There’s no “I” in Lewes, but there is in the last name of St. Jude the Apostle’s new priest Brian Lewis.
The parish of the Lewes Catholic church on Route 1 welcomed its new priest in early July, and over the last two months, Lewis said, his new congregation has been very welcoming.
“I think it’s a great fit to have Lewis in Lewes,” he said.
Lewis’ previous assignment was at St. Benedict and St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish in Ridgely and Denton, Md., where he was an administrator for just over a year.
“The bishop had a need here, so he asked me to come,” Lewis said.
Lewis grew up north of Wilmington as close to the Pennsylvania border as possible. He was part of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church parish.
Lewis felt called to serve God early in life, as early as 3 years old.
“I just remember feeling this natural connection to church and to the priests,” he said. “I appreciated their presence in our life.”
That innate feeling stayed with him into grade school.
“There was one day in fifth grade that I decided to cut recess and attend daily mass,” he said. “I don’t recommend to any child to cut any part of school, but nevertheless I knew that there was something there when I’d rather go to mass than attend recess.”
Lewis did not attend seminary until he was 38 years old, because he also felt a calling to become a teacher. After learning French in seventh and eighth grade, he made up his mind to pursue teaching as a career. After college, he spent about 14 years teaching French to public school students in South Jersey.
“If I wasn’t called to the priesthood, I most likely would still be there teaching them now,” he said.
He said there was something missing, though. He noticed his students were longing for God, but he was unable to teach them religion because it was a public school.
“They would often ask me why I was so joyful and never seemed fazed by events that can cause anxiety,” he said. “I said that it’s my faith rooted in Jesus Christ. He is our lord and savior, and that’s really where my sense of stability and grounded-ness comes from.”
He discovered many of his fourth- and fifth-year French students were planning to major or minor in French in college. While he was proud of his impact on young people’s lives, he said, it was a sign that he had more to give to the community at large.
“I thought, if I can inspire a generation of students to want to major or minor in French, then I want to have that same contagion for the world and helping them to embrace Jesus Christ and his gift of salvation,” he said. “I hope to be that infectious with joy, and with faith, and with pastoral charity and service.”
The big sign finally came, in – of all places – his garage. He had been struggling with the big decision on whether it was time to enter the priesthood when he noticed an object on the hood of his car. As he picked it up and found it to be a fishing lure, he says he heard Jesus speak to him.
“He said, ‘Come, Brian, follow me and I’ll make you a fisher of men,’” said Lewis, who admits to being a little freaked out in the moment.
The lure, which Lewis keeps on his desk in his office, has three hooks, representing to him the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The colors of the lure were the same as those at Lewis’ grade school.
“This lure should not have been on the hood of my car,” he said.
From that moment, Lewis dedicated himself to priesthood.
He attended St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, the first Roman Catholic seminary in the United States. Because of his background and courses he took in college, he was able to graduate in five years, sooner than many other students.
“I feel grateful for the life experience that I’ve had [prior to priesthood] because I’ve had to pay a mortgage and make ends meet, and I’ve had to deal with emergencies in the house,” he said. “I recognize what it is to go hungry a little bit or not be able to do something I’d like to do because I have this responsibility. I think that helps me to be able to better identify with the people I serve.”
Lewis has now been a priest for seven years, and he could not be happier with his decision to join the priesthood.
“Now I realize that the world is my classroom, and the pulpit is my place of teaching,” he said.
While he was sad to leave his students behind, he said, he learned he wouldn’t have to say goodbye completely. Within a month of being ordained, he presided at the marriage of one of his former students. He’s now presided at the weddings of about 10 of his former students and was even able to baptize the child of one of his students.
“To be able to have a different role in the life of my former students is really meaningful to me,” he said. “It helped me understand another facet of spiritual fatherhood.”
In his free time, Lewis likes to enjoy nature, whether hiking, biking or spending time at the beach. He also likes to read and travel. As a fluent French speaker, he often travels to France.
“It’s like a second home to me,” he said. “I studied in Strasbourg, France, as a junior in college and made a number of friends there. I felt truly connected, so almost every year since, I’ve been able to go back.”
He was able to take several of his students to France for exchange programs.
He’s also been to the Vatican, which he visited with his parents for their 50th anniversary.
“I wouldn’t be here without them,” he said. “I wouldn’t necessarily be baptized or raised Catholic without them. The seedbed of my vocation is from them, and from their faithful love and their faithful witness to Catholicism.”
Michelangelo’s Pietà served as a link for their 50-year union. The 15th century sculpture that sits inside St. Peter’s Basilica was on loan to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, where Lewis’ parents spent their honeymoon.
“So my parents had seen it when they were first married, and then they saw it again 50 years later,” he said.
He was also able to pray mass for his parents at the chapel below the main altar where St. Peter is buried.
“Absolutely extraordinary,” he said of the experience. “It was literally priceless. Grace-filled.”
Although he’s created many memories since becoming a priest, he said he’s looking forward to making more in Lewes.
“The people in my parish are gracious and loving and very faith-filled,” he said. “They are devoted to the community of believers and they’re devoted to the community at large.”