Faith journey which began in Haiti leads to priesthood for Deacon Jean Joseph Brice

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PROVIDENCE — Growing up in his native Haiti, Deacon Jean Joseph Brice thought he may have heard God’s calling to join the priesthood, but he just wasn’t sure.

If anyone in his parents’ large family of nine were to pursue a religious vocation, he was sure it would have been one of his three brothers or five sisters.

He describes his oldest brother growing up as the perfect candidate, very kind, prayerful and obedient.

“Everybody thought it was going to be Dominique,” Deacon Brice, 34, says, with a charming French accent that he grew up with speaking French and Creole in Haiti.

“I was a little bit on the wilder side,” he laughs, noting how people would say that he would get married when he became a young man.

But, as the former Boy Scout who was very active in his local church in Haiti has come to discover, God has his own plan.

As Brice progressed through adolescence, many people began to see something special in him — a nascent vocation — even if he didn’t know if it was something he was ready to embrace.

“Maybe God is actually talking to me through these people?” he would sometimes ask himself.

He graduated high school at Lycee Nationale de Pétion-Ville in Haiti, before attending L’Institut Universitaire Quisqueya Amérique (INUQUA), where he studied computer programming.

In 2006, he left Haiti one semester short of graduating, moving to the U.S. with his mother and some of his siblings to join their father, who had been living and working here for 18 years preparing the way for the rest of the family.

“When I came here I thought I was escaping the situation,” of being encouraged by others to pursue a vocation, he says. “I said, ‘that’s set, that’s the end of it.’”

Arriving in Providence on a Wednesday, he attended Mass that Sunday for the first time in his new home, at St. Michael Church in South Providence.

“Ironically, the first day I went to church, the priest (Father Ray Malm) was at the door greeting everybody and he said to me, ‘Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?’”

Brice almost couldn’t believe that a calling he wasn’t sure he was receiving had now followed him — and so quickly — to the new life he was trying to make for himself in America.

“I began to ask myself, ‘What is this about?’”

In the short term, he became very involved at St. Michael Parish.

About two years later, Father Andrew McNair encouraged him to attend a diocesan Day of Recollection for those considering entering the priesthood.

A few weeks later, Father McNair called to talk to him about his experiences. After careful and prayerful consideration Brice entered the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence in 2009 and attended Clark University in Worcester and Providence College where he earned a B.A. degree in Philosophy. In 2013, Brice was assigned to continue his formation at St. John Seminary in Boston, Massachusetts.

“It’s not only a blessing for me, it’s a blessing for the whole family,” Rosana Brice says in Creole of her son’s ordination this Saturday to the priesthood.

“When you raise a priest, I feel like I’ve accomplished my job. Mission accomplished,” she says proudly.

Arnold Brice, who is retiring this year from his longtime job as a custodian at Providence College, is equally proud. He also cherishes the times that he was able to connect with his son over lunch or even a quick meeting on campus when Joseph was in his formation at PC.

“I am very happy, very delighted that we are going to have a priest in our family,” Arnold says in French.

After his ordination last year to the Transitional Diaconate, Brice served as a deacon for the summer at St. John Paul II Parish in Pawtucket as he continued his formation for priesthood ordination.

Brice, who enjoys being active in sports, especially soccer, and who has a very close relationship with his parents and siblings — a couple of whom reside along with him in apartments on different floors of the family’s modest tenement house in the Smith Hill section of the city — says he finds serving the needs of the faithful in a city parish exhilarating.

“A holy priest is an attractive priest. A holy priest is contagious in spreading the faith,” Brice says, one whose ministry makes people want to come to church and be active members of their community.

He feels strongly that it’s a priest’s mission to build up people so they can understand their faith and “be on fire” for their faith. Priests can accomplish this by offering a good liturgy, youth programs, Bible study and other programs to keep the faithful involved.

As Brice prepares to enter a brotherhood of priests who will be there to support him for the rest of his life in the Church, he says he will always be appreciative for the support of his family.

“It means everything to me. From day one, I always knew that they would be there. They have always been there for me,” he says.

During his time in the seminary, when they would speak on the phone, his mother would tell him, “I’m praying for you and I’m praying for the people you live with.”

“That alone, that means the world to me,” he says.

“If I make it today, it’s because of them.”

Father Brice will celebrate his first Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Patrick Church in Providence on June 4 at 3:30 p.m.

Three transitional deacons will be ordained to the priesthood on Saturday, June 3 at 10:00 am in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence. The Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence will preside at the ordination of Deacons Stephen M. Battey, Brian J. Morris and Jean Joseph Brice. In preparation for the ordination, a Holy Hour for priestly vocations will take place at Holy Apostles Church in Cranston, on Friday, June 2, at 7:00 p.m. with Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans presiding.