Father Raymond A. Brennan C.Ss.R.
One day, at the end of a Sunday service, a woman approached him with a baby in her arms. She told him that the father of the baby, her former husband, had run away, and she had since found a new husband. However, as is common in many cases, her new husband would have nothing to do with the child.
Father Ray Brennan was an American Priest in the Redemptorist Order.
He grew up the second of three children to an Irish-American family in the tough south side of Chicago.
Like millions before them, Father Ray’s grandparents left Ireland, making their way across the Atlantic Ocean with the dreams and hopes of making a better life for themselves in the United States.
By coincidence they settled in Chicago, and both families came together when Walter Brennan and Norrine O’Connell married.
Mr. & Mrs. Brennan had three children, and the first born was Donald, who grew up to become a priest.
Raymond was the next born, but due to complications following surgery to remove his tonsils he almost never made it to his fourth birthday.
After two sons, the family was delighted when the third and final Brennan child was born, a beautiful daughter whom they named Sharon.
Moving from Chicago to the town of Riverside, the Brennan’s quickly became part of the Irish catholic community. Young Raymond boarded at the Bishops Quarter Catholic School, attended regular church services and eventually enrolled at a seminary in Indiana.
Both Brennan sons would go on and join the priesthood; Donald became an Augustinian priest, whilst the younger Raymond joined the Redemptorist order.
A year before his ordination Ray was informed that he would be sent to Thailand, an idea that did not appeal to him. His mother though, did not seem surprised. She said that of her three children, Ray was the only one who liked eating rice!
As the newly ordained Father Ray Brennan arrived in the Kingdom of Thailand, his first posting was to Sri Racha, a small fishing village about a two hour drive from Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand. He remained there for 6 months studying the Thai language.
His next assignment was to Isaan, the vast, flat northeastern part of the country along with the newly independent country of Laos. Having mastered the Lao dialect, he was given a parish in a village in Loei, a mountainous and sparsely populated province.
After 10 years in Thailand’s northeast, Father Ray was assigned to the seaside fishing village of Pattaya, which was growing in size due to its popularity as a ‘Rest & Relaxation’ destination for U.S. soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War.
In 1969 Father Ray replaced Father Godbout who had been the pastor of St. Nikolaus Church for two years. After one year in Pattaya something happened that would change the course of Father Ray’s life forever.
Father Ray said that he would take the child, even though he did not have any experience taking care of a child. When Father Ray accepted the child he was not aware of how many lives this one action was going to change.
During the Vietnam War many children were born to Thai mothers and American fathers. These children were not accepted by society; many did not want a half white or a half black child in their families, but Father Ray accepted these unwanted children and gave them a home.
Word soon traveled around town about the work Father Ray was doing, and more children arrived. Poor Thais arrived and asked this American priest to take care of their child, as they were too poor to provide what the child needed.
The first child arrived in 1974, and for the next twenty nine years Father Ray worked tirelessly to provide a home for the homeless and an education for the uneducated.
He became ‘father’ to hundreds or orphaned babies, neglected children and abused teenagers. He became a hero to many people living with a disability; he gave them an education, and the confidence to hold their heads high and be equals in society.
On the 16th August 2003 Father Ray died.
His body lay for three days in the auditorium of the Pattaya Orphanage, and at night his children slept on the floor next to his coffin so that he was no alone.
Father Ray’s funeral was the biggest Pattaya has ever seen. His family flew from the United States to attend, and they joined thousands of his children and students, past and present, young and old, as well as friends and supporters who all came to say a last farewell to a great man.
His Majesty the King of Thailand sent representatives who presented a small case containing royal soil which was to be buried with Father Ray, the highest honor a person can receive.
Hundreds of floral wreaths scented the air, and as the mourners paraded past Father Ray’s final resting place his children sang a song which had been specially written for the occasion, ‘Unsung Hero’.