In common with many other rural parishes in the West of Ireland, Mayo Abbey had a long tradition of providing men and women for the religious life. Many generations of priests, brothers and sisters from the parish have preached the Gospel in Ireland and in the missionary fields of England, The Continent, Africa, Asia and The Americas.
1994 marked the golden jubilee of the ordination of one such man, Fr. James G. Brett, of Shinganagh. Fr. Brett has spent his life on the American Mission, in Mississippi. We reprint part of an article written by the Editor of "The Vicksburg Sunday Post", which was published in "The Western People" and "The Connacht Telegraph" six years ago.
Father James Brett had a flair for writing when he was a schoolboy in his native Ireland. When he came to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in June 1945, he made a hobby of composing short essays that touched the heartstrings. He wrote under the pen name of "Rusticus", which in Latin means "a lad of rural origin".
His work caught the eye of the late P. P. Cashman Snr., then editor of the Vicksburg Evening Post who persuaded him to write a column for the newspaper. For several years, "Rusticus" was a popular item in the Post. His copy was handwritten, letters immaculately drawn. Older printers would marvel at his manuscripts. "Studying Greek, I found their Alphabet very beautiful. Their delicate letters influenced my hand-writing" he said. After an interval at St. Paul, his priestly mission took him from Vicksburg to Greenville, Oxford, Shelby,and other towns. Four years were spent in his native Ireland, after which he returned to St. Paul's.
James Brett grew up in Mayo Abbey, on the West coast of Ireland, where his father farmed. He was one of eight sons, there were 11 in the household. They grew such crops as oats, hay and potatoes, raised cattle and sheep. "The idea of joining the priesthood developed gradually," he said. "It was probably always in my mind, but in the beginning it would be vague. I entered the seminary when I was 19." For 22 years he never visited home. Now he returns every year.
A large man, Father Brett would lean back in his chair as he talked, clasp his hands in prayerful gesture. He would chuckle at happy memories, grieve over unpleasant revelations. He spoke softly in distinct Irish brogue that friends have likened to "the voice of God." He had come to America in an Allied convoy during World War II. The ships used evasive action to escape German submarines, landing at Montreal, Canada, instead of New York as scheduled. He came to Vicksburg by train. "It was June, and there was snow on the mountains in Canada. I was astonished at the size of the farms in the United States, particularly the Mississippi Delta. My father's place in Ireland had about 90 acres". Monsignor D. J. O'Beirne met him at the railway station when he arrived almost 45 years ago. Every year, a young priest would arrive from Ireland and would be extended a special welcome. "Three- fourths of young priests in Mississippi were from Ireland when I arrived. The country is more prosperous now, there are barely enough to fill the needs of the Church in Ireland," he said, lamenting the decline of young men and women entering religious life, particularly among the Irish-born.
Written by Charles Faulk, Associate Editor, Vicksburg Sunday Post (1994)