90 Years, 90 Heroes: Brother Joseph Loewenstein, F.S.C.
by Greg Kandra
6 January 2017
Brother Joseph Loewenstein, F.S.C., has been a fixture at Bethlehem University for more than
40 years. (photo: Bethlehem University)
One of the most familiar fixtures at Bethlehem University for several decades has been Brother Joseph Loewenstein, F.S.C. Affectionately known as “Brother Joe,” he has been a member of the CNEWA family for a long time. For several years, in the 1980’s, he served as the director of our regional office in Jerusalem.
He’s also a rarity: a CNEWA hero who has actually been around longer than CNEWA.
The university’s magazine saluted him shortly after his 90th birthday, in October of 2015, and told some of his story:
Brother Joe was born in Queens, New York, in 1925 where he grew up during the depression. With two siblings, his parents had three children to attend to in those difficult economic times. Brother Joe attended an elementary school run by Dominican Sisters, the parochial school of the Brooklyn diocese of Elmhurst, Queens. The diocese offered scholarships for students to its secondary school, Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, which was run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. “I always wanted to be a priest,” Brother Joe says. “But at school I became interested in joining the Brothers. At 15 years old, Brother Joe left home to go to a training school for boys interested in joining the Brothers. “We were encouraged to focus on the vocation, and at that time it was common to leave home for that purpose” Brother Joe explains. He graduated in 1943 and went to Novitiate for one year’s training in the Brotherhood, after which he enrolled in Catholic University in Washington D.C. His class was sent to various schools after three years, before completing their Bachelor’s degrees, since there was a shortage of teachers during World War II.
When Brother Joe came to Bethlehem University in 1975, he was ready for a new challenge.
That new challenge was to serve as the university’s second president, a position he held for seven years. Forty-two years after he arrived in Bethlehem, he is still active at the school, continuing to help shape young lives.
We got in touch with him recently, and he offered a few thoughts on CNEWA (better known in the Middle East as Pontifical Mission):
The work of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission made a lasting impression on me to this very day, which is difficult to explain.
I had spent all my life working in the classroom with young men — wonderful work, but rather narrow in scope, between walls with regular hoursand specific topics but in a sense confining. That was life in the “Ivory Tower.”
The work of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission is quite different from teaching and being cooped up in the classroom all day. The classroom and labs are quite immobile and inside, with rare opportunities to be outside. But there is a world outside the classroom. I saw and felt this reality with the work of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission.
One example — and perhaps the most outstanding for me — was visiting several handicapped children, living in a recently established center converted from a school to a home for mentally disabled children (with the help of CNEWA/Pontifical Mission — that was why I was there).
I had never worked with handicapped children. I was scared stiff the first time I visited the home. But seeing the children of all ages (including babies) made me want to cry, but gave me the strength to continue my regular monthly visits. I remember the first time one of my superiors from the United States came to see my work and I brought him to the center and how nervous he was about seeing these unfortunate children. Despite my attempts to prepare him, he had to excuse himself early in the visit.
Another highlight of my work was regular visits to the libraries sponsored by CNEWA/Pontifical Mission in Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I was surprised the libraries were so well-used and the librarians were so popular. I always enjoyed these visits to the libraries, which were so helpful for education. I am pleased to say that in my supervisory position I was able to support constructing a public library in one corner of the university, having its own entrance outside the walls for the children and public, so it was accessible when the university was closed.
Even when the country was still adjusting to the results of the Six-Day War, which limited our work to the local scenes and Gaza, where we supported a school for the blind, I was rewarded by the great help we were able to give — such as loans, verbal support, personal visits and so on.
Today the most important work is the same as at my time: helping others. That means helping them earn a living, helping with medical needs or housing, especially when their house was destroyed or residents evicted. It also means helping, especially, the children, who often go hungry.
My philosophy is ‘helping others’ — be they students, the poor, anyone in need.
That philosophy lies at the heart of CNEWA’s mission, as well. We’re proud to have shared in that work with Brother Joe and the dedicated people at Bethlehem University. Ad multos annos!