Seattle gets two new priests

  • Written by Kevin Birnbaum
  • Published in NW Stories
Photo: Maria Laughlin Photo: Maria Laughlin

Brian Thompson and Dean Mbuzi answer the call to the priesthood

“Sisters and brothers, it’s a great day for the church in Western Washington,” the archbishop said as Mass began. “We give thanks to God for calling [Brian and Dean] and sending them to us.” T he bells of St. James Cathedral resounded Sept. 6 to mark the beginning of a Mass that would see Archbishop J. Peter Sartain ordain two men, Dean Mbuzi and Brian Thompson, to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

The archbishop spoke directly to the two ordinands in his homily, which he jokingly called a “come to Jesus” talk. “My question to you is this,” he said: “With Jesus, will you lay down your lives for us?”

He urged them: “Carry out the ministry of Christ the priest with constant joy and genuine love, attending not to your own concerns but to the needs of God’s people.”

The new Fathers Mbuzi and Thompson are certainly united in their love for God and God’s people, but how did these two men who grew up separated by nearly 10,000 miles end up here, side by side in Seattle.

‘Maybe I should be a priest’

Brian Thompson grew up in Vancouver, the fifth of 10 children in a blended family that was active at Holy Redeemer Parish. He was “a very studious child,” and what first attracted him to the Catholic faith was its intellectual content. “I was always fascinated by facts and the history and the reasons and philosophy and all that stuff,” he said. “And then later on as I grew up it became more of a really personal, emotional connection,” as he developed “a personal relationship with God.”

By middle school, he began to think seriously about what his faith meant for the way he lived, identifying things about himself to work on in order to grow in holiness. But he didn’t see that impulse as necessarily implying a priestly vocation — after all, he thought, “every person is called to live as a disciple.”

So he didn’t go out of his way to discern a call to the priesthood — the idea grew slowly and organically, sneaking up on him during high school.

“When the idea first coalesced into that statement — ‘Maybe I should be a priest’ — it was kind of scary because I had my own plans and ideas about what I would like and what I was planning to do,” he said.

Fathers Brian Thompson and Dean Mbuzi. Fathers Brian Thompson and Dean Mbuzi. Photo: Stephen Brashear

‘If you have something to say, say it!’

From a young age, Brian had dreamed of becoming a pharmaceutical researcher, finding cures for diseases. In 2005, he enrolled at the University of Washington; that summer, he worked on the sports medicine team for the football program and “wrestled” with his vocation.

“One early morning, I could not stop thinking about what God may or may not have been asking of me and, somewhat annoyed, I told God, ‘OK. I am going to ride my bike over to Blessed Sacrament Parish for the daily Mass. If you have something to say, say it!’ I went to Mass, and the Gospel was the calling of Peter. I laughed, and emailed the vocation director.”

The next year, he entered Bishop White Seminary in Spokane; he later studied at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Father Thompson said three priests especially influenced his discernment and formation. The first was his childhood pastor, Father Joseph Mitchell. “He had no ideological axe to grind, but just devotedly and faithfully taught us the Gospel as it is.”

During his year at UW, Thompson met and befriended the late Dominican Father Tom Kraft, a model of joyful discipleship. “He was one of those people who you could almost see the halo around,” he said.

The hardworking rector at Bishop White Seminary, Father Darrin Connall, was Thompson’s third major influence. “My first two inspirations showed me the sort of priest to be,” he said. “Father Connall’s mentorship taught me what day-to-day qualities a man needs to be that sort of priest.”

Father Thompson is now serving at St. Michael Parish in Olympia.

From southern Africa to Western Washington

Like Father Thompson, Dean Mbuzi also grew up in a large, blended family — he is the ninth of 12 children — but his path to the priesthood was a bit longer, in both duration and geographical distance.

He was born in Lusaka, Zambia, the son of a Catholic father and a Protestant mother. As a young child he attended a Protestant church, but when a Catholic aunt visited town he ended up going to Mass during Holy Week. He was captivated by the dramatic liturgies of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. “It’s like the Scriptures became alive for me,” he said. “In the innocence of a child’s mind it was so real. It was really like being there and journeying with the Lord in his passion.”

It was around that time that his father became more active in his faith, and Dean and several of his siblings started attending Mass with him. Dean was received into the Catholic Church at age 10 and began serving 7 a.m. Mass every day before school.

He was inspired to think about the priesthood by the Polish missionary priests at his home parish, Mary Queen of Peace in Lusaka. He was impressed that they had learned the local language, Nyanja, and he was “blown away” when they visited his home to bring holy Communion to his ailing father.

After high school, Mbuzi entered the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary order of priests, in 2002. But a series of encounters during his formation would eventually lead him to the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Dean Mbuzi and Brian Thompson received the laying on of hands

Dean Mbuzi and Brian Thompson received the laying on of hands from three bishops and 80 priests. Photo: Stephen Brashear

St. Benedict connections

In 2004, the order sent him to Johannesburg, South Africa, where his novice master was Father Paul Waldie, the beloved former pastor of Seattle’s St. Benedict Parish. Later, Mbuzi was assigned to a parish in Zambia that had a “sister parish” relationship with St. Benedict. That year he met a group of visiting St. Benedict parishioners and then-pastor Father Steve Sallis, who told him about the need for priests in the United States.

Mbuzi had been considering the diocesan priesthood, and now he felt like he might be called to Seattle. “I was like, Wow … if I could help, then I don’t see why I wouldn’t.”

Father Sallis put him in touch with Rich Shively, then-vocation director for the archdiocese, and Mbuzi was eventually accepted as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Seattle, nearly 10,000 miles from home.

Mbuzi had never left Africa before, but he knew Seattle’s rainy reputation. So he was taken aback when he arrived during the record-setting summer heat wave of 2009. “I remember getting off the plane and I thought I’d landed at the wrong airport,” he said.

He completed his education at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California, where the many international seminarians gave him a deeper sense of the universality of the church. He now serves at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Tacoma.

Being so far away from his family in Zambia is hard, he said, but the Archdiocese of Seattle has become his home, “so much that when it gets too hot around here I start praying for rain.”

A beautiful and joyful day

There was certainly no rain in Seattle on ordination day. A brilliant blue sky shone through the “eye of God” window above the altar at St. James Cathedral as Archbishop Sartain laid hands on the two men, recited the prayer of ordination and anointed the hands of the new priests — “my sons and my brothers,” as he called them.

The gorgeous weather outside the cathedral seemed to reflect the palpable joy within. After receiving the “kiss of peace” from the 80 priests in attendance, Fathers Mbuzi and Thompson shared big smiles and a handshake as they took their seats among their brother priests.

Though they are now closely tied as ordination classmates, the two new priests still don’t know each other very well, having attended seminaries on opposite sides of the country. But, Father Thompson said, they look forward to getting to know each other better “as we work the rest of our lives together” serving the people of God in the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Northwest Catholic - October 2014


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