Contrary to my usual practice I would like to make this column personal. I hope you can indulge me. I would like to reflect on my priestly calling as I will be celebrating my 35th ordination anniversary on December 19th. Just as in marriage, every anniversary issues a call to reflect, give thanks and get motivated.
I vividly remember the day of my ordination. I was rather nervous, standing between my dad and mom. At the beginning of the rite, I remember lying prostrate before the altar in a gesture of total surrender. In that moment I told God that I was ready to go wherever He led me. I didn’t realize that God would take my words seriously. Literally He has taken me all over the globe.
My priestly vocation sprouted and flourished in our home. My father was a professor at the Jesuit University and he himself had been in the seminary for a few years. Realizing that the priesthood was not his call, he chose marriage. Thank God he did that because otherwise I would not be here. My father was a deeply prayerful man who encouraged my brother, Bob, and me in our desire to become priests. My mother was also very supportive. In addition I drew my inspiration from several relatives who were priests.
In my Catholic high school I met Fr Sean MacFerran, an Irish missionary from Belfast. He had come to India at the age of seventeen to preach the Gospel to the Indians. Fr Sean was a charming man who still spoke with a thick Irish Brogue. He had an amazing way with young people and loved the Lord and the Blessed Mother deeply. He became one of my models in the priesthood. In response to his urging, I went to a special high school for boys who were considering the priesthood. Eventually I joined the Salesians of Don Bosco and pursued my priestly vocation.
There were several Salesians who impacted my life profoundly. Among them stands an Englishman, Fr Joe Murphy, who taught us English in college. He possessed a great sense of humor and gave amazing homilies. As a young seminarian, I wanted to grow up to be like him. Then there was Fr Leo Antony who had a great voice. He taught us singing and conducted our band. Unfortunately he passed away at the age of 34. Fr Rosario Krishnaraj too was significant in my priestly journey. He grew up Hindu but when he was seventeen became a Catholic against the wishes of his family. They disowned him. I turned to Fr Rosario over the years for guidance and counsel.
After my ordination thirty-five years ago, I was sent to our seminary to teach. I was asked to form young Salesians and teach them Western Philosophy. I will always be grateful to my provincial superior, Fr John Peter, because he changed the course of my life. He asked me to go to the United States to pursue my graduate degree in journalism. I came to Marquette University in January 1985 as a baby priest. While I was a grad student, I ministered in a parish in the northwest side of Milwaukee. There I got my first taste of real priestly ministry. I fell in love with it. Preaching during Sunday Mass, celebrating the sacraments, counseling people and preparing young couples for marriage, I finally experienced what it means to be a parish priest. The seeds of my future calling as a pastor had been sown.
Once I completed my studies, I returned to India to take care of a couple of publications. I longed to do pastoral work but my superiors had other plans for me. Within nine months after my return, my Superior General from Rome asked me to join the faculty of the new school of communications opening at our Pontifical University in Rome. Even though I was sad to leave my family, I was happy to return to the US to pursue my doctoral studies. When I eventually started my program, I stayed at the Newman Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. I was given numerous opportunities to immerse myself in priestly ministry among college students. I loved every minute. However, after five years, with my doctoral degree in hand, I left for Rome to teach.
From the very first moment of my arrival in Rome, I was restless. Even though I loved teaching and my students, my heart longed to return to priestly work. I wanted to be a priest fulltime. For five years I prayed for guidance. After receiving counsel from several wise spiritual directors my mind was made up. I was going to give the parish thing a try. The Archdiocese of Chicago and Cardinal George welcomed me. Thus in January 2000 I got my first assignment as associate pastor at St Anne Catholic Church in Barrington. After spending three years as pastor at St Nicholas in Evanston, I was made pastor at St Paul of the Cross in 2009.
What a long journey it has been! I am grateful to God for my priestly vocation. I cannot believe how God has allowed me to minister to many, many people along the way. I hope to God that I have been able to bring them closer to Him. I thank God for each and every one of you for allowing me to minister to you. I remember with fondness and deep gratitude all those who guided me over the years.
I took as my priestly motto a line from a prayer penned by Cardinal Newman. It goes thus: “I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.” Believe me, He has shown me only a few steps at a time. The ride, however, has been amazing. I hope many more young men and women, especially from our parish, will consider becoming priests and sisters. I ask parents and grandparents to encourage our young people to consider a religious vocation. Let us pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
May God bless all of you! Please pray for me.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...