Yes, he did indeed preach with his eyes closed, but that was the least of what made Father Brennan unique. I remember the first time I met him very clearly. Jurgis and I had started dating. He decided to take me to the little (make that ‘tiny’) Catholic church in our neighbourhood just so that I could see it. I’d never been to a Catholic church before.
It was indeed a tiny church, two narrow rows of pews. Not the kind of church you can lose yourself or be inconspicuous in. To say Father Brennan was remarkable would be an understatement. Jurgis’ family were Catholic, by long-standing national/family tradition and purely in name, barely making it to church for the requisite christenings, marriages or funerals. Jurgis himself had probably only set foot in that little church a couple of times… and yet, Father B (to save me typing out his name each time) remembered him.
We walked in and found ourselves mid-church seats, neither of us being eager to attract attention. Jurgis hadn’t been in ages and I was out of my depth, not knowing what to do with all that ritual that everyone seemed to have been born knowing. I was just figuring out when to kneel, when to stand, when to open the little prayer book and flap around looking for the right words (often ending up on the wrong page and pretending I knew what I was saying) when the collection was taken up. Now I’m familiar with collections. All churches have them in one form or another. I’m even familiar with the ‘turn around and greet your neighbour’ bit. What I wasn’t prepared for was Father B himself. He swept down from his pulpit and stopped to chat with each member of the congregation. Yes, there were that ‘many’. He approached us and I prepared myself for the “Hello, nice to meet you.” What I got was more along the lines of “Faith! And it’s good to meet your future wife! You’ll be coming here for the wedding, won’t you?” Father B was an Irishman with a voice designed for cathedrals, not tiny churches with 20 occupants. Every face in the little church turned to watch his sheer pleasure at our impending nuptials we knew nothing about at the time.
That wasn’t the end of my experience of the dear Father. The sermon was yet to come. He stood, hands folded across the front of his chest, closed his eyes and swayed slightly… back and forth… back and forth. I thought he was preparing himself or offering some sort of internal blessing, but the entire sermon was delivered like that! I was so fascinated, I don’t remember a word of the sermon. Ok, that and the fact that it is now many many years ago.
Fast forward a time and a half. We went back to Father B’s tiny church after our engagement, perhaps to show him that his prophesying was indeed accurate. “Faith and you’ll surely be bringing the little ones here to be christened?” Uh huh. Definitely! We laughed all the way home.
On hindsight, we should have gotten married in that little church. I think our memories of our wedding would have been very different. As it was, we got married in a vast cathedral in town – a place not one of us enjoyed and came fraught with its own politics and issues. If I have any advice for anyone considering their nuptials it would be to find themselves a Father B and avoid the grandeur of vast halls. Sadly, we never saw him again, but he definitely left his mark on our memories.