Alaskan seminarian Jake Brownlee has traveled halfway around the world this year as he prepares to become a priest for the Archdiocese of Anchorage. This summer, however, he’s looking forward to enjoying the Alaska outdoors at St. Therese’s Catholic Camp in Wasilla.
“I had some incredible opportunities to travel, but there are friends and family I can’t wait to see,” he said in a recent interview, adding that his home parish of St. Andrew will see him plenty over the summer months.
ON TO MAJOR SEMINARY
Now in his final semester at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, Brownlee will graduate this spring with two undergraduate degrees — a philosophy and Catholic studies double major.
Before he returned for his final semester, however, Brownlee spent two weeks in January in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) with the order founded by Saint Teresa of Calcutta, the Missionaries of Charity.
“We were a stone’s throw from the Mother House,” Brownlee said. “It was amazing.”
In minor seminary, Brownlee was elected by his fellow seminarians an “RA” (resident assistant) for his dorm floor this past year.
“It’s a glorified ‘team captain,’ directing-traffic type of role. But we’re supposed to set a good example and help new men to the seminary land on their feet,” Brownlee explained. “And there’s competition between floors.” Brownlee also enjoyed having fellow Archdiocese of Anchorage seminarian Ed Burke on the same floor this year.
“He’s two doors down, and it’s been great to get to know him better,” he said.
Alaskan football fans may recall Brownlee’s exploits as an all-state tackle for Chugiak High School. This past fall, Brownlee shifted to quarterback, offensive coordinator, and head coach for the minor seminarians in the St. Paul’s “Rector’s Bowl.” According to Brownlee, he led the charge — literally.
“It is flag football, but it’s really hard to call a penalty on the quarterback for excessive roughness,” he said.
Behind the Brownlee wrecking ball, the minor seminarians defeated the major seminary for the first time.
After he graduates from minor seminary, Brownlee will apply to major seminary at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon where, starting this fall, he will study theology for four yeas.
“In three years, God willing, I will be ordained a deacon,” he said.
A FISHER OF MEN
After four summers commercial fishing for salmon as a deckhand in Bristol Bay, Brownlee is ready to tackle something new: St. Therese’s Camp in Wasilla.
“I am ready to leave behind the nets and go preach,” Brownlee said. “And St. Therese’s is a lot closer to my home in Eagle River than Bristol Bay.”
Although Brownlee will be a first-time camp counselor, teaching and working with youth is a familiar role from his off-campus seminary assignments in St. Paul.
“I taught fifth grade religious ed at a parish close to the seminary two years ago,” he said. “Three years ago, I taught Somalian immigrants math, and I have also been teaching immigrants from Myanmar this year. It was amazing to teach the Gospel to people who have never heard it before.”
Brownlee lauded the authenticity of children’s faith.
“Kids have a nose for genuineness,” he said. “When I was teaching the mystery of the Trinity, they asked, ‘How does that work?’ How do I translate that into a fifth-grade level? It’s a creative, sweet challenge.”
As a seminarian and counselor at St. Therese’s camp Brownlee said he is looking forward to showing kids what discerning a vocation to the priesthood in Alaska looks like.
Brownlee is also ready to share the knowledge and love for the church and the truths of the faith he has acquired in seminary, particularly with an eye toward equipping Catholic students in public schools.
“In high school, I was defending the faith in every class and tried through fire,” he recalled of his time at Chugiak High School in Eagle River. “But Christ told us through the Gospels that this would happen. I am looking forward to teaching some basic apologetics.”
But that does not mean Brownlee is over-intellectualizing his role as a summer camp counselor.
“I’m looking forward to debunking the ‘nerdy seminarian’ stereotype with these kids when it’s time for sports,” he grinned.
Brownlee added as a final note that the Anchorage seminarians are “envious” of Father Robert Whitney, who recently returned to Anchorage and was ordained to the priesthood last summer.
“Seminarians love Anchorage, and love Alaska, even though we’re never there during seminary years,” he said. “It’s a huge breath of fresh air when we’re at home, serving Mass with the archbishop.”
He added: “Being a fisher of men never gets old for me. I’m crammed with four years of knowledge and training, and I’m ready to give to the place I will be calling home for the rest of my life.”