A man from Ridgewood who is studying to become a priest recently traveled to Portugal and Spain to take part in a spiritual pilgrimage with several other seminarians that has not only strengthened his faith, but also deepened his bond with the faithful at his hometown church, St. Matthias.
Brendon Harfmann, 23, was born and raised in Ridgewood, attending St. Matthias Church and School as a child. After graduating from elementary school, Harfmann moved on to Cathedral Preparatory, and in 2012 he went to St. John’s University. During his time at St. John’s he lived in the school’s seminary and graduated in 2012 with his bachelor of arts degree in philosophy and theology.
Now Harfmann is in St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, Yonkers, completing his master’s degree before getting ordained and becoming a priest.
Even though his uncle, Father John Harfmann SSJ, was a Josephite priest, he never saw him much before he passed away in 2012. However, Harfmann was influenced at a young age by a priest from St. Matthias Church.
“I always think back to sixth grade. There was a newly ordained priest at St. Matthias,” Harfmann said. “The priests at St. Matthias were always a huge influence on me. When I was kid I wanted to serve. I wanted to be involved in the youth group, and be involved as much as possible. I remember one day, just telling the priest at the end of the Mass, ‘I want to be a priest,’ and I knew nothing of how to get to that end, but I just saw what he was doing, it influenced positively and I said I want to do it.”
Harfmann’s list of influences continued as he entered high school, and really credits Cathedral Prep with helping him solidify his decision on wanting to become a priest.
“My time at Cathedral Prep, that was the most influential aspect of where I am today,” Harfmann said. “The priests, when you see a priest and you think, ‘I can do that,’ they really were the people who made that happen.”
While studying at Cathedral Prep and St. John’s, Harfmann always stayed close with the people at St. Matthias. He began working there, and visiting all the time. And it was these people who helped and supported Harfmann on his pilgrimage.
On July 26, Harfmann, along with eight other seminarians and a single priest, traveled to Spain to begin the “El Camino” pilgrimage, walking the traditional Camino Frances route from Ponferrada to Santiago de Compostela. The entire route goes from France to Spain, but for this trip Harfmann and his crew took a shorter route.
Over the course of nine days, Harfmann and his seminarian brothers walked the 130 miles between the two countries.
“We just went without knowing too much about it,” Harfmann explained. “We knew that it would be difficult physically, spiritually challenging, but we knew that if we could just get a little taste of what the entire Camino was like, we knew that maybe in the future we would do that entire thing.”
During the physically exhausting and mentally draining journey, Harfmann eventually found himself alone on a hill. Atop that hill, with the weight of his backpack getting heavier, his feet pounding, and his throat dry, Harfmann said he had a personal encounter with God.
“I was overtaken by a sense of God’s presence there. For me, throughout my life, I’ve had these wonderful experiences of encountering God and Christ in different ways and through different people, but for me that was one of the main points in my life where it was a one-on-one,” Harfmann remembered. “There was no church; there was no cross; there was nothing. It was me on this hill in the middle of Spain, and an encounter with Christ, the beauty of the Earth, the overwhelming knowledge that I could finish this pilgrimage, I could do so much more that God is always with us. That’s what that moment was.”
The adrenaline gained from his experience on the hill, the support and prayers he received from the parishioners back in Ridgewood, and knowing that the end of the nine-day journey was in sight helped Harfmann hike the rest of the “El Camino” with his brothers to Santiago de Compostela where he got the chance to pray for not only himself and his fellow seminarians, but all those who supported him as well, at the Cathedral of St. James.
“I encourage every person that asked me about it, I’ve encouraged them to experience it for themselves,” he said. “You can’t always put these things into words, but I know that it was an encounter and an experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”