“I always thought about the priesthood,” says Fr. Paul Joseph (PJ) Brandimarti. “Like many men who grow up to be priests, one of my favorite childhood pastimes was playing at celebrating Mass!” Today, Fr. Brandimarti carries out his priestly vocation serving at St. Vincent de Paul parish, Mt. Vernon and St. Luke parish, Danville.
The Brandimarti family has given the Church several priestly and religious vocations over the years. So, it was no surprise that this young man would one day be ordained as Fr. Brandimarti.
When he reached Duquesne University in his home state of Pennsylvania, he applied to seminary. He set his sights on being a chaplain in the military until he learned that the assignment might not be in military service because the Bishops and Church place priests where they are most needed.
Discernment takes a U Turn
He started having second thoughts about seminary as he discovered the excitement of career, friends, and privilege. Like many young people raised in faithful families, he drifted away from practicing the Faith in college. “Faithful life started to seem boring in comparison to the lure of the world,” reflects Fr. Brandimarti. So, he decided to explore a career instead of the priesthood.
As a result, the road to ordination took a number of unexpected turns and even some backtracking. Fr. Brandimarti gives credit to St. Gabriel Radio for helping him get back on track regarding his priestly vocation.
“I kept seeing those bumper magnets on cars. The St. Gabriel Radio signal constantly popped up on my car radio!”
Driving became a big part of every workday as he advanced in a career of retail and consumer electronics, first with Sony, then with Motorola. “I was promoted to manager of a territory in Ohio. At least four hours a day were spent in the car driving from Cambridge to Dayton to Chillicothe to Mansfield and all points in between. I tired of listening to music. Flipping through the radio channels, St. Gabriel Radio kept coming up. The programs pulled me in. I began planning my day around programs like Christ Is the Answer with Fr. Riccardo (7 A.M. and 4 P.M. weekdays) and Catholic Answers Live (6 – 8 P.M. weekdays). St. Gabriel Radio became the only channel I listened to!”
As Fr. Brandimarti tells his story, he emphasizes the importance of relationships in discipleship. “Leland
Thorpe, a semi-Buddhist, atheist and long-time friend pulled me back into the Faith. Leland announced to me one day that he was considering Anglicanism. I saw an opportunity to witness to Catholicism at this crossroads. So, I invited Leland to read the Church Fathers.” Leland did. Next, Leland announced, “I HAVE to become Catholic! Will you be my RCIA sponsor (Right of Christian Initiation for Adults)?” Leland Thorpe ended up entering the Oblates of the Virgin Mary and Father Leland Thorpe was ordained in 2022.
“True friendship leads to Christ,”affirms Fr. Brandimarti.
Even in his youthful wrestling with the Faith, the would-be Fr. Brandimarti knew that RCIA sponsorship carried a big responsibility. “I don’t do things halfway, for all my flaws,” he admits. Reflecting on his own, pre-seminary lifestyle, he felt that he needed to make some important changes in order to commit to RCIA sponsorship. He decided that the answer to this invitation was to find his way back to the heart of the Church. Then he realized that he never really knew the Heart of Christ!
“Through this journey as sponsor to my friend in RCIA, I came to know Christ twice.” He explains that the first time, he knew of Christ through the cultural-Catholic training that he received in his childhood. The second time was as a mature person with intimate seeking and the desire of knowing Christ.
“My father is the son of Italian parents and my mother is from a German family. Catholicism plays a big role in both sides of my family.” Fr. Brandimarti says that he knew the culture of the Catholic Church as a youngster and that he was always Catholic, but he admits that he was not always a practicing Catholic.
“ I’m a big Italian, a big Catholic, and like most Italian men, I’m big in my devotion to Our Lady.”
As a youth, I was attached to Catholicism because it was part of my Italian identity, like many Italian-American millennials. I was a good cultural-Italian Catholic. I gave up stuff for Lent. I never ate meat on Friday. Yet, the idea of praying was nonexistent. Going to Mass? Only when parents wanted me to. I questioned whether God was there or really cared about me and my life. Yes, I defended the Church but was living as a practical atheist.”
He realized that the next step in answering Leland’s invitation to RCIA sponsorship was to personally commit, “to surrender to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.”
On his journey deeper into Catholicism, he discovered many truths. Foremost is the Eucharist: he explains that if the Mass were not truly about the Real Presence, then nothing else would matter.
AM 820: Seminary Companion
He was accepted to seminary in the Diocese of Columbus and completed his academic degree and preparations for the priesthood at the Pontifical College Josephinum. “When I got to seminary, I’d already received an excellent foundation in the Church’s teaching through the programs that I’d listened to on St. Gabriel Radio,” he says.
St. Gabriel Radio programs helped him in many ways. Early on in the seminary, he was unsure about just how a priest lives in the world. “Are the kinds of things that I like to do acceptable in a priest’s life?” Sports? Friendships? Music? “On St. Gabriel Radio I heard priests talking who were real people, who talked like me, who did the things that I do.”
Today Fr. Brandimarti firmly believes – through first-hand experience – that St. Gabriel Radio is truly a tool for conversion, whether the first conversion or continual conversion. “We’re blessed with AM 820. The locally produced shows put out a message for those who are discovering the Faith, confirming the Faith, and deepening the Faith.
“On St. Gabriel I heard priests talking who were real people, who talked like me, who did the things that I do.”
“The life of a priest is intense, so it’s not often that I can listen to the radio. When I can, nothing beats listening to Catholic Answers. Through programs like this, I hear what people’s questions are and also the way other faithful, learned minds answer those questions. On a daily basis in my parish, I encounter people with deep questions; Who am I? Where am I going? How do I deal with a particularly difficult problem? Each person I meet is unique, each life is different.
“Hearing a variety of callers on Catholic radio helps me relate to the variety of people in my parish. The topics help me stay up to date professionally and spiritually. The programs allow me to be immersed in the wider life of the Church.”
Fr. Brandimarti reflects that being a priest is much more than exercising a profession or advancing a career. He says that as an example, while the physician’s skill addresses the body, the priest addresses the whole being and more. “The role of the priest integrates the spiritual and physical, the emotional and intellectual. The relationships with people and with the Church in all their aspects are intimate relationships that go to the core of being. Often for my parishioners, I am the bearer of life-changing news – good and bad.”
Invite a friend
“The spiritual dimension of priestly life is awesome! It’s the awe-inspiring reality of representing Christ Himself. Ordination has given me the grace of being united to The High Priest. By virtue of this gift, I can turn bread into God!” marvels Fr. Brandimarti.
Fr. Brandimarti reflects on discipleship in our Faith walk. “The most valuable thing we can do is invite those we encounter.” We can invite the people in our life to take a peek at the Catholic Faith, or a second look, or even a deep dive. He continues, “For parents of children, we must teach them. The volleyball game should not be more important than Mass. Invitation is what matters. Invite a young person or a friend to Mass. Then let the people we invite make their own decisions about whether or not to accept.
“The beauty of St. Gabriel Radio is that it doesn’t impose. It proposes an invitation.
“I see tons of spiritual fruit coming from St. Gabriel Radio among so many people. It’s edifying to run into people, sometimes the least expected, who comment on something they experienced through St. Gabriel Radio. Sometimes, the result becomes apparent only after years.”