Give him a blueprint, he’ll build you a harp

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, December 19, 2010

Father Anthony Brankin, pastor of St. Odilo Parish in Berwyn, distributes Communion during a Tridentine Mass at his parish in this 2007 file photo. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

He is: Father Anthony (Tony) Brankin, former pastor of St. Thomas More Parish on the South Side, pastor for almost four years of St. Odilo Parish in Berwyn, former vice president of Catholic Church Extension Society, 1983-1985. Ordained at Mundelein Seminary in 1975.

Family life: “I grew up with three brothers and one sister. All the kids could draw. From the age of 3 or 4 on we were relentlessly drawing everywhere all the time. My late sister was the best. Finally my father built a blackboard for us that filled up a wall in the kitchen. We divided it up in sections, depending on how many were drawing at any given time.

Law and order: “My dad retired as a Chicago police captain. His brother Phil was a sargeant. My brothers Phil and Joe are in law enforcement, and brother Pat is a monsignor in the diocese of Oklahoma.”

Why priesthood? “We had a wonderful parish, St. Rita’s, and we loved the priests there. In those days priesthood was one of the natural options. Thinking of all the things I could do with my life, I kept coming back to priesthood as the right thing for me.”

Art: After six years at his first parish, Our Lady of Charity in Cicero, Cardinal Cody sent him to Rome. He studied at the Roman Academy of Fine Arts and took doctoral studies at the Angelicum for two years before returning to Chicago. The next 21 years were spent at St. Thomas More, as associate and then as pastor.

His talents: “The fastest medium for me is sculpting. I suppose it’s the hand-eye coordination thing. I can also draw very quickly. The last 15-20 years I’ve done life sized human figures, cast in bronze.” For instance his three bronze figures titled “Guardian Angels,” stand outside Mercy Home for Boys and Girls on Jackson Boulevard.

His studio is in his garage. “The light and floor aren’t that good, but you compensate.” Finding time is a challenge. “I get up a couple hours before everyone else, or I steal 10 or 15 minutes here and there.” He has a friendly critic in his dog Missouri. “He’s a mutt – half German shepherd and half Belgian Malinois.

“If I have another passion in my life it’s music. I’ve played the piano since grammar school and I’ve always enjoyed string instruments.” When he decided he wanted a harp and couldn’t afford one, he got blueprints and materials and made one. “Making a harp and playing it is a delight --  combining music and art in one package.” He also plays mandolin and guitar. “If it has strings I’ll give it a go.”

Prayer life: “It begins with Mass, the great engine of life. Then the regular prayers of the rosary, Breviary, meditations through the rest of the day and in the car. My spiritual reading is from journals and the classics. I don’t meditate while sculpting. If I’m working on Jesus’ knuckles – that’s what I’m concentrating on.”

What he’s reading now: “I don’t read many novels -- mostly books that describe where we are and how we got there. Like ‘Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered’ by E.F. Schumacher. He says we need to go back to smaller lives. Schumacher became a Catholic after writing the book.” Another favorite, “‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’ (the classic science fiction novel) is a wonderful, faithful book, where everything could collapse, but the church will survive and keep doing what it’s always done, transform the world.”

Christmas Eve Mass: “I may do what Pope Benedict recommended for bi-cultural, bi-lingual parishes – celebrate a Latin Mass in the extraordinary form, facing the cross (ad orientem), and give a bi-lingual sermon in Spanish and English.” Christmas Eve Mass is 11 p.m. at St. Odilo’s, preceded by chant and carols sung by its schola.