For Virginia priest, ‘ale-vangelizing’ is chance to chat over a beer, meet people where they are

By Kristen L. Byrd | OSV News

Father Brian Capuano has worn many hats during his tenure as a priest: pastor, mentor, director of worship and vicar for vocations, just to name a few.

An unlikely hat for a priest to don is that of brewmaster, but Father Capuano can count that among his hat collection as well.

This spring Trapezium Brewing Co. in Petersburg, Virginia, launched the second release of his signature “Father Brian’s Bourbon Barrel Brown Ale,” where hundreds of family, friends and past parishioners toasted the beloved priest.

For nine years Father Capuano served as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Petersburg, which is in the Richmond Diocese. When he first arrived at the parish, he wanted to learn more about the community, its people and its culture.

Father Brian Capuano, a priest of the Diocese of Richmond, Va., poses with “Father Brian’s Bourbon Barrel Brown Ale,” his own recipe released by Trapezium Brewing Company in Petersburg, Va. (OSV News/courtesy The Catholic Virginian) (OSV News/courtesy The Catholic Virginian)

He would walk the streets, often dressed in his full priest cassock, and interact with those he met along the way. He ventured to local restaurants and events, believing it was important to be seen outside of church, which eventually led him to Trapezium.

He felt comfortable in the burgeoning brewery. It provided food, drink and a place for him to get some paperwork done in a relaxed setting.

It also was a great way to engage with the community; many people were intrigued by the priest’s presence there.

“Being present where people are is essential. Sharing a conversation over a beer can be an easy way to break barriers and meet people where they are,” said Father Capuano.

His reputation in the area quickly grew, with Trapezium proclaiming him their “favorite customer” on the brewery’s website.

At one point he even had a table with his name on it, and people would sit down and talk to him, regardless of their faith.

And though none of the owners of Trapezium are Catholic, they supported Father Capuano’s way of living his faith and caring about his community.

“The folks who work at Trapezium have always been very warm and welcoming and have been good advocates for folks who misunderstand Catholicism and have been very interested in learning more about the church,” he told The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond.

Soon, with Trapezium’s support, he started “Theology on Tap” meetings on the second floor of the brewery. Dozens of people gathered regularly to learn about everything from saints and the liturgical calendar to priestly celibacy and bioethics.

“I find that folks really don’t understand Catholicism and that they are unfamiliar with our way of living and way of worship,” said Father Capuano.

“Finding avenues where folks can be introduced to Catholicism and Catholics in person is key if we are going to be able to evangelize,” he added. “The Gospel is generally best communicated person to person, face to face.”

Over the years, Father Capuano became something of a local celebrity.

The young priest invigorated his parish, starting various initiatives, spearheading renovation projects, connecting with students at the church’s affiliated St Joseph School, and fully immersing himself in the community.

One day a few years ago, Trapezium held a lottery to tour the brewery and learn about the brewing process. Though Father Capuano said he never wins anything, he entered anyway and ended up winning.

“I was taking a class in Rome at the time and got a voicemail from the whole wait staff screaming, ‘Father Brian, you won the raffle!'” he recalled with a smile.

The tour snowballed into an opportunity to make his very own ale. He collaborated with brewery staff to create “Father Brian’s Bourbon Barrel Brown Ale,” which was based on his go-to drink, Trapezium’s own brown ale.

He also had the chance to design the beverage’s glass and label. The label featured the beloved century-old stained-glass windows of St. Joseph Church.

Father Capuano and Trapezium turned the release of the ale into a community event, with a portion of the proceeds going to the restoration of the same church windows that adorned the bottles.

Seeing that the release party was such a success, Trapezium started offering more events in support of community initiatives.

After being appointed as the Richmond’s diocesan vicar for vocations in 2019, he still made time to visit Trapezium.

One of his former seminarians, Philip Decker, met with Father Capuano several times at Trapezium.

“It did give us the time to recap where I was and what I needed to work on in my formation in a less formal setting,” he said.

“The benefit of this is that it helped me to understand and appreciate that my formation was not just a formal affair, something only to be discussed in his office, or over paperwork, but something that we could discuss at any time and in any place,” Decker added.

Herb Funk, who serves as a deacon at St. Joseph, trained under Father Capuano. He and his wife, Rosemary, attended “Theology on Tap” sessions and said Father Capuano helped Funk on his path to becoming a deacon.

“I’m indebted to him for that,” he stated. “Here I am an old man, and he’s a fairly young man, and as I think back on it, I couldn’t have had a better mentor.”

Decker echoed the sentiment, saying, “He was an excellent mentor. He challenged me in the many ways I needed to be challenged.”

“His spirituality strikes me as very quiet and humbled before God. It was a spirituality I had not really experienced before and one that still moves me today,” he added.

Recently, an extra barrel of “Father Brian’s Bourbon Barrel Brown Ale” was found. Another release party was planned — this time with the proceeds supporting St. Joseph School

A close-up of the label of “Father Brian’s Bourbon Barrel Brown Ale” features the century-old stained-glass windows of St. Joseph Church in Petersburg, Va., where Father Brian Capuano, who devised the ale recipe, was pastor for nine years. The brown ale was produced by the Trapezium Brewing Company of Petersburg. (OSV News photo/courtesy The Catholic Virginian)

Since the ale was aged longer than the first batch, it was much stronger, but still with the same smooth notes of bourbon and rich vanilla.

People traveled from all over the Richmond Diocese for a sample.

Two guests of honor were Father Capuano’s parents. His father said, “We’re very proud of him. He’s done a great job with everything he does.”

His mother credits many of his achievements to his approachable and humble nature, saying, “He has quite the rapport. He can find a way to connect with anyone.”

Marianne Yavorsky, a longtime parishioner of St. Joseph, has seen Father Capuano grow from a new priest to a well-known leader in the diocese.

He was ordained in 2011, and joined St. Joseph in 2012. Due to his youth, many of the older parishioners thought of him as a son.

“We all wanted to mother him. I still do. When I see him, I hug him to make sure he’s eating,” Yavorsky said.

“He has so much on his plate, his plate has become a platter,” she added. “I told him to make time to do something fun.”

Crafting his own ale seems to fit the bill.

Despite the vicar’s ever-busy schedule, he still plans to frequent his favorite haunt, Trapezium, and other venues.

He sees this as an important part of his mission and the greater mission of the church.

“We can’t expect people to simply ‘come to church’ to be evangelized,” he said. “From the beginning, the Lord sent the 12 and then the 72 to bring the good news to people who need salvation. That has to continue today; we cannot be limited as priests, and Catholics in general, to simply serving the needs of those who cross the threshold of our churches.”
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Kristen L. Byrd writes for The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond.


Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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