As we approach the 54th Anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations May 7th, we present the “Vocation Story” of Father Robert Brandenberger, C.M. who was ordained to the priesthood 67 years ago on June 3, 1952. (Tomorrow we will present the vocation story of one of our candidates in the internal seminary or novitiate.)
His reflections appeared on cmeast.org in 2004. He is still going strong at 95 in Saint Catherine’s infirmary. He and Fr. India vie for the title of oldest Confrere. He is chronologically older than Fr. India who joined the community a bit before him and is, therefore, oldest in vocation.
Though I didn’t know it, the date of my baptism, January 25th, was a hidden sign of my vocation. It’s the day the Congregation of the Mission was founded.
I have great memories of the place where I born and raised Meriden, Connecticut and I thank God I grew up there. I thank Him for the priests and sisters of the parish who were so good to us poor kids, thank Him for the great schoolmates who have been life-long friends and thank Him for that environment that helped me to discover my vocation.
The Sisters of Mercy taught in every grade but fourth, where Miss Faye held sway. They were very good to the parish and the students during the difficult days of the Depression. I fondly remember Sister Agnes Gertrude for her kindness and Father O’Connell for relieving me of my altar boy duties. And thereby lies a lesser tale.
There was mandatory attendance for altar boys at the Sunday afternoon Benediction services. But my family always went visiting Grandma Mead on Sunday. I told Father that I had to go to Grandma’s on Sunday afternoons, but if I could be one of the boys who served during Benediction, I would be sure to be there. I brashly told him that I didn’t want to be just one of the twenty boys sitting on the altar! Father O’Connell told me to go to Grandma’s! (Years later, he attended my first Mass as an ordained Vincentian Father.)
When a student in the seventh or eighth grade as St. Joseph’s Parish School in Meriden, CT, I was certain that my vocation in life was the priesthood. Of course, I never let Sister know. Whenever she asked about our future calling, I always raised my hand for fireman or policeman, never for a religious calling. I foolishly thought this great decision was to be acknowledged only later as an adult.
After graduating from high school (I wasn’t valedictorian of my class) I realized that I had to prove I was sufficiently intelligent by going to college. After almost two years of working in a factory. a wonderful experience with great people, Niagara University accepted me as a freshman. All this time I never mentioned to anybody my desire to be a priest.
Niagara was a Vincentian institution, drawing its inspiration from St. Vincent de Paul. The mission of that great saint was to respond to people’s basic needs and to serve the poor and oppressed throughout the world.
At Niagara, the Vincentian Community was so dedicated and pleasant in educating us really poor boys not only materially, but spiritually (evangelizare pauperibus) that I discovered my vocation was to this very Community.
After graduation, I readied myself to serve as a Marine Corps officer during World War II. Before heading off to the Pacific, however, I went to see Fr. Mike Flannery, my advisor at Niagara. I told him that when I returned from the war, I would enter the seminary. I asked him if I could study for the priesthood in the Vincentian Community. His answer was, “I’ve been waiting three years now for you to ask me.”
Home I went and told Mom and Dad. They were surprised and pleased. That decision also came as a big surprise to my old friend from second grade, Mr. Carroll Custy. “When did you know?” Custy asked. “I always did,” I said. So I carried Bennett’s Latin Grammar in my duffel bag for three years in the Corps and returned home safe and sound. Another sign God was calling me.
In 1946, I returned to Niagara to prepare for the Novitiate. I thank God for sending such exemplary priests in my years of preparation. Their formation in knowledge and spiritual guidance was another gift from God.When I was ordained in 1952, Carroll Custy drove my Mom and Dad down to Northampton, Pennsylvania, for the solemn celebration.
After ordination, I was sent to Panama where I worked for a happy 30 years. For the last 22 years I have been at the Motherhouse in Germantown.
I thank God for calling me to the priesthood and then protecting me in it for these 52 years, and I thank Our Lady for her constant intercession both absolutely necessary for the work in the vineyard.
Robert Brandenberger, C.M. Vincentian Priest
1952 Puerto Armuelles Panama
1959 Cristobal Panama
1967 Cristobal Panama Superior & Pastor St. Vincent’s
1973 Cristobal Panama Superintendent of Schools – Procurator
1982 St. Vincent’s Seminary Philadelphia Superior – First of 3 terms
1991 Carney Hospital Dorchester, MA Chaplain
1992 St. Vincent’s Seminary Philadelphia General Ministry
1994 St. Vincent’s Seminary Philadelphia Superior – Fourth term
1997 St. Vincent’s Seminary Philadelphia General Ministry, St. Catherine’s