Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
It’s remarkable how electrifying faith can be once the Holy Spirit jumps in. It can even lead a person to do crazy things like spontaneously evangelize in a sandwich shop. And why not? People eating sandwiches need Jesus too. Recall that on Pentecost Sunday, there were no shy apostles after the Holy Spirit descended on them in the form of tongues of fire.
Hitting a few restaurants to share the Good News of Jesus Christ was actually just a moment under the Son for Patrick Brennan. He’s not opposed to doing it again, but he waits on the Lord to lead him. These days, he is at ground zero helping to lead a new order of brothers, the St. Paul Society of Evangelists, under the umbrella organization of St. Paul Evangelization Institute. There are two other branches also under that parent organization: St. Paul Street Evangelization, the original apostolate which began in 2012; and the St. Paul School of Evangelization, which will form people into missionary disciples for Jesus and His Church.
I was originally interviewing Brennan for a feature on the new partnership between St. Paul Evangelization Institute and the Archdiocese of Detroit. Coincidentally, or rather God-cidentally, I was in the middle of reading the new book Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic as Brennan was telling me that once he was hit by the Holy Spirit, he began going beyond Sunday—beyond just the minimum requirements to be Catholic.
All the way around, I felt compelled to write this additional article. Any story involving the Holy Spirit and a new order of brothers is exciting, and it’s an inspiration to go deeper in our faith to light the world on fire.
Electrifying Prayer Experience
Brennan grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, earned a bachelor’s degree in political theory from Michigan State University, and a law degree from Cooley Law School. Working in bankruptcy law seemed like an okay job for him. Except it wasn’t. He took additional courses to become a sports attorney, but still, fulfillment evaded him.
“I cried out in desperation to God, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my life. Please do something to help me!” Brennan said. Three days later, a friend who understood his restlessness, offered to pray with him. “She prayed with me and the presence of the Holy Spirit came down upon me and filled the room.”
It was an experience like no other in his life. “For the first time, I knew that God was real and that He loved me,” Brennan said. “He had a plan for me and I could trust him. And He wanted me to give my life to Him in a complete way.”
Brennan had always gone to Mass and prayed before meals, but it was just the basics. “I grew up in a good family but my day to day walk with God was not very deep. I had no concept that there was more—that God could touch me in a tangible way, until that experience.”
It was like an electric current flowing through his body, he explained. “Not only did I feel the presence of God in me, but also in the room we were in,” he said. “It’s what I imagine when I think of Pentecost. The apostles received the Holy Spirit, but there was something happening in the whole upper room. I had a sense that I should take my shoes off; I was on holy ground.”
A couple of days later, Brennan was out to lunch with a friend. After the meal, he sensed that the Holy Spirit was prompting him to stand up and speak about God. “It felt like fire in my bones,” he said.
“Excuse me,” Brennan said, standing before around thirty customers. “I just want everyone here to know that God loves you more than you could possibility imagine, and He hasn’t abandoned you. He has not forsaken you. He has dreams and plans for your life. And if you open your heart to Him, He can give you that life.”
That was all. For some, perhaps it was enough to open their hearts wider to God. They made eye contact and listened. For others…well, you know.
Brennan was not done yet, however. He walked into two more restaurants that afternoon and gave the same message. “The joy and presence of God was so strong in me during that time. It was like fireworks.”
“Eventually, I came back to earth, but I realized that God still wanted me to continue with a daily yes to him,” Brennan said. His prayer life was never the same. He began getting involved in the Church as a youth minister. Feeling especially called to share the Gospel, he soon entered the seminary to discern diocesan priesthood.
After two years of seminary formation, Brennan spent the past year at a parish in Flint, Michigan, praying about God’s next step for his life. He went out to dinner with Steve Dawson, founder and president of the St. Paul Evangelization Institute. Dawson shared the vision for a community of brothers who dedicate their lives to evangelization.
“Wow!” Brennan thought. “That is exactly what I’m feeling called to.” He felt God’s hand was on this new venture. “Lord, if this is from you,” he prayed, “bring other men who want to be a part of this community.” Through word of mouth and an announcement in the St. Paul newsletter, two more men quickly came forward: Daniel Marcum from Ohio, and John Nguyen from California.
Beginning with these three men, the St. Paul Society of Evangelists begins on July 1. They will be housed with the headquarters of the St. Paul Evangelization Institute, in a former convent at Our Lady of Grace parish in Warren, Michigan.
The vision is to eventually attain official Church status as a Society of Apostolic Life dedicated to prayer, evangelization and the formation of disciples. They hope to involve every vocation in the work of the Society, including priests, sisters, and lay members.
Taking God’s Lead
Their first call, according to Brennan, is union with God in prayer, then to follow wherever the Holy Spirit leads. “We want to share the Gospel wherever we go and to build relationships,” he said. “Once we get to know people, they will need to be discipled, so that they can become evangelists themselves.” The end game, he said, is total dedication to the salvation of souls.
Brennan has not felt called to evangelize in restaurants since that one afternoon, but he’s not opposed. “We want to proclaim the Gospel continually and call people into the fullness of missionary discipleship,” he said. “Not everyone is going to feel called to stand up at a restaurant, but everyone is called to evangelization. He will lead you when it’s time to speak.”