Courage International Gets a Courageous New Chaplain

Despite all the challenges they face in their adventure of sanctification, both Father Gannon and Courage, guided by the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, are unmistakably alive.

Father Brian Gannon of Trumbull, Conn., embodies Courage’s signature boldness and bravery.
Father Brian Gannon of Trumbull, Conn., embodies Courage’s signature boldness and bravery. (photo: Courtesy photo / Father Brian Gannon )

Courage International, the Catholic apostolate that counsels “men and women with same-sex attractions in living chaste lives in fellowship, truth and love,” has always been aptly named. The spiritual fortitude of its members, forged during a period of unrelenting pro-sexual revolution messaging, has produced a vibrant and powerful apostolate.

And at the apostolate’s annual conference in July, the group will formally introduce a new executive director, Father Brian Gannon of Trumbull, Connecticut, who by all accounts embodies Courage’s signature boldness and bravery.

Founded in 1980 by the late Father John Harvey and endorsed by the Pontifical Council for the Family in 1994, Courage has strengthened innumerable Catholics in their relationship with Christ while living in a culture that provides every excuse to surrender their values.

“At the core of Courage is fidelity to Christ,” Father Gannon told the Register. “That’s because living by the fundamental teachings of the Church is the way to happiness and fulfillment. Everyone is free to explore other avenues. But holiness and obedience to Christ is the key to everything.”

Father Gannon garnered local and national praise in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic when he flew the Holy Eucharist over the Diocese of Bridgeport in a parishioner-piloted Cessna prop plane. Troubled by a government-ordered lockdown that prevented his flock from accessing the sacrament, Father Gannon took to the skies with a loaded monstrance in his lap, eliciting cheers from Catholics across the nation.

The dramatic gesture was a great consolation to the faithful in a desperate moment. But for Father Gannon, it was simply a matter of living out his training.

Following his ordination in 1997, Father Gannon served as parochial vicar at St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Parish in Brookfield where he was mentored by the late Father Albert Audette, a former fighter pilot in the United States Air Force and Vietnam veteran. The two remained lifelong friends, and Gannon was the homilist for Father Audette’s funeral late last year.

“You have to have that fighter pilot mentality and pray for it,” Father Gannon told the Register. “A fighter pilot has to be fearless.”

Countercultural Witness

This sentiment has never been more apt for faithful Catholics struggling to live in accord with the teachings of the Church. Today, the most prominent and powerful voices in American culture promote the exact opposite of Catholic sexual values. From across the sweep of cultural institutions that dominate American life, from education to Hollywood to corporate advertising firms, plays a steady drumbeat of encouragement for sexual practices that are closed to the possibility of life.

Meanwhile, organizations such as Courage are viewed with suspicion and contempt. To strive to live according to the organization’s five goals — chastity, total dedication to Christ, fellowship, mutual support, and living as a good example for others — is to begin each day at the base of a mountain. It takes a certain deal of fearlessness to commit to sanctity in such conditions.

Even within the Church, nominally Catholic progressive organizations, such as New Ways Ministry and Outreach, have enjoyed greater clout in recent years — and even sometimes the tacit approval of the Vatican.

The release of Fiducia Supplicans (Supplicating Trust), a papal document that gave priests permission to bless same-sex couples, further complicated matters for LGBTQ Catholics who have made the commitment to strive for chastity. Within days of its release, images of priests blessing same-sex couples flooded the internet, including a picture of Outreach founder Father James Martin, who frequently receives praise from Pope Francis, blessing two men in The New York Times.

For Father Gannon, the confusion and scandal caused by such incidents merely provides further cause to grow in sanctity and knowledge of the teachings of the Church as enumerated in the Catechism. A professor in Moral Theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York, Father Gannon seeks to provide Courage members with the treasures of the moral teachings of the Church, as well as constant encouragement and hope.

“This is when your love for Christ has a chance to grow really stronger,” Father Gannon said, “when the current starts to get stronger against you, when you have to swim harder against it. But you’re not swimming by yourself. You’re swimming with the power of God. You have the consolation that if you stay faithful to Jesus Christ, then you’re in good shape. As Mother Teresa would say, we’re not called to be successful. We’re just called to be faithful. What she means by that is the most productive thing we can ever do is just to be a firm, holy instrument of Christ in the lives of others. That’s what makes a real productive life.”

Father Gannon’s own call to take the reins at Courage was a surprise. He didn’t have the slightest inclination the bishop was even considering him for the role. But after prayer and consultation with people involved in the organization, he accepted the role in stride. (“Where grace will lead you, grace will sustain you,” he said.)

Father Paul Check, executive director of Courage from 2008-2016, was an ordination classmate of Father Gannon’s in the Diocese of Bridgeport. The two have remained close friends for 30 years, and according to Father Check, the apostolate couldn’t have tapped a leader better able to speak to both the minds and hearts of its members.

“Father Gannon has a sound understanding of Christian anthropology and his doctorate in moral theology gives him insights into questions related to chastity and married love and human weakness,” Father Check told the Register. “And also of equal importance, he has a fine pastoral heart. He’s been a parish priest of many years. Those qualities will now be given another venue, another place where they can show themselves. And I think he’s going to do beautifully.”

In addition to his new role at Courage, Father Gannon will remain pastor of St. Theresa Church in Trumbull, a position he has held since 2010. He cites personal interactions with people and helping individual people grow deeper in the faith, including those who are returning to faith after long absences, as the most meaningful and rewarding elements of his priesthood.

“To be an instrument of God’s love in the life of others, that really is the most rewarding thing. And if there are a few good cheeseburgers along the way, I don’t mind that either,” he said with a hearty laugh.

For people who experience same-sex attraction but desire to live according to the teachings of the Church, Father Gannon hopes to meet each individual where they are to draw them deeper into unity with Christ.

“We want everyone, no matter where they are, to seek holiness with the Lord in the Catholic Church, which is the bride of Christ,” Father Gannon said. “For someone with same-sex attraction, first and foremost one should live by the Lord’s teaching and seek that deeper and deeper holiness with Him.”

G.K. Chesterton once famously said that “a dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” Despite all the challenges they face in their adventure of sanctification, both Father Gannon and Courage, guided by the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, are unmistakably alive.

Catholic moral teaching has survived intact for 2,000 years. And thanks in part to the example of Father Gannon and Courage, one can be confident it will far outlive the values of present-day America.

· What: Courage and Encourage Annual Conference

· When: July 25-28

· Where: University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois

· To register: