Brylle Buenaventura hopes to fulfill his vocational calling as a missionary priest

The call to priesthood is one Brylle Buenaventura could not hold back – even from his earliest days.

Many children are known to be restless and constantly distracted during a celebration of Mass, but this was hardly the case for the adolescent Brylle. In fact, from a very young age he would come home from Sunday Mass so fueled by the experience that he would immediately grab some blankets, wrap them around himself as vestments and “play Mass” from home.

Even today, at age 31, Brylle still looks back on those days of his youth, when he would grab blankets for vestments and biscuits for hosts, to remind himself of how long the Lord has been calling him on his vocational path.

“When I go back to that memory – that’s what keeps the fire burning in me, to keep persevering in this kind of life and vocation,” said Brylle. “I do not know when the call started exactly, but maybe it was at that instance.”

Not only was he drawn to “playing Mass” as a boy, Brylle also had a passion for collecting little statues of saints, and would play with them alongside his other toys. The first book he was given was an illustrated book on the lives of the saints, and this furthered his devotion. Already, at a very early age, Brylle was being stirred to a religious vocation.

Baby Brylle Buenaventura

“A saint I particularly liked was St Dominic Savio. I could relate to his life – he was attracted at a very young age to aspire for a life of holiness, to religious articles, and all things related to the church. I followed that same pattern,” he said.

Brylle’s obvious interest in the liturgy and all things Catholic led his mother to encourage him at age eight to consider becoming an altar server. He was so anxious to fulfill this role that his local pastor allowed him to start altar serving before he had even received his First Communion.

“I was so eager to serve so they sped up the process,” Brylle said. “When I became an altar server I loved it. I felt very happy serving the Lord; there was peace in my heart and in serving the Lord as an altar server.

“In the Philippines we would have a lot of Masses on Sunday and I would never tire in serving. I would serve on a Sunday as many as five, six seven and even eight Masses. My thinking was always that, ‘I love doing this and I love what the priest is doing’. Altar serving became my way of seeing the life of a priest from a bird’s eye view. I always felt at peace, happy and fulfilled. I felt that I want this kind of life.”

Brylle continued altar serving into his teenage years, his passion for it never wavering. This period of time also brought an increased sense of calling to the priesthood. Brylle was initially shy about sharing his aspiration, as his classmates would tease him for his love of the Mass, calling him “Father” jokingly. But as he neared his graduation from high school at age 16, that vocational calling was a certainty he was determined to follow through with.

“As I neared my graduation it became clearer and clearer and the desire to become a priest grew intensely,” he said.

Brylle with his mother Annie Buenaventura. This photo was taken on a visit to the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Manaoag.

But much more than altar serving, it was Brylle’s devout mother that was the strongest influence in his vocation. She was a constant source of support in his own faith, encouraging him to pursue holiness and to put God first in his life. It is to her that Brylle ascribes the courage he had to follow through with God’s calling to the priesthood.

“I remember St. Pius X said that the vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but first goes through the heart of a mother. And my mother’s side of the family was very religious, and that’s where my religious side came from.”

So, at age 16, Brylle entered St. Peter’s College Seminary in San Pablo City in the Philippines, immediately after his high school graduation. His parents and friends were initially hesitant about his decision, given how young he was. But because of how firm he was in pursuing this path, they eventually supported him.

“They were saying that maybe I was not mature enough to make such a big decision,” Brylle recalled. “Eventually, thank God, they supported me in my vocation.”

At St. Peter’s Seminary Brylle underwent five years of studying philosophy followed by another five years of theological studies at the Divine Word Seminary. Through this formation, his calling became even more solidified and certain.

“In those years, my calling grew more intensely,” he said. “Even though life in seminary is very hard – it’s a life that is very challenging – but what kept me persevering is that I loved what I was doing.

“I stayed at the seminary for ten years, and looking back on it now I am grateful for God’s grace. I see it was not my effort, it was his grace and mercy that preserved me in all those years.”

Brylle is installed to the ministry of Lector as a seminarian and theology student in the Philippines.

It was also a time in which Brylle was able to come “out of his shell”, lose some of the laziness and introverted ways of his youth, and step outside of his comfort zone.

“Looking back on my life as a teenager, I could see myself as a ’lazy bum’, as a ‘house body’ that just goes with the flow,” he said. “But while in seminary, I changed a lot. I became engaged in different ministries, different activities and chores in the seminary, learning to speak in front of many people, doing pastoral work in the community. I think it was a total conversion for me.

“I came to know myself more and more, and that did not stop with the seminary. My studying is continuous. My pastoral work is continuous. The seminary just gave me a starting point, a springboard, to develop my overall qualities as a person.”

This brought a pivotal lesson for Brylle that has stuck with him throughout his formation, that one of God’s key demands in following Him is a willingness to get out of one’s comfort zone.

And that willingness to step outside of one’s comfort zone reached a critical turning point for Brylle in 2017.

It happened during Brylle’s pastoral formation year, while on a 30-day retreat that included intense prayer as well as “parish exposure” in a variety of communities.

Brylle with his “prayer partner” Sister Cyrille Sergia, OCD

“During this retreat I contemplated my vocation,” Brylle recalled. “And I felt a calling to go to a mission, to go to other places, to serve in another place where I am needed the most.

“In the Philippines there are lots of priests, lots of churches, and in 2021 we celebrated 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines. The theme for the celebration was ‘We are gifted to give’, and I was inspired by that theme.

“After receiving the Faith in the Philippines, why not share it also? Not just among the communities here, but to other places where the Faith is much more needed, where priests are much more needed. I am gifted and so – I should give. Even more, I should go to a place where I can give myself the most. So this decision to go to a mission diocese was the fruit of my prayers over that 30-day retreat.”

Brylle brought the fruit of his prayers to his spiritual director, who gave him the confident reply: “If the Holy Spirit is leading you to that place of mission, just go and the Lord will be with you. He will provide.”

With this thought of serving where the need is greatest now continually stirring within him, in early 2022 Brylle happened to come across the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan on social media. Here was a diocese in the northern, cold and isolated regions of Canada (surely outside of his comfort zone) that was missionary and in need of priests. Brylle reached out to Vocations Director Fr. Michael Uso-Ereyi and applied. It was the first and only missionary diocese he reached out to.

Brylle with several priests of Deanery 4: Fr. John Manjamattathil Joseph, MST, Fr. Lawrence Odoemena, Fr. Antony Raj, and Fr. Bernard Akum, SDV.

After several discussions and interviews, Brylle was accepted and finally arrived in the archdiocese on Oct. 31st, 2022 to serve as a pastoral intern and to discern becoming a diocesan priest in Grouard-McLennan.

Now into his second year in Canada, Brylle is currently a pastoral intern in High Prairie, primarily assisting Fr. Lawrence Odoemena with his pastoral work in High Prairie and East Prairie. Brylle has also been working with Fr. Victor Ezenwanne, SMMM, who is currently serving the communities of Grouard, Gift Lake, Peavine and Atikameg.

“I thank God for this time, that I’m still alive after one year,” said Brylle. “Being here on mission I continue to learn and I’m loving it. It’s an adventure for sure. Our life is an adventure with Christ, physically and spiritually.”

His internship with Fr. Lawrence has provided an even-closer “bird’s eye view” of the life of the priest, as Brylle accompanies him in all of his various duties and ministries.

“I’m assisting Fr. Lawrence as an altar server, and we also go to the hospital to visit with patients in acute care and to the seniors lodge to visit with the people and celebrate Mass. We also go to communities just to visit with the people, to tell them the Church is here, that we are present and we are here to serve. It’s always a learning experience for me, even if its just things like writing in the registries for baptisms and funerals.

“Getting to observe Fr. Lawrence keeps me inspired. I can tell myself that I want to be like him in his dealing with others and in the strong connection he has with them. That’s a very good characteristic of a priest – to not just be a leader and a shepherd, but to show the people that their pastor is with them, he is among them and with them. He knows ‘The smell of the sheep’.”

Chrism Mass 2023, with Paul Edo-Aramunde, Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, Fr. Michael Uso-Ereyi and Brylle Buenaventura

Through his years of discernment, that have now led him to the possibility of becoming a missionary priest in Canada, Brylle has found that one of the biggest challenges in following the voice of God is to do so within a world so full of noise and distractions. In particular, there is the obstacle of a pervading secular culture that lacks a clear sense of truth and a higher purpose to life.

“The challenge is to always hear the voice of the shepherd,” Brylle said. “We live in a world that doesn’t know the truth anymore. As Pope Benedict XVI said, we are in a ‘dictatorship of relativism’. There is your truth, my truth, but no absolute truth anymore in our world. So we are prone to listen to various voices around us that are contrary to what the Church teaches.”

Key to possessing that ability to hear the voice of God amidst the noise of the world, Brylle says, one must develop an interior silence.

This is a silence that is more than just the absence of noise, but an interior silence where the presence of Jesus can enter. To develop this interior silence, one that heeds “the call of the shepherd”, Brylle notes that eucharistic adoration, habitual Mass and praying the Rosary, are all helpful.

Above all, Brylle says we have to recognize that the main objective of our lives is to follow whatever path God is calling us to, even if it means taking that great leap out of our comfort zone.

“One priest said to us seminarians that our response to God is only one percent; God’s work is the other 99%,” Brylle said. “Our full confidence, our full surrender to God is very important. It is essential not only in the call to become a priest, but in all vocations. All vocations are a gift from God.

“St. Therese said ‘All is grace’. All that we have is a gift of grace from God. And we have to ask ourselves, ‘What are we going to do with this gift? How will we treasure it?’”

Brylle with altar servers at St. Peter Celestine Church in Slave Lake.