Amid the 600 guests at the Alexian Brothers' Ball de Fleur fundraising event on Saturday night at the Field Museum were three Alexian Brothers, who admittedly felt rather conspicuous wearing their floral corsages.
After all, they described themselves as "regular guys," who were called to religious life later than the traditional vocation, but now find themselves "in the trenches" and working with the poor and marginalized.
Brother Daniel McCormick, provincial; Brother Thomas Klein, director of vocations; and Brother Paul Magner, associate vocations director, paused before the gala to reflect on the direction their lives had taken since joining the order.
Of the three, perhaps Klein's life had taken the biggest turn. Prior to joining the Alexian Brothers, he worked by day as a sales manager in Milwaukee, charged with staffing and recruiting.
At night and on weekends, he played bass guitar and sang with a popular Southern country rock band that was sponsored by Jack Daniels and played such venues as Summerfest in Milwaukee and the Country Thunder Music Festival in Twin Lakes, Wis.
"It was on a mission trip in the Dominican Republic when I felt the hand of God," Klein says. "When I saw the poor and how they were living, something in my heart just knew I had to do something."
At the age of 45, he left his job, his girlfriend and his hometown to become a postulant with the Alexian Brothers in Elk Grove Village.
"It was a radical change in my life," Klein concedes, "but it has allowed me to work among the poor, the homeless and the incarcerated and bring the Alexian Brothers' ministries to the masses."
Klein now uses his life story to help recruit others to religious life. Helping him is Magner, who describes how at age 52, he left his sales job in upstate New York to join the Alexian Brothers.
"I guess we're what you would call 'second career vocations,' or delayed vocations," Magner said.
He points to his father's funeral as the turning point when he felt a certain emptiness in his life and a lack of direction.
"I was successful in my job, but in examining my life, I realized I wasn't doing anything to help people," Magner said. "I wasn't doing anything really significant, and in fact my job was taking me away from any time for spirituality."
Both Klein and Magner said they found the Alexian Brothers through the Internet, but were drawn to their mission of unconditional love and of helping the poor.
"It's about rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty," Magner said, "and working in the trenches."
They also related to members of the Alexian Brothers they met, including McCormick, who entered the community as a postulant when he was 46.
McCormick, who was named as the provincial superior of the local congregation in 2012, addressed the crowd before dinner -- held in the Stanley Field Hall amid a replica Ferris wheel from the 1893 Columbian Exhibition -- and said he will celebrate 20 years of religious life in September.
"I may not be the best religious in the world," McCormick said beforehand, "but I know that someone will go to bed tonight whose life is better because of what the Alexian Brothers have done for him."