Ryan Alemao, a first-year seminarian at St. Augustine’s Seminary, describes the designs of stained glass windows in the chapel as fellow first-year seminarian, his younger brother Favin, looks on. Photo by Erin Morawetz

Brothers take two paths to same destination

By  Erin Morawetz, The Catholic Register
  • May 9, 2012

TORONTO - Some brothers share a love of sports, others the same taste in music. But brothers Ryan and Favin Alemao share something different — a life path like no other. 

Ryan, 27, and Favin, 24, are in formation for the priesthood at Toronto’s St. Augustine’s Seminary. And though both come from the same family, have had similar experiences and look incredibly alike — some even mistake them for twins — both reached the same point in very different ways. 

The Alemao family moved to Ajax, Ont., from the United Arab Emirates in 2001. The family was always very involved in the Catholic community, no matter where they were. In the Middle East, both boys were altar servers and attended summer day camps run by missionary priests. These experiences were eye opening to older brother Ryan. 

“I saw some really good examples of priests,” Ryan said. “That influence built up, seeing these men that were really good men, good priests, good Catholics.”

But it was younger brother Favin that their family saw as a future priest.

When the Alameos moved to Canada, the whole family got involved in its new parish community. But at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Ajax, a young Favin was having a hard time fitting in. He gravitated slightly towards a peer ministry group, but it was still outside encouragement that really pushed him forward.

“I had a chaplain (in high school) who really encouraged me to go to different parish events,” Favin said. “She really thought I was called to the priesthood.

“Totally against my wishes she spoke to my mom,” Favin laughed.

The chaplain suggested he attend a Salesian retreat, and it was there Favin said he thought for the first time this could be the path for him. By the end of his third year at the University of Toronto, Favin decided to enter Serra House, a house of discernment for men thinking about a call to the priesthood. Studying philosophy there, he said, finally felt right.

“(Before)… I had no sense of purpose,” Favin said. “Now for the first time, my attention was grasped.

“When I entered (Serra House), my family (wasn’t) so surprised. In fact, since high school they were kind of waiting for it. When Ryan joined… that was kind of unexpected.”

Indeed, Ryan’s decision to study for the priesthood surprised everyone, Ryan included.

“My eldest sister didn’t believe me when I told her on the phone,” Ryan said. “She kept saying, ‘What? No, really?’

“I always had my life and my career path laid out. (I had to) revisit that and realize maybe it wasn’t what I really feel called to.”

Ryan had been involved as a campus minister at the University of Toronto, but when he graduated with a degree in biology, he went right into the pharmaceutical field. After about a year, he realized he wanted a job where he could work more with people, so he switched to personal finance. But he discovered it wasn’t just working with people he enjoyed, but actually helping people.

Convinced then to join the ministry, Ryan entered Serra House one year after his brother, and a year later both were asked to come to St. Augustine’s at the same time.

But there is no sibling rivalry between these two brothers. As they talk of their family life and their studies, as they point out different covenants depicted on the walls of the main chapel and describe the stain glass windows, they are not competing with each other, but rather complimenting what the other says.

Despite their jokes — “The one year before he joined, it was heaven!” Favin said with a hearty laugh — they seem genuinely happy to have each other there.

“Having him (at Serra House) and knowing what the set up was that I was going into, it kind of eased my decision and had an influence on my thoughts,” Ryan said. “Living in a community, (it’s good to have) one person that you know you can live with because you grew up together.”

The brothers continue to grow together, as they still have several years left at St. Augustine’s. They have only just completed their first year, a spiritual year that involves a media fast — no Internet, television, radio, newspaper or cellphone access five days a week.

“At first it’s tough to let go,” Ryan said. “I’ve had a cellphone since first year of university. But it’s really to give us the time away (from distractions) to focus on our relationship with God and to grow within ourselves.”

“The time out (allows us to) get to know ourselves, examine our lives, examine our strengths,” Ryan said. “To really know who’s the real me who’s saying yes to this vocation from the Lord.” 

Favin too said the year did him good.

“Now when I’m able to use these things, I find I don’t really feel the need,” Favin said. “It’s surprising the amount of focus I have.”

Though they still have a long way to go until they’re ordained, both acknowledge how far they’ve come.

“If you asked me seven years ago, or even five years ago, if I’d be here today, I’d probably laugh,” Ryan said.  “Now people see me as belonging to this group, they see me as a future priest.

“It’s very rewarding and very humbling, the trust (people) have in me.”

“I’m always grateful to be here, for the way it’s changed my life,” Favin said. “I’ve never felt this much peace… or this comfortable with myself.”

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