A priest who is father to more than 700 children

 He has the face of a boxer - but Fr Ray Brennan has changed more nappies and mixed more baby feeds than many mothers. The founder of the Pattaya Orphanage in Thailand, Fr Ray visited the UK this week and gave the homily at a Mass in Westminster Cathedral on Saturday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the charity.

Born in Chicago, in 1932, Fr Ray is a Redemptorist priest. In the early 1960s he was sent to northern Thailand, where he ministered to both his own parish, and many US troops stationed just over the border in Laos and Viet Nam. In 1972 he was asked to go to Pattaya as a temporary replacement for the parish priest and has worked there ever since. The war in Vietnam was raging, and the Gulf of Siam had become a popular destination for US troops on leave. With their arrival the commercial sex industry started up.

One day, Fr Ray was handed an abandoned American-Thai baby. With help from a parishioner he kept the child and within weeks, several more babies had been left with him. By 1978 he had 58 children to look after and officially set up the orphanage. Thirty years on, Fr Ray now runs an old people's home, for stateless old people, imprisoned as illegal aliens by the Thai authorities. Fr Ray persuaded the government to release them into his care. He also runs schools for deaf and blind children, children with disabilities, a job placement agency, and centre for street children - many of whom had been caught up in the sex industry. During his homily Fr Ray spoke of one severely deformed, mentally retarded baby who had been given to the home and placed in a bed next to a Downs Syndrome child. Soon the two became friends. They would reach out and hold hands. One day, one of of them died. The other one was inconsolable, refused to eat, and died soon after.

"For us it was a real lesson in God's infinite wisdom" Fr Ray said. "These two children were severely handicapped but they knew love and they knew it deeply." He then described a young girl who had lost her leg in an accident and came to the school to study computer technology. "She told me she never thought she would be able to live a normal life or be able to send money to her family. She graduated from us and got a good job. And she fell in love with another of our students who had lost both legs. I married them and he is in now the principal of the school." Fr Ray thanked all the supporters at the Mass for making the work of the centre possible.

For more information on the Pattaya Orphanage visit: www.pattayaorphanage.org.uk/

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