Rev. Bryan D. Small is the son of Ken Small and the late Bobbie Small. He has a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Saint Meinrad College, Saint Meinrad, Indiana (1997), and also attended West Georgia College. He is a 1992 graduate of St. Pius X High School. In 2001 he earned the master of arts degree from Saint Vincent Seminary. In 2002 he earned the master of divinity degree.
This article is from The Georgia Bulletin of July 4, 2002.
By Priscilla Greear
ATLANTA — When his mother died suddenly in 1993, a then teenage Father Bryan Small found consolation through that traumatic experience in having been accepted into the archdiocesan seminarian program two weeks earlier.
“That was my one consolation, she knew I wanted to be a priest.”Father Small, 28, was ordained to the priesthood June 15 at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta. During the ordination he thought about his mother, knowing the joy she would feel. “During the liturgy I thought about her. At one point I was behind the altar where we were gathered and for the eucharistic prayer I felt like she was in the congregation somewhere.”
Sitting down momentarily following the ordination reception as empty food trays were cleared away, Father Small said that after having been a seminarian for nine years imagining this day, he was in a “state of shock.” He said he felt a deluge of emotions ranging from “Spirit filled” to “pure anxiety.”
He grew up loving movies and was a “media geek,” making movies as extra credit for an English class at St. Pius X High School. But the seeds of Father Small’s vocation were also planted during his years as a high school student. In contemplating a career, Father Small was inspired by Msgr. Richard Lopez, the popular religion teacher that he had at St. Pius X, and then later, in college, by the late Msgr. Michael Regan, then an elderly priest completing a lifetime of selfless service.
He was drawn above all to Msgr. Lopez’ humor but also to his “kindness and his happiness and the joy he had in his life and the impact he made on other people’s lives, especially my own. To me he is just an incredibly selfless man who I have a deep amount of respect for.”But he, his parents and Msgr. Lopez all thought he’d go into filmmaking.
“He’s charming. He’s delightful and he’s extremely creative. I thought in high school he was going to go into filmmaking. I remember a couple of movies he made,” Msgr. Lopez recalled. “He’s very generous . . . and he wants to serve Christ and the church and I’m very, very, very proud of him. He was a good student and is a good man and is going to be a good priest.”
After graduating from St. Pius, Father Small began attending West Georgia College and State University in Carrollton, where Msgr. Regan was pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. With plans to transfer to study film in California, he became Msgr. Regan’s protege. He was drawn to his “total dedication, his authenticity in everything he did. He was a little eccentric, a little different, but everybody loved him,” said Father Small. “He was sort of at the end of his life and his priesthood and I was asking ‘am I willing to be like that?’ It’s one thing to be a very young, popular priest everybody likes. . . Once I answered yes I found it much easier” to pursue priesthood. “As powerful as that feeling (desire to make films) was, the whole sense of priesthood was much more powerful. It just brought a genuine sense of joy to think about it.”
So he switched gears and enrolled at St. Meinrad College in Indiana, majoring in psychology. That experience was frustrating at times as the undergraduate school struggled before eventually closing. (The seminary is still open). Enrolling in St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, Pa, he said the best part of formation was his pastoral internships where “the reverend meets the road.” Father Small said he’s eager to hit the pulpit as he loves preaching which draws on Scripture, church tradition and personal experience. “There’s an opportunity for a lot of grace there and just to be a conduit of that is awesome.”
He acknowledged the sacrifice of celibacy but also said it at moments can be “very liberating,” describing it as a means to give more of oneself and live fruitfully. “You have to be careful not to see celibacy as a price for priesthood because then you will always feel (like you’re getting) the short end of the bargain,” he said. “Would it be nice to have one person to share my life with? Sure. ButI’ll have the opportunity to share my life with a lot of people.”As he enjoys the privilege of sharing important moments with Catholics, he hopes to help them embrace the church in all its diversity, noting that some believe that one type of liturgy is better than others. “If we live in the Spirit we have to be careful as to what we judge as more worthy or valid.”
He also hopes among other things to bring films to his flock, maybe leading movie discussion nights. “It’s certainly possible to transmit faith and share faith through film. I don’t think we need to be adversarial towards the media because it can be a tremendous tool.”