Father of two to become Father of a different sort

by PATRICK J. BUECHI
Tue, May 24th 2016 09:00 am
Staff Reporter
Deacon Michael Brown, who serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Bowmansville, will be ordained to the priesthood Saturday. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)
Deacon Michael Brown, who serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Bowmansville, will be ordained to the priesthood Saturday. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)

The religious and secular worlds have had a yin yang effect in the life of Michael Brown. After years of government jobs and raising a family, he will return to serving the Church as he sought as a younger man. On May 28 he will be ordained a priest at St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo, along with Samuel Giangreco and Michael LaMarca.

Deacon Brown is what they call a "late vocation," a common sight in recent years. Now in his 50s, he brings with him decades of experiences that help him relate to his congregation.

Despite living in the secular world, which included a wife and two sons, he never strayed from his faith. In fact, the two act like parallel tracks on which his engine runs. He was born in Buffalo, in Children's Hospital on Sept. 8, the Blessed Mother's birthday. It all continues from there.

His father was a Protestant from Pennsylvania who fell in love with Catholicism and joined the Church.

"He had five sacraments in a couple days' time including marrying my mother," Deacon Brown said.

The family's first parish was St. Stanislaus, in fitting with his mother's Polish heritage. After attending St. Stan's and Precious Blood elementary schools, Deacon Brown attended South Park High School.

After high school he went back to religious education, enrolling in St. Francis College (now St. Francis University) in Loretto, Pa. He lasted one semester there, learning two big things, "what it was like living out in the country without a car, and the cost of living on campus." He came back to Buffalo and entered Canisius College.

After a few semesters, he joined the Conventual Franciscans, spending a year in solitude at the novitiate in Ellicott City, Md.

"As a child I always had a devotion to Mary, being born on her birthday, and always dedicated to the Church as we were a close Church family, and always thought that's what I should be doing, be a priest," he said. "What drew me to the friars was, I loved Francis and his ways."

Two years after taking first vows, he decided to re-enter the secular world.

"I don't think this is what I want to do with my life," he thought to himself.

Looking back he sees he lacked the maturity to make a lifelong commitment at such a young age. His family saw it coming.

"The day my father took me to the airport to go to novitiate, he said. 'We'll support you, but I don't think you'll be doing this long. I'm going to dance at your wedding someday.' After leaving the friars, I went on to finish my degree at Canisius and went on to work and got married. On the day I got married I said, 'You're right, dad. You are dancing at my wedding.'"

Deacon Brown did go on to teach religion and math at the Diocesan Educational Campus in Buffalo, then went to public school for a year, teaching just math.

In college, he had developed an interest in government services. When a recruitment program came to Buffalo, he signed up. He then spent 20-plus years in government and government contracting services serving national security. That's all he's allowed to say on the subject.

Through this job he met Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. As a religious parallel, in high school he met Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the future St. John Paul II, during his visit to Buffalo. That same year he met Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man St. Maximilian Kolbe died for in Auschwitz.

"I've had some exciting times in my life," he said with a smile.

After his job with the government brought him back to Buffalo, Deacon Brown began to look back at the Church. At this time he was divorced. His marriage had been annulled. His two sons, Justin and Robert, were adults and living on their own. So in 2010, he came to East Aurora and Christ the King Seminary.

"This idea of priesthood never left me," he said. "Deep down inside, whatever I thought was the vocation or the calling way back when, was still in there. When the kids were grown and on their own, I started thinking what am I going to do with my life now? What's the next step?"

His previous experience in college, and with the Franciscans, allowed Deacon Brown to shave a year off the regular seven-year formation program. During his formation, he served summer assignments at St. Brendan's on the Lake in Newfane and Sacred Heart in Orchard Park.

His pastoral year took him to St. Jude the Apostle Parish in North Tonawanda. Now, as he finishes classes, he spends his weekends at Sacred Heart Parish in Bowmansville.

"All the assignments, working with the people have been good assignments. It's been good to interact with the people. Different parishes require different needs, different kinds of things where your focus would be," he said.

He spent time in bereavement ministry while at Orchard Park. He learned the administrative role of a pastor at St. Brendan's. At St. Jude's he went back into the classroom teaching two classes of religious ed, as well as some RCIA and marriage preparation classes. At Bowmansville, he worked on premarital investigations and baptisms.

Now that he's back in the religious life, how will his secular experiences help him serve the congregation?

"I think all my life experiences from running a household to raising kids, being in manager and leadership roles, have all been stepping stones and preparations to be able to serve the Church," he said, pondering the question for a moment. "We all have different stories and enter the seminary with different backgrounds. As I approach active ministry, I approach it from a different perspective. People's ears perk up and say, 'You were married. You have kids. You had to go to work. You know what our struggles are.' Hopefully, my life lessons will come in handy as ministerial situations arise and I will be able to use my experiences for the good of the Church."

He tries to use these understandings when he preaches.

"A lot of times when I preach, I think what it's like being the person sitting in the pew and try to preach keeping a practical aspect in mind," he said. "How can I make this applicable to life? I try not to preach about my family and try to focus the preaching on the Scriptures."

Speaking just weeks before his ordination, he feels he has the maturity he lacked when he entered the Franciscan Order decades ago.

"I feel I've had a call all along," he said. "God gave me enough rope to go out and do what I wanted to do, but He kept tugging at the rope and pulling me back. I think all my life experiences have been formation in different sense. Maybe not formal formation at the seminary, but its been teaching me about life."

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