I was born in Louisiana but moved back to Statesboro, Georgia while I was young. My mother was Catholic and my father was a Baptist. I had two brothers and one sister.
There was no Catholic school so I attended CCD and was an Altar Server in a very tiny Catholic church. I was the only Catholic in my class. In school, I was most interested in sports, football, basketball and baseball … and eventually girls.
I recognized how good God is and how good God was to me. I was well provided for, had many opportunities and never lacked anything I needed, though my parents did not give me everything I wanted. They loved me too much to do that to me.
I had a strong spiritual faith and never doubted any Catholic teaching. I believed in the Eucharist, knew that Jesus loved me even though I was a sinner, and that He had a plan for me. And I really wanted to trust Him in that plan. I prayed every night, I talked to Jesus and really tried to listen to His voice.
By age 10, I began to see signs that I was being called to be a priest. I had a strange attraction for the priesthood which would not go away, even though I knew I could never do that because I liked girls too much. And our priests did not seem that cool; they drove beat up old black cars and all I ever saw them do was say Mass on Sunday. Why am I attracted to this?
I was an Altar Boy and really enjoyed serving Mass. Fr. Lucree told me when I was young that he thought I was being called to be a priest, and I knew deep down that he was right.
I had girlfriends through most of my high school years and we won the State football championship at Bulloch Academy in 1979. That was a very positive, happy time in my life; but my heart kept being attracted to the priesthood.
I came to Savannah to meet with Bishop Lessard, thinking I should probably go to the seminary, but came away from that meeting, convinced that I was not ready yet. So I attended UGA, was Pre Med, joined a fraternity and was in excellent physical shape running six miles. I also dated during those years, and really considered if I was being called to marriage. However others saw something else in me. Once on a blind date, the girl asked me, “Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?” While serving as an E.M.T., seeing people die really changed me. I came to the realization that I was being called to be a Doctor of Souls.
I entered Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD in 1984. My dad was not happy but my mother and siblings were supportive. But after two years I left the seminary, went back to work for my dad and began thinking of medical school again. For the next 2 years I was living the single adult life; I had money, a girlfriend and was doing fun things…but I felt empty inside. I was still attending daily mass and praying my rosary.
Bishop Lessard accepted me to go back to the seminary but then I left again! “If Brett comes back, I am not sure I will accept him,” he said at the time. When I did come back he required me to serve a Pastoral Year and it turned out to be one of the best years of my life. I lived in a rectory with Fr. John Cuddy, Fr. Richard Canty and Fr. Tom Murphy and I had a great time. I never laughed so hard as during that year. At the end of the year, I came to the important conclusion that “Priests are Happy!” I guess that had always worried me. Can I really be happy without my own wife and children? After that year, I knew that the answer was yes.
I returned to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary for three more years and I have never looked back again. I was ordained a priest in 1991, at the age of 29, and I have loved every day of the past 24 years as a priest.
Fr. Brannen is the author of two popular books about priesthood: To Save A Thousand Souls, and A Priest in the Family.