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The Life of Fr. Brown

Life of Fr. Brown (so far--may he have many more years of life!)

 

Fr. Richard Hyatt Brown, SJ came into the world on April 28, 1927 in San Diego, California.  He is the last remaining sibling of three brothers and two sisters.  The Brown family attended Catholic grade school at St. Didacus, but due to Fr. Brown’s father’s untimely death, Fr. Brown could not continue with his Catholic education after grade school.  He attended freshman year at Hoover High School and was miserable.

His mother approached the Principal of St. Augustine High School and told him that her two boys, Richard and Jerry, should be in Catholic High School.  The Principal told her that she could send them to Saints for the price of one and Fr. Brown has forever been grateful for that blessing.

As he approached graduation in 1944, he made the decision to apply to the Maritime Academy to be part of the Merchant Marine.  He was accepted and thus entered World War II and was part of the Greatest Generation.  The end of the war and an illness that hospitalized him, made him think of what he should do with the rest of his lives.  His brothers were already studying for the priesthood, so it came as no surprise to his mother when he mentioned that he thought he had a vocation to the priesthood.  He just did not know what kind of priests he should be.  His mother set him straight: “Be a Jesuit,” she said, “they are wonderful priests.”  Up until that time, he had no idea who the Jesuits were.

So in the summer of 1946, a young Richard Hyatt Brown, made his way to Los Gatos, California to join the California Province of the Society of Jesus.  Forced to speak Latin, his first months were difficult because the other novices came in large groups from the Jesuit schools in California but he did not.  But he soon made good friends, some who will be waiting to welcome him as he moves back to Los Gatos in March. 

After four years in Los Gatos, he studied at Gonzaga University in Spokane and then taught at St. Ignatius Prep in San Francisco.  He was given a piece of advice by an experienced teacher which he used his first day of school: the first boy who does anything wrong in class, treat very severely and you won’t have any trouble the rest of the year.  It worked for him!

After two years teaching, Mr. Brown was then sent to Alma College to study theology.  He would work at teaching catechism on Saturdays.  Upon ordination, he was off to Port Townsend, Washington for his last bit of formation.  Hating it there, he asked for permission to go to El Paso and help Fr. Harold Rahm, SJ in the Hispanic Parish during Lent.  He became heavily involved in all the youth activities that Fr. Rahm had created and was on the television, too.  It laid the groundwork for many wonderful years of youth ministry that Father Brown would labor.

Fr. Brown then spent some years at Loyola High in Los Angeles teaching Spanish.  But he found himself a page or two ahead of the kids in his class.  His brother, Jerry, an Augustinian who knew Spanish very well, told him to go to Mexico to learn it.  So Fr. Brown approached the Principal of the school and asked for time off to go to Mexico City and really learn Spanish.  The Principal was horrified by the idea of losing a teacher for such a long period of time so he denied his request.  Disheartened, Fr. Brown talked to an older priest about his discouragement and the priest told him that, according to the rules of the Jesuits, you can always represent yourself to the superior of your superior.  Fr. Brown communicated with the Provincial who gave him permission to go to Mexico City for five months and study Spanish.  The Principal was upset that he had gone over his head but Fr. Brown told him that it was his right and off to Mexico City he went.

The Jesuit parish of Reina de los Angeles became his home for the five months and he began classes with la Señora Masa, the mother of a Mexican Jesuit, who would teach Spanish to generations of California Jesuits.  With his experience with Fr. Rahm in El Paso, Fr. Brown thought of a youth group for the young people of the parish.  So he began the Club San Ignacio de Loyola.  At the same time, he was doing pastoral work in the parish.  One of his tasks was to take Communion to a lady from the parish.   When she found out about his youth group, she offered to have her husband fix up an old building and put in a dance floor, classrooms and an office.  Before too long, the Club was sponsoring dances. 

When Fr. Brown began the Club San Ignacio de Loyola, the other priests began to see more young people at Mass. One of Jesuits at the parish, Fr. Leobardo complimented Fr. Brown at how many young people were coming to Mass.  What Fr. Leobardo did not know was that in order to go to the dances on Sunday night, the young people had to pick up a ticket from Fr. Brown after one of the Sunday Masses. 

One young woman knew the famous young singer, Cesar Costa, and invited him to one of the dances.  He came and the place went wild.  The newspapers showed up and published pictures of Fr. Brown with Cesar Costa.  The odd thing about the pictures was that, at that time, it was illegal for priests to wear clerical shirts and there was Fr. Brown in the newspaper with his clerical shirt on.  The pastor of the parish after seeing Fr. Brown in a shirt and tie had told him not to worry, just wear a priest’s outfit and he’d be fine.  So there was Fr. Brown breaking the law for everyone to see.  He never had any problem with the government.

Needless to say, the five months stretched into five years and that Principal of Loyola High School never got his Spanish teacher back.  Fr. Brown dedicated himself so much to the work with the youth that he became sick and exhausted.  The sisters who ran a clinic near the church would have him come over and give him vitamin shots.  Finally, when one of the Jesuit provincials came to see him, he said that he did not want Fr. Brown’s death on his conscience so he ordered him back to the United States and that is how he came to Our Lady of Guadalupe parish with his plans and experience for a youth club known as the CYO.

The pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Fr. Gerald Fader, SJ, knew that something was wrong with the parish.  The freeway had eliminated many houses and destroyed the immediate neighborhood.  Mass attendance had fallen and only funerals seemed to going up.  He wanted a young priest to bring back the young people.  So when He was offered the recuperating Fr. Richard Hyatt Brown, he snapped at the chance and told people, We’re going to bring the youth back.”

In 1968, Fr. Brown brought with him his years of experience with youth ministry in Mexico City and soon established the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) probably to best loved organization that has ever been situated here. Mass attendance was almost obligatory and the 9 AM Mass grew and became more lively.  Hundreds of youth signed up for the CYO.  It had its own officers and responsibilities and was open to any young person between the ages of 13 and 25!  Meetings had a ten cent charge.

But the dances stir many members’ memories.  Girls had to wear dresses and boys had to wear a shirt and tie or, in a gesture to the fashions of the time, a turtleneck with sport coat.  Dances began at 7 PM and ended at 11 PM and there was no loitering afterward.  All were expected to go home immediately.  They were admonished: “In regards to dress, manner of dancing and general behavior each one should bear in mind that this is a Catholic Club.,” and that there must be absolute respect for the chaperones.

In spite of the strict rules, trouble could appear on the dance’s doorsteps.  Two young men, refused entry to the dance, threatened to beat up Fr. Brown.  They were told in no uncertain terms that the rest of the boys would take care of them.  They disappeared.

More worrisome, in the wee hours of March 14, 1971, 17-year old boy was shot in the leg after the dance.  The police had been called to break up a fight, and soon after found the young man in the area of the hall.  Shots were fired that night at a private patrolman and another young man.  The police ended up arresting a young man at his home and confiscated a pistol.

But the dances were not only held in our hall.  Fr. Brown would keep track of the CYO members who participated and came to church.  Then they would get a free ticket to the annual boat dance, a tradition that lasted into the early 2000’s.  Dancing would take place below deck and attendees could also sit out on the deck and watch the beautiful sky line of San Diego float past. 

After meetings and many other events, Fr. Brown would take the young people out for pizza or other fast food.  Those times were valued by the young people.

The CYO provided a wonderful place for young people to gather, pray, play and grow in their faith.

Fr. Fader, who had brought Fr. Brown to the parish in 1968, passed away suddenly in 1970 and Fr. Brown was named pastor.  He began his long work of baptizing (almost 20,000), Quinceaños Masses, weddings, confessions and Masses.  He also advocated for young people with the probation department and by serving for years on Barrio Station’s Board of Directors.

In 1971, Fr. Brown initiated the Guadalupe Procession from the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Balboa Stadium.  In a different venue that procession continues to this day.

He also loved Our Lady of Guadalupe School, but he knew that there were serious problems with enrollment and finances.  The school had been forced to close in the early 60’s when the freeway condemned the building.  When it reopened, the enrollment never caught up to what it had been since so many families had moved out of the area.  A similar thing had struck Our Lady of Angels School when the 94 Freeway tore through its neighborhood of Golden Hills.  So Fr. Donald Kullek, the pastor of Our Lady of Angels, and Fr. Brown concocted a scheme to combine the two schools into Our Lady’s School.  It would be one single school with the younger children at Our Lady of Guadalupe and the older ones at Our Lady of Angels.  The pastors would share responsibility in running and financing the school.  And so, Our Lady’s School was born in the early 1970’s.

When boys and girls would graduate from Our Lady's School, nothing pleased Fr. Brown more than that would continue on in their Catholic education.  He helped to pay tuition for countless students at Catholic high schools and finagled tuition breaks for many of them, too.  His pizza parties at OLP were famous! 

He also became dedicated to the Lowriders, bllssing their cars for many years as they lined them up for Chicano Park Day.

In 2005, after 35 years of being pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Fr. Brown stepped down from that role.  He spent a few months at Loyola Marymount University, and then joined his good friend, Monsignor Ned Brockhaus, at St. John of the Cross Parish in Lemon Grove.  Soon he was asking questions of the people in the aisle of the church during his homilies and making his daily visits to the classrooms where the children came to love him, and he them.  Five years past quickly there and Fr. Brown found himself back at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in 2010 as a senior priest.

In the last eight years, Fr. Brown has spent countless hours visiting the children in the school and praying in the chapel, hearing priests’ confessions and celebrating Mass almost every morning in the church.  The last few years, his movement has been somewhat restricted since he suffered a fall from a treadmill, but bravely he accepts the pain and difficult mobility to make his way to church and school to continue serving God’s people.  Now he moves on to another assignment, an assignment of prayer and taking care of his health and, no doubt, finding ways to serve his Jesuit brothers in the retirement home.

As we pointed out above, Our Lady's School has been a particular concern of Fr. Brown's.  We are asking that as many people as can possibly help, donate to the school so that at his party on March 10th, we may let him know that scholarships in the school have been funded through the next year.  If you would like to donate to the Fr. Brown School Fund click here. oe bring a donation to the party of March 10 from 5-8 PM at the parish.  Or donate directly to the school using Paypal: http://www.olssd.org/adopt.aspx.  Thank you!