Fr. Brennan was an extraordinarily “zealous, friendly, and exemplary” priest who fell in love with his mission and was in turn “loved by all,” Fr. Mathew Vrasak Buranapol, a Redemptorist and missionary companion to Fr. Brennan, told CNA Dec. 8.
Fr. Buranapol added that Fr. Brennan's mission of “love and charity” to give “dignity to human life” encouraged him to be a foster-father to the orphans and abandoned children of Thailand.
Fr. Brennan was born to a Catholic family in Chicago in 1932, and was ordained a priest of the St. Louis province of the Redemptorist order.
In the early 1960s he was sent to Loei in far-northern Thailand to administer a parish and to serve American troops in Thailand near the border with Laos and Vietnam.
After ten years he was sent to Pattaya, a city on the Bay of Bangkok, serving as a pastor and an auxiliary chaplain to American troops at the nearby Utapao airport and military base.
During a Sunday Mass in 1974, a women brought her baby and handed him over to Fr. Brennan; she could not keep the child, as she had lost his father. The priest accepted care of the child, and he eventually developed an orphanage.
The Father Ray Foundation now operates an orphanage in Pattaya which accommodates 850 children from across Thailand who have been orphaned, abused, born on the streets, and are disadvantaged or have disabilities such as autism or blindness.
The Redemporists associated with the foundation run a vocational school for the disabled, and a school for the blind which is under the patronage of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
There are also two orphanages; an outreach center for those living on the streets; a day care; and a center for children with special needs, all operating under the motto “we never turn a needy child away.”
Fr. Brennan died Aug. 16, 2003, after becoming known across Thailand for his charitable work. He was buried in Pattaya. The Thai king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, sent emissaries to his funeral with a case of royal soil to be buried with the priest, the highest honor granted to the people of Thailand.
On the tenth anniversary of his death, the government of Pattaya organized a month-long commemoration, culminating with the Dec. 8 feast of the Immaculate Conception at the city's promenade.
Thousand of people, including various religious communities and physically challenged children, participated in events to promote the legacy of Fr. Brennan.
Fr. Peter Srivorakul, president of the Father Ray Foundation, told CNA that the priest had changed Pattaya's image, and that more than 2,000 disabled children have secured livelihoods through the work he started.
Observing the tenth anniversary of the death of Fr. Ray Brennan, a Redemptorist missionary from the U.S., the Thai community has launched fundraising initiatives to support the orphanage he founded.