I feel overwhelmingly blessed to be surrounded with some of the most wonderful, kind, generous, and loving people on earth. People tend to be overwhelming grateful to their parents, siblings, grandparents, and other family members for the way the shape, form, and mold us; rightfully so…however, there are others that you may not be connected by blood but they become family, too.
They said blood is thicker than water, but I also believe the blood of Christ is a stronger bond than anything else in the world. I believe that the single most influential non-blood relative I have is my forever parish priest, for the sake of anonymity I shall call him Fr. Charlie Brown (in honor of our shared love of the beloved Peanuts comics).
Fr. Brown is the most faith-filled, loving, generous, and compassionate person I have ever known. My parents moved to the central coast of California when I was two years old and searched throughout the coast for the “perfect” parish for us, a family friendly atmosphere and active lay ministry life.
My parents opted to move to my hometown of Atascadero, translation from Spanish as “mud hole” (and one dictionary went as far as “a place one cannot escape from”), instead of the gorgeous green rolling hills of San Luis Obispo or the beautiful seascape of Shell Beach. The move was truly just because of our hometown parish and what Fr. Brown made it, which, to be absolutely clear, I would never trade for the ocean or rolling hills.
Fr. Brown and the parish welcomed us with open arms. As we immersed ourselves in the culture, Fr. Brown fostered a wonderful emphasis on focusing on the youth (for blessed are the children of God, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven) who are the future of the Church.
Fr. Brown would send all the volunteer religious ed teachers down to the LA Religious Ed Conference to help our teachers be the best for the parish. I loved tagging along with my parents to the conference, which was so much fun in and of itself, but was even better with the other families from our parish going, as well.
I remember hearing amazing talks, getting awesome material, and attending the neatest masses, including a wave in the Anaheim convention center. What an inspiration to be exposed to such wonderful people and role models, and most especially for us, to see Catholics from all over the country (and even the world) celebrate the Eucharist together.
Fr. Brown cultivated a culture in our parish that not only taught us about God and got our love for the Holy Spirit ignited at such a young age, but he also allowed us to help teach each other. How empowering it is for us to help teach and share our love of God with others. At such a young age we were exposed to amazing, spirit filled retreats full of fellowship, song, and beautiful Mother Nature. We learned of different ways of prayer learned from around the world, like the Labyrinth, the rosary, meditation, and more. We even had a journey to a monastery in Big Sur and shared in their evening vespers.
I could literally go on and on for days on all the wonderful experiences and lessons that I have learned by being part of the youth program at St. Williams and Fr. Brown’s integration into our family, but I will try to be more succinct then that (even though I’ve already gone on for a while now).
Through Fr. Brown, we learned about Notre Dame Vision, which, for lack of a better term, is a
“God camp” hosted by the University of Notre Dame and ran by both undergrad and graduate Notre Dame students. The parish (under Fr. Brown’s direction) sent me and two of my friends to Notre Dame, which ultimately led me to go to school there and meeting the other love of my life (the first love of my life being Our Father, God).
Without Fr. Brown, I know I would not be who I am today. I truly believe that the very fabric of my being was formed by the love and faith of my parents and God (which was channelled through many people, but most especially channelled through Fr. Brown). Without a doubt, I owe such a debt of gratitude of love and more for all that Fr. Brown has done to shape me, my brothers, and all of the parishioners of St. Williams. Though I know that this carries very little weight, and no words can ever express the love, wonderment, awe, and thankfulness I feel toward him, I want to say “Thank You, Fr. Brown.”