Thailand: Fr Ray, founder of Pattaya Orphanage, has died

Father Raymond Brennan, 'Father Ray' to all who knew him, founder and director of the Pattaya Orphanage in Thailand, died on Saturday, 16 August, aged 70. Fr Ray was born into a devout Irish Catholic family in a tough area of Chicago, Illinois, during the Depression years. His elder brother became an Augustinian priest, but when Fr Ray decided to take orders he elected to join the missionary Redemptorists. His first posting was to Thailand, where he expected to stay one, maybe two, years. Given a few days home leave before departing the United States for his new life, he went home to tell his parents he was posted abroad. His mother's comment always astonished him: instead of crying at the prospect of parting, which he had expected and dreaded, she simply said 'I knew God had a reason you are the only one of my children who likes rice!' He spent ten years in northern Thailand at the height of the Viet Nam war, ministering both to his several parishes and to US troops stationed over the border in Laos and Viet Nam. Fr Ray, always modest about his faith, told a story about this period in his life, very much against himself. A drought stricken parish in Northern Thailand insisted that he pray for rain when he arrived on his regular monthly visit. Forced into a corner, he reluctantly led the whole parish in prayer in the church which they had built, then processed down the aisle, outside, and around the church. As they processed therain began. Fr Ray's comment, typically, was 'I had so little faith. I was the only one there who didn't believe it would happen'. In 1972 he was sent to Pattaya as a temporary replacement for the parish priest. He has been there ever since. The war in Viet Nam was raging, and the Gulf of Siam was a convenient and pleasant place for US troops to rest, so was born the commercial sex industry, which has so successfully outlived the hostilities. The Redemptorists mission is to the neediest in society. Fr Ray could not but take in an abandoned baby. As news of his generosity spread, more and more children were left with him. Others were found abandoned on the beach or in dustbins. His Orphanage, had grown to 58 children by 1978, and is now home to more than 150. It was followed by other projects, starting with an Old People's Home for stateless old people, imprisoned as illegal aliens. Fr Ray persuaded the government that in the case of the very old imprisonment was unnecessary, and some were released to his care. Schools for deaf and blind children were conceived with the object of making education facilities available to the poorest children, who might otherwise remain uneducated. The Vocational School followed, which allows young disabled people to be educated and learn useful skills so they can support themselves. A complementary Job Placement Agency helps disabled people throughout Thailand to find suitable jobs and contribute positively to the community. Latterly his energies have been devoted to building up the Home for Street Children established outside Pattaya. This provides a safe haven for up to 150 abused or neglected children, many of whom were at risk of sexual exploitation or child labour. In all, 750 children and young people are now in the care of his Orphanage and schools. Thousands more have passed through in the thirty years since he took in the first abandoned child. All have received a parent's love and the best available education and training so that, as he insisted, they could earn a better living honestly than by going on the streets. Eighteen Pattaya Orphans are studying at universities in Thailand this year alone. Anyone who works with children is vulnerable to attack. Fr Ray was no exception. But his integrity was unimpeachable, and his detractors never succeeded in denting the confidence of his colleagues, of his many supporters or, most importantly, of the children he loved and cared for. Fr Ray's work has only recently been separated from the Roman Catholic parish of Pattaya and put in the hands of the 'Father Ray Foundation'. It continues under Fr Philip Banchong who took over as Director in November 2002. Speaking of his life as a priest, Fr Ray acknowledged that he had difficulty with meditation. Always a man of action, he found long periods of inactivity stressful rather than relaxing. 'My work is my prayer' he said. Fr Ray never married, but was nonetheless a successful parent to hundreds, possibly thousands of children whose lives were changed by his work and example. Note: Tributes to Fr Ray have begun pouring in. The Thai Royal Family are sending some ceremonial soil, reserved usually for royal burials, to be used during the funerla at Pattaya . We will publish them later. For past stories about the Pattaya Orphanage on ICN use the Search facility. You can also visit the Pattaya website at:

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