Fr. Bryan Sabourin is now assistant pastor at St. Mary’s parish in Ottawa. It’s a homecoming for the Companions of the Cross priest as it is the parish his call to the priesthood sprang from. Photo by Deborah Gyapong.

Family’s spiritual awakening opened the path to priesthood

  • October 5, 2014

OTTAWA - Fr. Bryan Sabourin, a member of the Companions of the Cross order, recalls a time when he was embarrassed to bring his friends home. 

When he was in ninth grade, his parents had a spiritual awakening, prompted in part by the influence of his maternal grandparents who were active in St. Mary’s parish at the height of the charismatic renewal under Fr. Bob Bedard, the late Companions of the Cross founder. 

“Everything started to change around me,” Sabourin said. “Holy pictures began multiplying on the walls. A statue appeared in the yard. The music they listened to started changing. If there was a ‘Jesus’ Breakfast Cereal, they would have bought it.” 

But in addition to these outward signs, Sabourin witnessed a “new joy in their lives” and a change in “the way they related to us kids.” 

“There was more love in our home,” he said. 

As he reached high school, Sabourin started attending youth group at his parish. He recalled a “moment of grace” while attending a Christian music festival up the Ottawa Valley near a Christian theme park and campground. The band came out to do an encore and a line of the song, “I give all of me to you,” stuck with him. It began to rain and hail. Sabourin found his tent soaked, so he slept in his parents’ van, finding the line kept going through his mind, and it “turned into a prayer.” 

“I want to give my heart to you,” he remembered praying. “I need to know what that means, maybe I could do that, if you show me what that means.” 

Sabourin looks back and sees that night as the beginning of a process that eventually led him to the priesthood. He started attending youth group more regularly. He also began attending St. Mary’s and there developed a connection with Bedard and the Companions. He was eager to learn about the Catholic faith. 

However, there were two things he told God he would not do: he would not share his faith and put himself out in front of people; and he would not become a priest. 

“You can see how that turned out,” he said. “I’m a priest in an order whose charism is evangelization.” 

Sabourin said he had a misconception about evangelization. He thought you had to be an “apologetics ninja” prepared to explain all the truths of the faith at once, a task he considered overwhelming. 

Then studying political science at Ottawa’s Carleton University, Sabourin did not yet have a personal relationship with Christ. That changed after helping his parish out with a youth “I have a destiny” conference in the fall of 2004. Companion priest Fr. Mark Goring preached the Gospel message there, telling the youth, “God loves you. He sent His only Son to die for your sins and He is inviting you into a relationship with Him,” Sabourin recalled. “He put out that invitation to respond. He said, God loves you so much, He wants you to experience that love.” 

Sabourin went forward for prayer ministry. He recalls hearing Goring say, “God has a plan for your life and He wants you to know what it is.” 

In opening up his heart to receive God’s love, Sabourin found he experienced it in “a new and palpable way.” The love overwhelmed him, leaving him “overjoyed,” yet at the same time His presence was “almost painful because it cut through any lies and hurt that had built up over the years.” 

“He loved me even in my brokenness and sinfulness,” he said. “I responded by giving my own heart. I was finally able to make that prayer: ‘I give myself to You.’ ” 

A month later, he helped out on a Life in the Spirit retreat for youth at the parish. After all the youth were prayed for, Bedard, Goring and other leaders prayed for Sabourin, asking for the grace of “surrender to God and to know what God’s will was in my life.” 

Afterwards, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament in the Adoration Chapel, Sabourin “knew that something was missing.” He realized he had to surrender those things he had said he was unwilling to do. 

“If you wanted me to share faith with others, I am willing to do that,” he prayed. “I am not sure I’m ready, but I’m willing.” 

The other thing he had to surrender was the priesthood, he said. 

“I knew God loved me,” he said. “I trusted in that love. I knew He had a plan for my life. I wanted to know what it was. And whatever it was, it would bring great joy, happiness and fulfilment in God’s mission for me. Priesthood isn’t my plan,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t choose it, I wouldn’t want it. But God if that is what you want for me, I’d be willing to do that as well. 

“After that, I felt a really deep sense of peace, I felt God kind of moving my heart towards the priesthood,” he said. “It was a strange thing, hard to explain. As I prayed about it over the next couple of weeks, the joy only increased.” 

He sought out spiritual direction under Bedard. He began to visit the Companions. And his desire to evangelize also increased. 

He appreciated the Companions spirituality and their sense of community and brotherhood. 

“These guys really cared for each other. That was really attractive to me.” 

He joined the Companions in the fall of 2005, and then began his studies for the priesthood and his internships, first with a Companion parish in Lower Sackville, N.S., then as a deacon at a Companions’ parish in Toronto while he finished up his studies in theology. His experience in Nova Scotia “only confirmed” that it was “great to minister as brothers, to see people come alive in their faith, to journey with young and old and people in all walks of life.” 

On June 7, Ottawa Auxiliary Bishop Christian Riesbeck, himself a Companion, ordained Sabourin a priest. 

“It was a real joy to have my brother ordain me,” he said. 

Sabourin said in becoming a priest you cannot be afraid to look squarely at what one must give up. 

“I was coming from a place of being quite sure marriage was where I was going,” he said. “I had my own plans, certainly to be married, have a sizable family, a good paying job, lots of different plans and goals. That all changed after my conversion experience. 

“Don’t be afraid to ask the Lord what His plans are for your life. They will bring you joy; they will bring you happiness,” he said. “He can be the fulfilment in your life. The only way this is possible is if you have that intimacy with God.” 

It’s also important to stay connected to families, to family life, to have friends and to be with your own family, he said. 

“The priesthood is not a life of isolation and loneliness. It’s a life of communion, with your parishioners, with your friends, with God and with families.” 

Sabourin is now at St. Mary’s where he serves as assistant pastor. 

“It’s quite a gift to look out over the pews and know that my conversion and my call to the priesthood both sprang in many ways from that parish.” 

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