Brennan Ferris might be young, but when it comes to his vocation, he is decidedly old school.
The seminarian for the Diocese of Wilmington will be ordained to the transitional diaconate on May 15 at St. Peter Cathedral in Wilmington by Bishop Malooly. He’s on track for his priestly ordination next year, when he will be just 26 years old. While that used to be the norm for men entering the priesthood, the numbers have shifted over the decades. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the average age of ordinands in 2018 was 35.
In fact, Ferris said, he is the youngest seminarian in his class at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore by a month. But six years into his studies, he knows the commitment that he is about to make, and he isn’t looking back.
In a recent interview, Ferris recalled a conversation with a priest about his age, “and he said, ‘I’m giving my best years to the priesthood, to God, to the church.’ I’m really excited about it. I’m young, so hopefully I have the energy. Sometimes, I do think I am relatively young for this, but I guess that’s just how God works.”
Ferris describes himself a St. Elizabeth School lifer, from kindergarten through 12th grade. It was there that he first felt the pull of the priesthood. He said the priests he talked to were all helpful. He mentioned his pastor and current director of vocations, Father Norman Carroll; Father Charles Dillingham, the pastor at St. Elizabeth before Father Carroll and a former member of the diocesan vocations team; Father Anthony Giamello, formerly an associate at St. Elizabeth; and Father James Kirk, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen with whom Ferris talked at a youth pilgrimage while a senior in high school.
“When I more or less really believed I was getting this call to the priesthood, once I brought it to their attention, they were super-helpful,” he said.
Father Carroll said it has been “a joy” watching Ferris grow in his vocation, which began through prayer.
“Brennan has wonderfully responded with his own passion and faith to meet the needs of God’s people,” Father Carroll said.
He added that Ferris has “an interesting sense of humor and a simplicity that will serve him and the church well.”
His friends at St. Elizabeth were surprised, but also reassuring. His mother, Elizabeth, spent a year in the convent, so she understood his feelings. He said her situation is “the only failed vocation that I’m happy for.”
He told his brother and sister, Greg and Rebecca, about his decision in story form.
“When they caught on to that, they were like, ‘Brennan, are you actually saying you want to be a priest?’ They’ve always been supportive,” he said.
And his ordination is not the only one to the diaconate that the Ferris family will celebrate this year. His father, Walter, is in formation to become a permanent deacon for the diocese. Ferris said his sister is already married, so they won’t have to argue over who would perform that sacrament.
Ferris will be part of his father’s ordination. “What’s cool is my dad asked me to vest him, so that’s really an honor.”
Ferris attended Mount St. Mary’s University for his freshman year of college before entering the seminary and transferring to the college seminary at Seton Hall University. He said there were a few points along the way when he thought he’d never reach this point. Those were normally when he had no major milestones on the horizon.
“Now that I’m here only a few weeks away, it does not seem like it was long at all. It seems like yesterday I was in the office with the bishop and him accepting me to be a seminarian back in 2014,” he said.
“You have to keep pushing and trusting in God and his plan.”
Once he is ordained, he will find out where he will spend his summer before heading back to St. Mary’s in the fall, when he will be assigned to a parish in Baltimore. He’s not too worried about where he ends up, although he said he’s not a beach person. He said he attended a Hispanic immersion program, so he wouldn’t mind being able to put that experience to work.
Father Carroll said Ferris’ ability to speak Spanish has helped him deepen his faith and share it with others. Ferris attended the immersion program by himself, the priest noted, “with great passion.”
As a deacon, Ferris will be able to participate more in the sacramental life of the church. He’ll be able to baptize, preside over marriages, and give blessings, “which is really cool.” He’ll also be able to preach, which he believes will be nerve-wracking.
“I’m looking forward to being able to give myself to God, to the people of God. That, honestly, is what I’m most excited for,” he said.
When he’s not blessing things or otherwise preparing for the priesthood, Ferris enjoys spending time with friends.
“It doesn’t have to be exciting,” he said. “I just like hanging out, talking, being with people. One of my favorite things is going to people’s homes for dinner.”
He is also a fan of nearly every genre of movies, and he likes music and sports of just about any kind. He is partial to hockey and soccer, but he’s also up for some pickup basketball. He also said the seminarians have organized a Wiffle Ball league in past years, complete with the national anthem.