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Updated: Jun 30, 2021

Verbum Spei continues to grow as men profess vows while preparing for move to retreat center

The following story appeared in the May 14 Idaho Catholic Register.

The Brothers of Verbum Spei include, from left, Father Ewald-Johannes Kamphuis, Father Dominique Faure, Brother Thomas Fransen, Brother Joseph Smith, Brother Jesús Vargas and Brother Jonathan Kilkelly. More men will be joining the community this week. In July, they will move into the Nazareth Retreat Center converting it into a monastery that will welcome visitors to pray and study with the community. (ICR photo/Gene Fadness)

by Gene Fadness


Two brothers from the Verbum Spei community in Boise will make their Final Profession during a Mass celebrated by Bishop Peter Christensen on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, at 2:45 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

Brother Ewald-Johannes Kamphuis and Brother Jonathan Kilkelly will receive final vows while two more men, Brother Joseph Smith and Brother Thomas Fransen, will make their First Vows. Also part of the celebration will be the investiture of Brother Jesús Vargas.

While Brother Ewald and Brother Jonathan have been here since 2019, the other three brothers are relatively new to the growing Verbum Spei community.

Verbum Spei (“Word of Hope”) started in Saltillo, Mexico in 2012. The fraternity also has monasteries, or houses of formation in Luxembourg and in the Basque country of Spain. Its house of formation in Boise is the Order’s first in North America and first in an English-speaking country.

In July of this year, the Brothers will move from their current location at the Treinen House behind St. John’s Cathedral in Boise to the Nazareth Retreat Center at 4450 N. Five Mile Road. In July, the retreat center will become a full-fledged monastery with about 12 men discerning monastic life and two others who will live in community with the men as part of the Order’s “School of Life,” a kind of spiritual gap year for young people seeking direction in their lives.

In addition to the men professing vows, two more men from New Zealand and one from Mexico are expected to join the monastery later this month.

The monastery is not cloistered, meaning that faithful from the community may come and join the Brothers for Morning and Evening Prayer, Adoration and daily Mass. “Guests are very welcome to come with one of the priests for Confession or advice, as well as to come for some days of personal retreat,” says a flyer about the Boise monastery. Verbum Spei’s Boise website is

Father Dominique Faure, the French priest who is the prior for the Boise house, is hoping that the monastery will not only enrich the daily lives of the faithful, but also become a seedbed for vocations. Young men are invited to come and live the monastic life for any period of time and participate in the study and prayer that is part of the Order’s School of Life.

Men who are considering the monastic life enter into the novitiate by an investiture ceremony, at which time they receive the monastic habit. That begins an 18-month period of discernment after which First Vows are taken. Final Vows are taken after three more years of study, prayer and participation in monastic life. Most of the Brothers who take Final Vows go on to become religious order priests, but that is not required to continue as a full monastic with the Verbum Spei community.

Brother Ewald-Johannes Kamphuis is a native of the Netherlands. He joined the Emmanuel Community as a young man. The Emmanuel Community started in the mid-1970s as a prayer group affiliated with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Brother Ewald-Johannes’ life in that community led to his decision to become a religious order priest. “I needed the formation of the Emmanuel Community to make it (the call) concrete,” he told the Idaho Catholic Register in 2019.

Brother Ewald-Johannes began his seminary studies by taking philosophy in Belgium and then theology in the diocese in Holland in which he was ordained. Ordained in 2007, he stayed in Holland for eight years and then spent one year with an Emmanuel Community parish in Brussels. In 2016, he joined Verbum Spei.

“The fraternal life with Verbum Spei is more intense than what I had lived,” he said. He loves the Order’s “search for the truth and its philosophy of life.” He has a younger sister who is a religious order Sister.

Brother Jonathan Kilkelly, who also will receive his Final Vows with Brother Ewald-Johannes, joined Verbum Spei at the end of 2016. He was raised in Rotorua, in the center of New Zealand’s north island. He attended Catholic primary school and was home schooled during his high school years.

Brother Jonathan spent his gap year at Catholic Discipleship College where he met Father Dominique, who was teaching there. After completing his studies at CDC, he worked for six months and then went to World Youth Day in Poland in 2016. By the end of that year, he had joined Verbum Spei. He eventually will go to Saltillo, Mexico, where he will begin seminary.

Brother Joseph Smith and Brother Thomas Fransen, who will receive their First Vows, are both natives of New Zealand and first cousins, although neither of them knew that the other was seriously considering monastic life with Verbum Spei.

In fact, when Brother Thomas arrived at the Order’s monastery in Luxembourg, he learned that his cousin, Brother Joseph, was already there.

Brother Joseph grew up in Hamilton, New Zealand in a blended family which included four half-siblings on his mother’s side, four half-siblings on his father’s side and four full-siblings. His parents are faithful Catholics who home schooled their children. At about 17, he studied information technology for two years while working in a supermarket. He became a manager at the supermarket, and the company wanted to send him to management training, but he felt drawn to attend Catholic Discipleship College in nearby Auckland to discern a possible call to religious life or priesthood.

One of the teachers at the college was Father Dominique (whom the brothers call Father Dom), a priest who led retreats worldwide including in India for St. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. (Mother Teresa attended his first retreat.) Brother Joseph said he was trying to be open to the call, but was resisting at first. “It was like, ‘Whatever you want, Lord, but I don’t want it,’ ” he said.

Over time, the call became clearer he said. “It’s more than a feeling. It’s something that doesn’t make sense or seem as clear from the start. Naturally, you don’t start out wanting to give up everything in the world. But there is definitely an attraction to following Christ, especially when you read the gospels a little deeper, where it says to follow Christ with your whole heart and with your whole life. And so, for me, that was what really kind of pushed me to decide to enter the religious life with the help of Father Dom and my family.”

Brother Thomas also grew up in New Zealand. He has six brothers, one who is being ordained a priest this month. He attended Catholic Discipleship College immediately after high school, but after some time there decided to further his education, studying engineering in the Netherlands.

During his time in the Netherlands, he maintained contact with friends

at Catholic Discipleship College and attended retreats at the Verbum Spei monastery in Luxembourg.

“Going on retreats with them showed me the value of the monastic life and how much I really treasured being close to the Brothers,”

After his university graduation in 2018, he decided to spend a few weeks with the Brothers in Luxembourg before travelling around Europe. However, the few weeks with the Brothers turned into months. Even a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering was not enough to keep him from monastic life.

Why did he find so appealing about it? “It’s really Christ who attracts us and this life is a great means to be as close to Christ as we can,” he said.

After speaking with Brothers Joseph and Thomas, this reporter turned next to Brother Jesús Vargas, whose first comment was, “Well, I’m NOT from New Zealand.” In fact, Brother Jesús is from Weiser, graduating from high school there before attending the University of Idaho to major in mathematics and secondary education.

While he grew up in a Catholic home, he was not active in parish life during his high school and college years. That did not happen until he was serving an internship student teaching at Weiser High School and his younger sister, Maria, invited him to participate in the parish youth group at St. Agnes Parish.

Later, he took a trip with other young men to Montana from St. Paul’s Student Center on the Boise State campus. On that trip, he got to know Brother Jonathan Kilkelly. Dealing with some personal issues, he visited Verbum Spei and got to know Father Dominique who invited to him to stay with the Brothers there for a “short visit.” One of his visits took place right at the time of the COVID-19 lockdown last spring, and what was supposed to be a weekend visit turned into about a two-week visit, allowing plenty of time for prayer and introspection.

In November of last year, Brother Jesús spent two weeks at Verbum Spei’s motherhouse in Saltillo, Mexico, which helped solidify his decision to discern monastic life. His investiture on May 23 means that he officially begins a discernment process and receives the habit worn by the Brothers.

In addition to their daily cycle of prayer, the day for the Brothers includes classes in philosophy and theology, taught mostly by Father Dominique, but also by Father Ewald-Johannes and Brother Kilkelly. The classes are the same as young seminarians would be taking, but the approach is more a “formation in-house rather than an academic setting,” Father Dominique said. “Here the entire community of brothers are forming you, so it is a family type of formation, not firstly an academic formation,” he said.

Most of the men ordained priests will eventually return to their home countries, Father Dominque said. “We try to be attentive to the needs of the local Church, so if we receive American vocations, they likely will serve in America.”

Almost as important to the academic and spiritual formation of the Brothers is the opportunity as well for prayer and formation for the local Church community, Father Dominque said.

“We want to be open to whomever wants to come and share their life for one hour or a day or longer. We want to be a place where people can come drink in prayer in fraternal charity and also be a place to offer spiritual food from the scriptures,” Father Dominique said.

Bishop Peter’s vision, Father Dominique said, is that Verbum Spei “become a house of formation for all brothers and a school of life where young people can come for a few months and just take a break for a time of formation and prayer. Hopefully, this can be place that is open to receiving young future candidates for this Diocese, like a pre-seminary,” he said.

While only men stay for extended visits, both men and women are invited to attend classes taught on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and every other Sunday afternoon and women are also invited to attend Mass, Adoration and Reconciliation.

Classes already taught at Treinen House are attracting upward of 30 mostly young adults. “We help them try to better understand what is the human person, not only in the natural life, but also in the Christian life, to help them discover who they are,” Father Dominque said.

Both the classes as well as the men discerning formation are growing to the point that the Treinen House can no longer accommodate all that the Brothers would like to accomplish.

“We are just exploding here, and even though the location downtown, so close to the Cathedral and the foothills is wonderful, we need more space,” he said.

There is enough room at the monastery to continue for at least one more year to house some guests that the Nazareth Retreat Center welcomed during the height of the COVID pandemic who were homeless or facing a threat of homelessness.

The creation of the monastery at the Nazareth Retreat Center is “a great opportunity the Bishop gives us to fully live our life and to make this place a real spiritual center for Boise,” Father Dominique said. “Part of monastic life is to be able to receive people in a peaceful and prayerful environment.”

Verbum Spei is a tax-exempt organization that depends on donations, which can be sent to Verbum Spei. c/o

Nazareth Retreat Center,

4450 N. Five Mile Road, Boise,

ID, 83713 or email:

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