ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.—One hundred years ago, Dorothy Brady took her two-month-old son Philip to downtown Rochester for a parade celebrating Armistice Day—the end of the War to End All Wars. She had great hopes for her newborn baby because she’d once been told she would be the mother of a priest.
The centenary of the First World War will be commemorated November 11 this year—the same year Father Philip Brady will celebrate his 100th birthday and 75th year as a priest. His mother’s prayers were answered.
Father Brady served for many years in the Diocese of Bridgeport until retiring in 1995 from St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish in Shelton, where he was pastor for 27 years. Today he is a resident of Brookdale Orchard Glen senior community in Orchard Park, N.Y., outside of Buffalo.
As his 100th birthday approaches on September 16, he still celebrates daily Mass with others in the “Father Brady Chapel,” which the community built for him. “They are very nice to me here,” he said in a recent interview. “They treat me like a king.”
His nieces and nephews visit him often and he leads an active life. Last year, he played Mother Abbess in the production of “Sound of Music” and sang “Climb Every Mountain.” He regularly takes part in performances of Broadway show tunes from musicals like South Pacific, Les Miserables and Fiddler on the Roof.
Looking back on his life, he said, “I’ve been very happy in my 75 years as a priest. I never considered being anything else.”
The middle child of five, with two older brothers and two younger sisters, Father Brady entered St. Mark’s Elementary School in Buffalo in 1924.
“I can still remember Father Shea coming into our third-grade classroom,” he said. “He asked, ‘How many boys want to become a priest?’ I raised my hand immediately and from then on, that was my vocation. No other profession attracted me. I was determined to become a priest.”
Of course, he had help from his mother, Dorothy, whose prayers and encouragement led him forward in the pursuit of his calling. As a young woman at St. Cecilia Church in Harlem, she had visited the convent and told Mother Superior that she wanted to become a nun.
“The nun told her, ‘No, you’re not going into the convent. You’re going to become the mother of a priest,” Father Brady recalled. So every day at Mass, Dorothy prayed that one of her sons would enter the priesthood. And her youngest did.
After eighth grade, Father was accepted at the Little Seminary of St. Joseph and the Little Flower, but his family had to move to New York City because his father needed to find work during the Depression.
They lived in the Bronx, and he attended Cathedral College, a preparatory seminary across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. However, they returned to Buffalo a year later, and he resumed his studies at the Little Seminary. He later entered the Columban Fathers order because he wanted to be a missionary priest and take the Gospel message to foreign countries. On December 18, 1943, he was ordained with 13 other men at St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo.
“I wanted to go to China, but China was closed and they were kicking priests out,” he recalled. “The war was on and they couldn’t give us assignments in the missions so we were loaned to different dioceses.”
His first assignment was at St. Joachim Church in Buffalo, until he became vocations director at a seminary the Columban Fathers opened in Milton, Massachusetts. For 17 years, he toured the country, looking for young men who had a calling to the priesthood.
When his younger sister, who was a nurse in Buffalo, suffered a breakdown, he volunteered to care for her because he was teaching nearby at the Columban Fathers’ Silver Creek Seminary. “I was the only one available who could help her,” he recalled.
With her treatment came financial responsibilities, but he had no money because missionary priests did not receive a salary, so he asked to be assigned to the Diocese of Buffalo. Since there were no openings, his superior suggested that he apply to the newly formed Diocese of Bridgeport.
The response was immediate. “Send him down and I’ll put him to work,” Bishop Lawrence Shehan told the superior, and in 1960 Father Brady arrived at St. Mary Parish in Greenwich, where he taught religion at the parish high school. He was later transferred to St. Paul Parish in Glenville. Then, in 1968 during the fourth week of Lent, he was named pastor at St. Margaret Mary’s in Shelton.
In the 23 years since retiring, he has assisted at parishes in Woodsville, New Hampshire; Yucca Valley, California; and Wells River, Vermont. In 2010, he returned to Buffalo and moved into a senior living community with his brother-in-law.
Throughout the years, he has been friend and spiritual advisor to countless people, who have been endeared to him because of his compassion, humor, reverence and love of the Eucharist.
One is Pamela Rittman, director of the Annual Catholic Appeal, who met Father Brady over the phone 10 years ago when he called to make a donation and she discovered he was from the town where she grew up.
Shortly afterward, he sent her some of his homemade fudge, which was known as “Father Brady’s Holy Fudge” in parts of Vermont and New Hampshire and sold at roadside stands and country stores. “We immediately hit it off as friends and talked about local restaurants and the cold Western New York weather,” Rittman said.”
Seventy-five years as a priest and 100 years of life have taught him many lessons. “The priesthood can be difficult,” he said. “You see a lot of problems, but you’re doing Christ’s work, which is the most important thing of all. Today, the Church gets bad press, and the sex abuse scandal has made it hard, but I always had my vocation and I never wanted anything else.”
When asked what his secret is for a long life, he admits to being perplexed: “My father died at 60, my mother at 54, and yet here I am… approaching 100.”
By Joe Pisani