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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Never Too Young
Father Darren Brennan, LC (Downpatrick, Ireland)

P. Jude Brennan Darren , L.C.
Fr. Jude Brennan Darren , LC

Becoming a priest had always been on the back of my mind, not that it had any special reason to be there. My parents were practicing Catholics, but religious devotion did not get much further than Sunday Mass and a quick morning prayer to our guardian angels. Naturally enough, the idea remained very latent until my family went through a sort of conversion experience when I was about 9 years old.

A Family Conversion

My second oldest sister, then fifteen, was invited by a would-be boyfriend to a prayer meeting (the only place my mother would have let him take her). She returned having snubbed the boy, but latched on to the prayer group, which was guided by a holy Passionate priest. Soon my eldest sister was also participating and, before long, they were both pestering our poor mother to pray the rosary and read the Bible. For my Mum it all seemed way too over-the-top and she began to worry about her daughters’ mental health.

It was then that my devout grandmother invited her to accompany her on a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine at Mt Mellary, in the South of Ireland, where apparitions had allegedly taken place in the mid-1980s. With concern for my sisters’ well-being in mind, coupled with mild curiosity, she signed up on the pilgrimage and returned a changed woman.

My father, an honest, hardworking man who had very little time for external devotions (he had never allowed holy pictures to be put up around the house) was the last to succumb. Eventually convinced by his wife and daughters to take part in a pilgrimage, he too came back having had a strong fall off his horse.

I was very young at the time, so mine was not really a conversion experience. Nevertheless, I reached adolescence in a truly fervent Catholic household in which daily Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, frequent Mass, monthly confession, plus my eventual participation in my sisters’ prayer group kindled a fire of sincere spirituality.

Football Passion

Another factor which would prove important for keeping the vocational flame alive was my love of Gaelic football. Throughout the successive age levels, from under-eights onwards, I had been actively training and playing for a local club. I really fell in love with Gaelic football, only sleeping well at night when I had an O’Neil’s size-five leather ball well tucked into bed beside me. My father took my team under his wing as manager and coach, following us up through the consecutive age groups for a good ten years. Even though we were only a small, country-district club, we did exceptionally well in both league and championship tournaments, earning a place among the strongest teams in the County.

Years later I would come to realize that my father had done this above all so as to ensure an active and healthy environment for my younger brother and me. As it would later turn out, giving up my football dreams would be one of
P. Jude Brennan Darren , L.C.
Fr Daren with Mons. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, after his ordination to the diaconate on July 4th, 2008.
the biggest sacrifices my priestly vocation would entail.

An Exciting Encounter

Shortly after my 16th birthday, I was beginning 5th year at a De La Salle school, St. Patrick’s Grammar, a short distance from St Patrick’s burial site in Downpatrick. Football continued to be my dominant passion, though a few excursions to a local disco had opened me up to the world of dating, something I took to with relative ease.

One morning in early October my classmates and I were told to go to the auditorium for a talk from some missionary. We were more than happy to get out of class, and the sight of the thin, cheery-faced priest decked out in full priestly garb, yet with a warm, carefree twinkle in his eyes, won us over from the start. He spoke with a soft southern Irish accent and soon had us enthralled with his cliffhanger stories of death-daring treks through the Mayan jungles and last-minute absolutions in all sorts of dramatic circumstances...

I remember returning home that day buzzing with enthusiasm and dying to tell my mum all about Fr Hugh. Nevertheless, more than the stories or even the charismatic figure of the priest himself, I knew that God had touched my heart in a deep way, though I did not give it much importance at the time. I had, however, requested more information on the order and, sure enough, a package soon came through the mailbox with information on an upcoming get-together at the Legionary of Christ novitiate in Dublin.

The idea of the vocation was still very much on a mental back burner, though I thought it might be nice to spend a weekend with lads from different parts of the world. I eventually got around to mailing another answer and, after a phone call from the novitiate, I arranged to meet up with Father Hugh at St Patrick’s grave on my way back from school to the bus station. My parents took kindly to Father and agreed to my taking part in a weekend, beginning on the first Friday of November.

Not Too Young

I travelled down on the monthly bus trip to the Marian shrine at Mt Mellary, getting off at Dublin. From the moment I stepped inside the novitiate building, I inexplicably felt at home. The sight of the young seminarians, most of them from countries I had only seen on television, yet all so joyful and full of enthusiasm for their vocation, only enhanced this sensation. Naturally enough, I spoke with nobody about my feelings, feigning only a mild curiosity.

By the time I got to my allotted bedroom that night, I was harbouring an intense desire to become a Legionary… as soon as possible. I had vaguely contemplated entering a seminary at nineteen, on finishing secondary school, yet I knew that theoretically I could also do so after the intermediate exams at the end of 5th year (GCSE’s). Up until that point I had lived in blissful boyhood, letting my parents make all the important choices in my life; now I felt the daunting weight of a life-changing decision. On the one hand, I had the overwhelming desire to follow God’s call immediately; but on the other, I was faced with the bare reality of my own immaturity. I was only a boy.

It was then that, turning toward the kneeler by my bed, I saw a brown-covered Bible resting upon it. Almost instinctively I got on my knees and, taking the Bible in my hands, prayed from the heart as never before: “Lord, I really want to be a Legionary, but I feel that I am too young. Please tell me what to do”. I opened the Bible and my eyes fell immediately upon the first chapter of the book of Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you… a prophet to the nations I had designated you…” Jeremiah answered, “But Lord, I know not how to speak, look, I am too young”. I gasped; those had been the exact words I had just formulated in my mind. With trembling hands, I read the Lord’s response to the prophet’s misgivings: “Do not say ‘I am too young,’ you shall go wherever I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak…”

It is hard to describe what I experienced at that moment, but from then onwards I have never been able to doubt my vocation – despite the occasional effort to do so. For me, it is a simple historical fact, as clear and evident as the day of my birth.

I broke the news to my parents as we drove back from the train station on the following Sunday evening. To my surprise, they had been half expecting it. It was tough for them both, especially for my mother, entailing a great leap of faith in God, in the Catholic priesthood, and in the Legion of Christ. Yet her first words to me were of acceptance and encouragement: “As long as you are happy”. I will be eternally grateful for the support my parents have offered me ever since those first crucial steps on my path toward the priesthood.

Life in the Legion

I left home on the 10th of July, 1994 to begin the summer programme prior to the novitiate. On the following 15th of September I had the twofold joy of donning my Legionary uniform for the first time and watching my own Gaelic football team, County Down, win the prestigious All-Ireland final… a day to remember!

Exactly two years later I took my first religious vows before travelling to Salamanca, Spain, where I was able to conclude my high school studies with an enriching syllabus centered on classical humanities. From there it was off to Rome to begin philosophy, though less than a year later I was on a plane to Mexico.

I went to that beautiful country for a three-year apostolic internship experience as spiritual counselor to secondary students in a Legionary school in Mexico City. This period was one of the most beneficial of my years of formation, offering me a hands-on experience of the sufferings, needs, and desires of many people who hope to discover in the priest, as well as knowledge and guidance, the genuine warmth of a man of God.

In 2002 it was back to the Eternal City for a straight six-year run toward the priesthood. It is an incredible grace to have been able to study in Rome, at the heart of the Church, so close to Christ’s Vicar on Earth. I feel especially indebted toward my professors and formators who, day after day, dedicated their talents, time, and energy to encourage and guide me and my companions on our path toward the priesthood, stimulating our human, intellectual, apostolic and, above all, spiritual growth.

Sometimes people are shocked when they hear that I have spent fourteen years in formation, but I try to help them understand that in the Legion of Christ “formation” does not mean sitting around all day in a seminary twiddling your thumbs… anything but! Now, as I reach the threshold of priesthood, I have come to appreciate this all the more, because I still feel as unworthy and unprepared as ever. Nevertheless, it has helped me a great deal to envision the priesthood not as a goal, but as a starting point. To use a sporting image, the priest’s life is like a relay race; for him to live it to the full he must reach it in full sprint. God’s grace will do the rest.

Father Darren Brennan was born on the 19th of July 1977 in Downpatrick (Ireland.) He studied for five years in a De La Salle school, St Patrick’s Grammar, Downpatrick. He entered the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Dublin on September 14th of 1994. Two years later he went to Salamanca, Spain, where he studied classical humanities. He began his philosophical studies in Rome in 1998. For three years he worked as spiritual counselor to secondary students in the Irish Institute in Mexico City. In 2002 he returned to Rome, where he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degree in philosophy followed by a bachelor’s degree in theology. Since the summer of 2008 he has been working in Ireland as spiritual guide for several Catholic youth clubs.

This vocation story was originally published in the book "Vivir para Cristo"



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