Fr Brett Brannen speaking to students from St Joseph’s Institution on the priesthood.
... says American priest who is an expert on priestly formation
Supportive families and priests who love their ministry play important roles in fostering vocations, says an expert in priestly formation.
“Young people are attracted to joy,” says American priest Fr Brett Brannen.
A priest who laughs and is happy, spends time with young people and shows an interest in their activities, would be able to get their attention when he speaks about Christ, said Fr Brannen, a priest of 20 years.
He was in Singapore recently to conduct a retreat for men discerning their vocation to the diocesan priesthood. He also gave talks to students of St Gabriel’s Secondary School, Catholic High School, St Joseph’s Institution and St Patrick’s School on the priestly vocation (see stories on facing page).
Priests should speak from the pulpit on how they love being a priest as well as express their joy that God has called them to the priesthood, Fr Brannen told CatholicNews. This is important as movies and periodicals often give the impression that “all priests are unhappy, lonely and miserable which is just not true”.
It is also important for priests to take care of themselves by remaining upbeat and joyful, taking a day off, having Holy Hour, and most importantly communicating with Jesus daily. When the priest stops praying, he would not be able to bring Jesus to others, said Fr Brannen, who is one of the most successful vocation directors in the United States.
He had served as vocation director in the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia, for 10 years. Under his care, the number of seminarians increased from five to 28. He later served as vice-rector of Mount St Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
He is also the author of To Save a Thousand Souls, a guide to discerning one’s call to the diocesan priesthood.
Fr Brannen says that when a priest sees a young man showing an interest in the Church and in the priest’s preaching, the priest should encourage the young man to take up spiritual direction. In Fr Brannen’s case, he would teach the young man how to pray, discern and grow in virtue.
He recalled that in the late 1960s and 1970s, priests felt discouraged because of the lack of priestly vocations.
Fr Brannen’s interest in promoting vocations to the diocesan priesthood began during his seminarian days when he would talk to other young men about becoming a priest.
He became a vocation director as none of the other priests “wanted to do it”, he said with a laugh.
The family also plays a vital role, he said.
Some US dioceses produce more vocations than others. In the south and mid-west which still have traditional, close-knit families, where parents have supper with their children and pray and work together – these families produce more vocations than in areas with broken families and high divorce rates, he said.
Parents provide the best examples for their children through their service and prayer life, kindness to one another, their ability to forgive and ask for forgiveness. What is important for parents becomes important to their children, and this is how children are formed, Fr Brannen said.
One cannot be kind and virtuous as a priest if one does not catch these virtues from the family, he added.
He pointed out that in the seminaries where he had worked, 90 percent of the seminarians came from families of four children or more. In these large families, children learn how to share, forgive one another and work together, and these are Christian virtues required in the priesthood, he said.
Fr Brannen urges parents to avoid criticising priests and Religious and also not to pressure their children into becoming priests. Parents should affirm their children’s choice of vocation, he said.
On the diocesan level, Fr Brannen says that praying for vocations is important.
“Every diocese, I believe, should have a prayer for the priesthood and Religious life… which they should say at every Mass,” he said. This can be a short prayer said before Mass, and Catholic school students should say it every day, Fr Brannen said.
For those considering a priestly vocation, Fr Brannen said they should first live their Christian life by “loving people, growing in virtue, confessing your sins and serving others”.
They should also get in touch with a priest who can journey with them, someone they can confide in, he said.
Fr Brannen, who is now serving in a parish on a college campus in Georgia Southern University, said he is optimistic about the future of priestly vocations. The cases of priestly sexual abuses were painful and horrible, “but the clean-up had to happen”, he noted.
The screening for future priests, Fr Brannen said, is now more stringent.
While acknowledging that the scandals could deter some men from becoming priests, there have also been many other young men who have come forward in the belief that they can be good priests at a time when the Church needs good clergymen, Fr Brannen said.
Fr Brannen was in Singapore at the invitation of the Serra Club, which promotes vocations to the diocesan priesthood.
By Darren Boon