Friendship has been a major moving force in the life of 40-year-old Father Brian D’ Souza. It was what sowed the first seeds of his decision to enter priesthood; brought him two close friends who continue to support one another; and is what guides his ministry moulding youths at various parishes and as Youth Chaplain for the archdiocese
IT WAS NO priest who inspired him towards the priestly life, but the group of altar servers at Church of the Risen Christ, who first planted the seed for priesthood in Brian.
Back in the 1980s, when he was a young altar server at the parish, the older boys took care of the younger ones. “We always made sure the younger ones were protected,” he recalled. “The older boys formed me in watching out for younger boys.” It was that idea of “service to others” ingrained since he was nine, which helped him discern his vocation.
When he eventually applied to the seminary, he thought he could do so without informing his mother. But the plan fell apart when the seminary asked for his parents’ wedding certificate – “No company asks for that!” he laughed. His mother turned out to be delighted with his decision, happy that at least one of her eight children (Brian is number seven) decided to enter priesthood.
It was in the seminary that he made some good friends, particularly in Father Frederick Quek and Father Luke Fong. So close were the trio that Brian found it particularly challenging when he had to take another year to complete some unfinished modules. “My final year was spent alone after journeying with them for five years. It was a very lonely time as I lost my companions.”
But Brian remembered the bargain he had made with God when he entered the seminary. “If you want me out of the seminary, or if I’m not called, let it be made known through the formators,” he had prayed. “The formators didn’t mention anything like that!”
So on Jul 7, 2002, Brian was ordained and posted to the parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, where he was placed in charge of the youths.
“At the beginning, my understanding of priests was, people who stayed in church and waited for people to come!” Father Brian said. “That picture got bigger in the seminary” and grew bigger still after ordination.
“Now I see the need to build community and support systems amongst one another.”
He did such a good job ministering to the youths at the Immaculate Heart of Mary that Father Luke Fong, who later took over from him, admitted he did so with “a certain trepidation because of the way he gave himself to the youth and the bond he created with them”.
Father Luke added: “He’s really straight-talking and minces no words, but his demeanour and disposition show to youths his caring spirit and they [instinctively] know he means well.”
After serving for five years at Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Father Brian took a sabbatical in 2007 and, instead of taking a holiday, he went to the Hill Songs College in Australia for three months to learn more about youth culture. This was in preparation for his appointment two years ago as Youth Chaplain in the archdiocese.
For this priest who enjoys working with young people, he strives to “show them something better than the world is offering” that they may come to “know their true identity”.
“Because once they see the inside of themselves, then they can focus on God, and then to focus on the teachings of the Church.”
So the next time you meet him after he has just returned from a certain camp or youth programme, ask him how the experience went. His first words will likely be: “It was good. The youths really learnt something.”
(Right, Father Brian at WYD08, with the cross he brought over from Singapore. Photos by Joyce Gan)
But if you think his approach towards young people is all fun and no discipline or hardship, think again. For instance, when he brought a delegation from CAYC to attend World Youth Day 2008 (WYD08) in Australia, he had the group pray the rosary early in the mornings while riding the bus to the next destination. There, he also slept on the grass after giving up his place at Randwick Racecourse (the venue of the highlight of WYD08 where pilgrims meet Pope Benedict XVI) to those in need. And in the barely-heated tent at the five-degree Celsius’ racecourse, Father Brian stayed up to minister the Sacrament of Reconciliation to pilgrims arriving.
Fundamental to his working style with youths is this: Be a friend to them. He applies this principle also to youths who feel disconnected from the Church.
“I don’t push them if they’re not convinced (they should come back to church). My reasoning with them can only be head level [at best], whereas they must be convinced on the level of faith. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
“Kids have a lot of loneliness”, he observed, and “their God element may not be strong enough”, gauging from the amount of time they spend at school, rather than with the community at church.
“But my door is always open,” he said. “I’m not here to correct them, but just to journey with them.”
Currently, Father Brian works closely with the Mustard Seed Community at his parish of St. Francis Xavier, as well as with the Catholic Archdiocesan Youth Centre (CAYC) in organising training courses to groom youth leaders. In addition, he ministers to the students at Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Our Lady of Good Counsel and St. Gabriel’s Primary, and sometimes at Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Toa Payoh, too.
His free time and daily top priority
Mondays are grocery shopping days for Father Brian, whose duties include taking care of the house at the parish. Going to NTUC or Sheng Shiong has become “kind of relaxing for me”.
Others times, “I like to be by myself. I like to go for runs around the [Serangoon Gardens] estate, or just chill out in my room” where he watches movies – “the kind where you don’t need to think” – after he retires for the day.
If you plan to meet with Father Brian, do consider making the appointment after 10 in the morning (unless it’s urgent, of course).
Prayer is “the first thing I do when I begin my day” or the day will soon be assailed with appointment after appointment, he said.
“I take my prayer life very seriously and make it a point to spend at least one hour at the Blessed Sacrament, to be open to what God is showing me,” he went on. “This is what defines my priesthood for me: To be grounded on God and to make time for Him.”
“I manage to be faithful 80% of the time!” he said, laughing. Then, turning serious again, he added: “It is where I draw strength from.”
Did you know?
FATHER BRIAN D’SOUZA kept a pet snake during his seminary days. He had borrowed the green grass snake from someone who lived around the estate, and kept it in a fish tank in his room. Every now and then, the snake caught lizards and “it will be like National Geographic right before our eyes”, recalled Father Luke Fong.
Father Brian supports Chelsea Football Club “because they are always second and I support the underdog!”
Fathers Brian, Luke and Fred have been good friends since they were classmates at the seminary some 15 years ago. Father Fred describes Father Brian as a “simple guy [who] enjoys ordinary stuff and loves simple people”. To this day, they try to meet at least once every two months and to take a trip together at least once in two years. The last trip they made was to Phuket last year, which Father Brian described as a “free and easy time for us to bond”.
By Joyce Gan