Futures investor: For three decades, Mike Brown spearheads annual dinners to support vocations
The way Mike Brown tells it, Father Aidan Donlon, SAC, was a visionary, and Brown just took the priest’s request and ran with it. Thirty-two years later, Brown is still running.
Back in 1991, Fr. Donlon and his friend Father Severius Blank, former pastor of St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in Burkburnett, told members of Knights of Columbus Council 1473 that they should think about doing more for vocations.
Fr. Donlon shared his far-sighted vision: the Diocese of Fort Worth would be one of the fastest growing in the country, which would necessitate more parishes and more priests. The priest even foresaw a greater need for Spanish-speaking priests, Brown remembered.
“How he knew that 32 years ago, I don’t know,” said Brown, a Knight and parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Wichita Falls.
In conversations with his friend Fr. Donlon, who was then serving as a hospital chaplain, Brown learned how the financial support of the Pallottines made seminary possible for the priest.
Impressed by the necessity to increase the number of priests and help finance their formation, Brown organized the first Fr. Aidan Donlon Vocations Dinner with the help of Council 1473, based at Our Lady Queen of Peace, and the city’s Catholic community.
The charity dinner raised about $3,700. A young seminarian, Michael Olson, attended that first event.
Its success inspired Brown to make the dinners an annual tradition. The Harvest Moon dinner, a smaller event held the first Saturday in October, was added later to provide seed money for the Fr. Donlon dinners.
Fr. Donlon died in January 2009, but the dinners continue.
In 31 years, the Fr. Donlon Vocations Dinners have raised more than $3.5 million for seminarian education through tickets for the dinner, a live and silent auction, and a raffle. Each year has raised more than the previous. Brown explained, “I don’t know how we do it, but we do.”
Held on the third Saturday of February, all money raised goes toward supporting seminarians, which is a priority for Knights of Columbus councils worldwide.
Ron Alonzo, state secretary for the Texas State Council of the Knights of Columbus, traveled from Corpus Christi with his wife to attend the Harvest Moon dinner Oct. 1.
“It is truly a blessing to have these men continually support vocations for all these years. Simply put, priceless!” Alonzo remarked.
He said Brown and Council 1473 are known by Knights throughout the state for their success in fundraising for vocations, and Council 1473 is likely the top donor in the state.
Brown believes the council has raised more for vocations than any of the 16,000 Knights councils worldwide.
The faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth finance seminarian education through the support of the St. John Paul II Shepherd’s Guild, the Annual Diocesan Appeal, the Fr. Donlon Vocations Dinner, the Good Shepherd Sunday special collection, and other donations.
Brown considers supporting the expense of formation as “investing in the future of the diocese.”
He continued, “Without financial assistance, [men discerning a religious vocation] may not become priests,” acknowledging the 7-to-9-year seminarian journey is a large commitment even without having to pay an estimated $50,000 per year in tuition, books, room and board, health insurance, and other expenses.
“They’re dedicating their whole lives. We can surely help out on the finances, more than just pitching in at the special collection,” said Brown, who runs a machine shop started by his late father.
Brown’s dedication to raising money for vocations has impressed Father Michael Moloney, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Windthorst and St. Boniface Parish in Scotland.
Fr. Moloney attended Fr. Donlon Vocation Dinners before he entered seminary and remains a “great help” with the dinners, according to Brown.
Fr. Moloney observed, “Mike loves the Catholic Church. He sees the need for vocations; he feels the need for vocations. Somehow, God put this calling in him 32 years ago.
“His strong conviction has been maintained and never flagged all these years. It’s rare, really. Most people would not be able,” the pastor continued.
Dinner with Friends
Brown chairs the dinner, but Knights and others help, including Tom and Nan Ruddy, members of Sacred Heart Parish in Wichita Falls, who have been loyal assistants for at least 25 years.
A lot of people work hard to make it happen,” said Tom Ruddy, who recruits his children and grandchildren to help at the February dinner, which is usually attended by more than 300 people. Some individuals donate a labor of love: handmade crafts, artwork, or quilts for the auction.
Nan Ruddy noted a secondary benefit to the dinner. Besides raising money for vocations, individuals from several parishes collaborate to plan and attend the event.
The dinners also raise awareness of the need for vocations and the urgency to pray for vocations, Tom added. Each year, Brown helps attendees maintain vocation awareness by giving them a custom keepsake, such as a keychain or a magnet.
“Mike gives a lot of thought to the dinners,” Tom said, speculating that Brown plans future dinners two or three years ahead. “He is determined, and he even made it happen during COVID.”
Brown will be 71 when the 32nd Fr. Donlon dinner is held in February, but he and the Knights “will continue as long as I keep going. Our whole goal is, we just want to help out the diocese.”
“We’re trying to reach out to the whole Catholic community. If we help somebody get ordained, it’s going to affect somebody in the diocese somewhere,” said Brown. “I don’t look at it as a burden. It comes natural for me, what I’m trying to do. I don’t need any accolades — the proof is in the pudding, seeing the new priests come through.
“The only thing I promote is vocations. If we’ve been supporting these men, and then they come through as parish priests, we’ve accomplished what we wanted to do,” he said.