Branden Gordon

Ladies’ man to man of God

  • October 17, 2013

Toronto - In high school, the ladies loved Branden Gordon, and he loved them back.

But Gordon always felt restless and unsatisfied, a feeling he assumed is typical of youth. Yet he persistently searched for what was missing, for the truth. Eventually, he says, God revealed Himself, and so Gordon eventually found his way to religious life. Men entering religious life with the Salesians have the option to become permanent brothers or priests, and though there is still time to change his mind, Gordon has entered the discernment process with the intention of becoming a priest.

“In university, I studied philosophy as an extension of that search for the truth,” he said.

Gordon began to follow in his parents’ footsteps. His mother used to be an assistant kindergarten teacher and now works with elementary students with special needs; Gordon went on to graduate from teacher’s college. His father was a volunteer baseball coach; Gordon began volunteering with young people from the Salesian-run St. Benedict’s parish. 

“The seed was really planted when I got involved with sports nights. I was very inspired by the (Salesian) men, by their joyfulness, their optimism and by the concern that they had for the young people that they worked with,” said Gordon.

Gordon, now 26, was new to the faith at the time and decided he was too spiritually immature to consider religious life. He was baptized Catholic as a child, but more out of cultural traditions.

“I come from a mixed background. My father’s side is Jamaican and my mother’s side Italian,” he said. “I come from a family that no longer practices the faith and hasn’t done so for two or three  generations.” 

Gordon also wanted to enter into a romantic relationship and focus on his new girlfriend. They stayed together for three years.

“My ex-girlfriend was the one who had the courage to break things off so that I could discern my vocation in freedom. She showed an authentic and self-sacrificing concern for me,” said Gordon.

After the relationship ended, he approached his spiritual director, Fr. Michael Pace, pastor at St. Benedict’s Church, about joining community life. He was accepted to the Salesians pre-novitiate phase in September. Gordon now lives with seven of Toronto’s Salesians.

“I went to teacher’s college, but there was still that nagging feeling in my heart that this (religious life) is something that I should look into more deeply. In April of this year, I moved in with them (Salesians) and started the discernment process,” said Gordon.

With Gordon’s past, the Salesians seemed a perfect match.

“If I were to join the priesthood or the religious life, then joining one that focuses on youth ministry seems like a natural development because now I’m a certified school teacher. I really enjoy working with young people, so the Salesians feel like a good fit for me.”

Gordon still has student debt to pay off, otherwise he normally would have spent this phase of discernment and formation as a pre-novice in New York. He will be heading there in January. And if he decides to continue on, after a break in summer 2014, he will become a novice and move to California for a year to continue his studies and take vows.

“Those are the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. If you decide, after novitiate that you want to take those vows, you become a brother and you become a member of that religious institute of the Salesians,” said Gordon. 

The education does not stop there, however, with post-novitiate bringing Salesian men to New Jersey. 

“I’ve already done my professional certification as a school teacher, so I’m not quite sure what I’d be doing in my post-novitiate,” said Gordon. “If I keep renewing my vows — because my vows would just be temporary — if I keep renewing them I would eventually after a couple years go to practical training first for a year or two and then I’d be working in school youth centres. More like practicum, and then after that it would be four years of theology.”

He finds peace and joy in the daily routine of prayer and work while living in community and says he enjoys the rhythm of it all.

“According to our society’s standards, it seems radical, but it’s a very fulfilling and peaceful and joyful lifestyle. And I think that some people are called to it and that they’ll feel restless and unsatisfied until they lived that lifestyle,” said Gordon.

As for his days back in high school, he says he didn’t have “the right moral compass,” the right ideas about sexuality or relationships and most likely inflicted pain and sadness on others.

“Once I found the richness of the Catholic faith and the idea of chaste love and of true friendship between men and women, and the idea of marriage as well, I really started to understand why I failed in that aspect, in that area of my life,” he said.

After he takes a vow of chastity, he will no longer be looking for a wife or to date, which Gordon says makes it easier to relate to women because it’s no longer about impressing them.

“It’s more just about looking at them as persons in themselves, rather than objectifying either them or myself, and I think that’s a very liberating way to live.”

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