by Derek Franklin
It was around 1969 when Father Ray Brennan first arrived in Pattaya. The American priest had spent almost a decade in the north of the Kingdom and arriving in Pattaya was the first time in many years that he got to smell the sea.
He was based mainly at the Catholic seminary in Sri Racha, but also traveled down to Pattaya for regular Sunday masses, eventually moving to Pattaya full time .
In those days Pattaya was, according to Father Ray, ‘still a fishing village where you could swim with dolphins in the bay’. But by the time he died in August 2003 Pattaya had changed, grown in size, and he had set up several social projects offering support to those in need.
He opened facilities for children who were orphaned, or who had been abandoned and neglected and also for runways who found themselves living on the streets.
He also founded two schools, one for deaf toddlers and another for blind and visually impaired children, as well as a vocational training center for young adults living with a disability.
Father Ray was one of three siblings who grew up in the city of Chicago. His elder brother, Don, became a priest while his younger sister Sharron married, had five daughters of her own and is now a proud grandmother to twelve grandchildren.
Sharron has kept in touch with the Foundation which is named after her brother, and she has kept the memory of her brother alive in her own family. All five of her daughters have traveled to Pattaya and all spent time with Uncle Ray, but now there is a new generation who want to be involved.
Seventeen year old Hayley is Sharron’s eldest grandchild, making her Father Ray’s eldest great niece, and she has just arrived here in Pattaya to volunteer at the Father Ray Foundation.
Not only did Hayley arrive, but she was accompanied on her first ever trip outside of the US by her mum, Megan, and her grandmother, Sharron.
Having Sharron visit is a bit like having royalty visit. All the children and students at the Foundation have heard of Father Ray, but most of the children were not even born when he died, and none of the students ever met him, but they all know who he is and what he did for them. When they say a prayer before meals they thank Father Ray, each site has a life size statue of him and in most classrooms his portrait hangs high.
So to actually meet a relative of his, his actual sister, is for many a very special moment.
We are hoping that when Hayley returns to the United States she will persuade all her cousins to spend time here in Pattaya, keeping the family involved in the work of Father Ray for many years to come.