movement” that the Los Angeles Church hierarchy was “scared to death” of the legal and financial ramifications of sending lay people off to missions in Africa and other faraway lands. “They thought it was crazy, and Msgr. Hawkes wanted it to die,” he observed. “Msgr. Hawkes was always ridiculing the Lay Mission-Helpers and the work they were doing. He called us the ‘Office of Travel,’ always in derisive terms. And he was a very, very powerful person as far as controlling people’s lives.“But Brouwers was a fighter who was fighting back. You know, he had a column in The Tidings every week. Plus he was a charismatic speaker. So he’d take Hawkes and the others on. And he could outsmart them in many ways.”Indeed, the ahead-of-his-time priest from Lincoln Heights did exactly that. A decade before the historic Second Vatican Council spelled out the vital part the laity (the “people of God”) plays in the Catholic Church, Msgr. Brouwers was convinced that lay missionaries could live saintly lives by being true witnesses to their faith just as much as members of the clergy — and many times, in fact, be better role models precisely because they were just ordinary people. So he started and personally trained a handful of Lay Mission-Helpers in 1955-56. Today, more than 700 of these lay missionaries and mission doctors, who Msgr. Brouwers formed into a separate association four years later, have served in 36 mostly impoverished Third World countries. The majority of these men and women have donated their considerable talents and witnessed their living faith for at least three years, with many volunteering for multiple assignments.“I would think recognizing that lay people serve not only in their professional capacity, but recognizing that they were also serving as true missionaries was his real legacy,” said Elise Frederick, executive director of the Mission Doctors Association. The program director of the Lay Mission-Helpers agreed that was the priest’s principal endowment. “That lay people have an important role to play in the church was his gift to the Church,” Janice England said. “I mean, that we have the skills and knowledge and education that we have to use. And we have faith, too.“And we also have ‘ambassadors,’ in that we also learn from where we’re sent and then we bring that back home. So it’s kind of a two-way street. We go with something, but we come back with something that enriches the churches here, too. And Msgr. Brouwers really realized that.” Multiple myeloma The first sharp pain came in June 1957. The industrious priest was changing an exhaust pipe on his beloved Ford when he felt it on the left side of his chest. When it lasted for 10 days, Msgr. Brouwers finally relented and saw a chest surgeon, who diagnosed it as a fracture.Still having episodes of discomfort more than a year later, the priest sought medical help again. This time an X-ray revealed a bony lesion on his left eighth rib with soft tissue suggesting myeloma; that was confirmed by the pathology report. He had multiple myeloma, a painful and deadly cancer that starts in the plasma cells in bone marrow, and for which there was no cure. After getting radiation therapy, he was discharged from Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital to Dr. Downey, his brother-in-law, for “complete care.”None of this, however, kept Msgr. Brouwers from his mission ministry. While visiting his beloved Lay Mission-Helpers in Africa, he made two pilgrimages to the village outside of Kampala, Uganda, where in 1886 22 converted Catholic men and boys were burned alive when they refused to renounce their new faith. He wrote home to Cardinal James Francis McIntyre that “I have no trouble health-wise and expect none,” believing he had been cured by divine intercession.But by late 1962, the cancer had spread to his spine, making it severely difficult for the 49-year-old priest to walk or even get out of bed. And so in November he was back in Daniel Freeman, where he would stay — except for brief outings — for the last 13 months of his life.But a year before he had to return to the Inglewood hospital, former Lay Mission-Helper Fran Laterza, a physical therapist, started working with Msgr. Brouwers at St. Paul Church in Los Angeles, where he was pastor. She helped him exercise his legs to ease the severe muscle spasms that were increasing. Still, she never noticed any outward signs of depression or mood change, and he always greeted her with a smile and “Hi, Fran!”“Of course, it was hard for him because he had always been so active,” she recalled in “For We are God’s Helpers.” “But I think he was so committed to the whole program of Lay Mission-Helpers, Mission Doctors, the Holy Childhood Association and the Mission Circles that he just wanted to give his all. Another person would possibly just lie in bed and accept it. But his disposition was such that he wanted to keep going.”Paralysis and deathAlthough Sister Mechtilde Gerber was not assigned to his floor at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital, the then-young nurse would often visit him, sometimes giving him a sponge bath. “Bone cancer is very painful,” the Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet pointed out. “It’s like every bone hurts you. And the bones get very frail, so that if you move too fast you can break them. My sister, who also died of multiple myeloma, broke her two hips when a nurse was just moving her. So it’s extremely painful. “But Monsignor was not a big complainer,” she said. “He spoke very little about his pain. He was just a real good person, a very, very gentle man. And the Sisters on his floor loved to go in and talk to him because he was so spiritual.”After Msgr. Brouwers' brittle spine broke, he became a paraplegic. Still, the priest from Lincoln Height remained active. In fact, on Nov. 3, 1963, he spoke to some 10,000 Catholic school students at the first Children’s Mission Celebration in the Los Angeles Sports Arena. From his wheelchair, he thanked the youths for leading the United States in donations to the missions that year.“The greatest kind of giver is the one who gives to strangers across the seas, across the world,” he declared. “You are helping strangers you’ll never see and who’ll never write you notes. You can only expect to see them in glory before God in heaven.“Then you will be surprised to see the people you have helped — those with no clothes, no education, the cold and the hungry for whom the world does not care. But you are reaching out to those strangers not because you know them, but because of God, whom you do know and love.”After ten more weeks of suffering, cancer cells reached Msgr. Anthony Brouwers’ brain, and the priest fell into a deep merciful coma. The last hand-scribbled line of a one-page biographical sketch simply recorded: “January 14, 1964 — Entered heaven.”“‘For We Are God’s Helpers’: The Life of Monsignor Anthony Brouwers, Visionary of the Lay Mission Movement” can be ordered from the Lay Mission-Helpers Association for $10 plus postage. Contact: Janice England, program director, Lay Mission-Helpers Association, 3435 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1940, Los Angeles, CA 90010; (213) 368-1870. It is also available as an e-book for Kindle from Amazon.comTo learn more about the Mission Doctors Association, contact: Elise Frederick, executive director, 3435 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1940, Los Angeles, CA 90010; (213) 368-1875. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1026/brouwers/{/gallery}