The Alemão brothers, 29-year-old Favin (left) and 33-year-old Ryan, will officially be ordained as priests May 13. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Alemão brothers find common ground in vocation

  • April 4, 2017

You might think that two brothers who ended up studying for the priesthood in the same seminary at the same time would have a lot in common.

Not the Alemão brothers, Favin and Ryan.

“It’s not that we hate each other or anything,” said Deacon Favin, the youngest of the family of four at 29. “It is just that we are two radically different people. Our interests are very different, our taste in friends is very different, what we choose to do in our free time is very different; I don’t even know what he does in his free time.”

Next month, the brothers will be ordained together into the priesthood to serve the Archdiocese of Toronto. The last time two brothers were ordained on the same day in Toronto was 1992.

Born of Indian parents in the Muslim-dominated United Arab Emirates, Favin and Ryan immigrated to Canada in 2001 with their parents and two older sisters. Growing up, Favin favoured the arts, passing time with music, literature and video games while his brother, Deacon Ryan, 33, opted for athletics and academics.

“We didn’t do too many things together,” said Ryan, who earned a bachelor’s degree in plant molecular biology from the University of Toronto. “We have a four-year age gap (and) when you’re younger that makes a difference. When I was in Grade 8 for example, he’d be in Grade 4 or 5 and I wasn’t going to hang out with my younger brother.”

Even as the Alemão boys matured into men, their brotherly bond never fully blossomed as they continued to devote their lives to different pursuits. That was until both men found themselves at Serra House in Toronto for priesthood discernment in 2009 and pre-theology formation.

“This was probably the first thing that we ever really did together,” said Ryan, unable to pass up the opportunity to poke fun at his younger brother. “They should have sent me to a different place.”

Favin, laughing, said that would have been fine with him.

“I kind of wish he did” go to a different seminary, he said.

“No, that’s a lie,” he corrected himself, smiling. There was nothing “kind of” about it. “I wish he did” go somewhere else, he joked.

Favin, who began his priestly formation one year before Ryan in 2008, explained how the two were almost sent to separate seminaries.

“(They) didn’t want there to be conflict with there being two brothers there (at St. Augustine’s Seminary),” he said.

Ryan, who was able to carry over a year’s worth of philosophy credits from his bachelor’s degree program, also considered the consequences of having his brother in the same seminary.

“I remember when I was going to Serra House that I had to be careful because my brother was there,” he said. “But to be honest it wasn’t the biggest concern on my mind. The bigger concern was whether or not I wanted to actually do this.”

alemao brothers webIn this photo from 2012, when the Alemão brothers were first-year seminarians at St. Augustine’s, Ryan pointed out the finer points of stained glass window design to his younger brother Favin. (File photo by Erin Morawetz, The Catholic Register)

Those concerns are in the past, as Ryan now looks towards May 13 when he and Favin, along with three others, will be ordained. And while the two followed very different paths prior to pursuing the priesthood, as priests they hope to accomplish the same thing: to instill a deeper social aspect into parish life similar to that in which they were raised in the Middle East.

“I see the role of the priest as helping in developing the social side,” Favin said. “The priest can be something like a matchmaker or good host. That aspect of being a good host is essential.”

Favin added that a good priest will get to know each of his parishioners so that “when you talk to someone you find a connection with someone else,”

“You try to build little communities within your community,” he said. “People in Canada, they may have many connections but they don’t have very deep connections.”

Building upon this idea, Ryan recommends priests stand by the parish’s main entrance and briefly speak with parishioners, both prior to and after Mass.

“That takes time to build those kind of relationships,” he said. “Some of the parishes in Toronto are so large that you can barely know anybody.”

Neither brother had been told which of the archdiocese’s 225 parishes they’ll serve as of March 22, when The Catholic Register spoke to them.

Ryan discovered first-hand the importance of relationships after immigrating from Abu Dhabi at 17 with his father, a part-time security guard still living in Ajax, Ont., and mother, who passed away in 2015.

“The practice of our faith was very strong over there,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it (faith) was oppressed but we didn’t have the freedom that we have here. It would have strengthened my faith in a sense to have been able to actually dialogue ... because when we were over in the Middle East we wouldn’t have had (those conversations freely).”

A turning point in Ryan’s life came when he stumbled upon the Newman Centre, a Catholic youth chaplaincy outreach at the University of Toronto. There, he experienced open dialogue about faith, which led him into his priestly vocation.

“For me the biggest thing was going to a place like the Newman Centre,” Ryan said. “There is no such thing as a Catholic chaplaincy in the Middle East.”

Catholic chaplaincy heavily influenced his brother’s decision to become a priest as well.

“I wasn’t doing very well in my studies and I thought that the one thing that I have going for me is my faith,” he said, reflecting on his days as a secondary school student in Ajax. “So I told my high school chaplain that I was interested in the priesthood and even though I don’t think I really was — I just sort of said that. I don’t know why I said that, partly it was because I wanted to win the chaplaincy award in my school and I won it … so it was a happy ending.”

After a couple more years and a number of retreats, Favin’s lukewarm attitude about the priesthood turned into a genuine desire for a clerical collar.

“I wasn’t sure if this was what God was calling me to,” said Favin. “Finally I came to a come-and-see weekend here and I thought I might as well apply. I always thought that maybe I’ll be in turmoil if I’m called or not called, but that year was sort of it.”

And although their lives differ, the priesthood has bonded them together.

“I was like any sibling when a younger one comes along,” said Ryan. “I was like who is this guy coming in to ruin my life. It is only when you get to adulthood that that ... disappears.”

The Alemão brothers were part of the eleven graduates of St. Augustine's Seminary's class of 2017 introduced at this year's Ordinandi Dinner, click here to read profiles on the rest of them. 

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great story, totally captures your personalities.
God bless in this final stretch before your ordination.

Nicholas Ferreira
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