CATHOLIC REGISTER PHOTO | ERIN MORAWETZ
Flavin Alemao (left) and his brother Ryan check out the stained glass in the chapel of St. Augustine's Seminary in Toronto.
Some brothers share a love of sports, others the same taste in music. But brothers Ryan and Favin Alemao share something different – a life path like no other.
Ryan, 27, and Favin, 24, are in formation for the priesthood at Toronto's St. Augustine's Seminary. Though both come from the same family, have had similar experiences and look incredibly alike, both reached the same point in different ways.
The Alemao family moved to Ajax, Ont., from the United Arab Emirates in 2001. In the Middle East, both boys were altar servers and attended summer day camps run by missionary priests.
"That influence built up, seeing these men that were really good men, good priests, good Catholics," Ryan said.
But it was younger brother Favin that their family saw as a future priest.
When the Alameos moved to Canada, the family got involved in its new parish. But at the Catholic high school in Ajax, a young Favin had a hard time fitting in. It was outside encouragement that pushed him forward.
"I had a chaplain (in high school) who really encouraged me to go to different parish events," Favin said. "She really thought I was called to the priesthood."
The chaplain suggested he attend a Salesian retreat, and it was there Favin said he thought for the first time this could be the path for him.
By the end of his third year at the University of Toronto, Favin decided to enter Serra House, a house of discernment for men thinking about a call to the priesthood. "(Before) I had no sense of purpose," he said. "Now for the first time, my attention was grasped.
"When I entered (Serra House), my family (wasn't) so surprised. In fact, since high school they were kind of waiting for it. When Ryan joined, that was kind of unexpected."
Indeed, Ryan's decision to study for the priesthood surprised everyone, Ryan included.
"I always had my life and my career path laid out. (I had to) revisit that and realize maybe it wasn't what I really feel called to."
Ryan had been a campus minister at the University of Toronto, but when he graduated with a degree in biology, he went right into pharmacy. After about a year, he realized he wanted a job where he could work more with people, so he switched to personal finance. But he discovered that he didn't want just to work with people but to actually help them.
Convinced then to join the ministry, Ryan entered Serra House one year after his brother, and a year later both were asked to come to St. Augustine's.
The brothers still have several years left at the seminary. They have only just completed their first year, a spiritual year that involves a media fast – no Internet, television, radio, newspaper or cellphone access five days a week.
"At first it's tough to let go," Ryan said. "It's really to give us the time away (from distractions) to focus on our relationship with God and to grow within ourselves."
Favin too said the year did him good.
"Now when I'm able to use these things, I find I don't really feel the need," Favin said. "It's surprising the amount of focus I have."
Though they still have a long way to go until they're ordained, both acknowledge how far they've come.
"If you asked me seven years ago, or even five years ago, if I'd be here today, I'd probably laugh," Ryan said. "Now people see me as belonging to this group, they see me as a future priest."
"I'm always grateful to be here, for the way it's changed my life," Favin said. "I've never felt this much peace . . . or this comfortable with myself."