Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh


Brian McGhen & Kathleen Gwinn


Brian McGhen opened his four piggy-banks to give everything to his church. Parishioners at Saint Patrick Parish in McKeesport and others opened their hearts and helped fulfill Brian’s dream to see a Broadway show.

Brian, who is 24 years old and has Down syndrome, last summer donated $84.49 to Our Campaign for The Church Alive!, money he had been saving for an excursion to New York City. He said helping his parish was more important.

Father Vincent Velas, pastor of St. Patrick’s, spoke at Masses of Brian’s sacrifice and pledges poured in, sending the parish campaign well over its target.

Many people wanted to honor such a selfless gift, including non-parishioners who read about it in the Pittsburgh Catholic. They contacted Father Velas and donated funds for Brian and his mother, Kathleen Gwinn, to see the Broadway revival of “Annie” last month.

One man even helped make arrangements for a two night stay at the Warwick Hotel. Kathleen is humbled.

“Total strangers sent him cards and money through the parish. Brian was surprised by that,” Kathleen said. “He asked me, ‘Who are they? You mean they’re new friends?’”

Brian and his mom soaked up the sights in the city—a trek to Macy’s to visit Santa Claus, stops at Rockefeller Center and the New York Public Library. Brian shook hands with everyone, drawing smiles and warm conversation.

Then came the highlight, the long-awaited performance at the Palace Theatre.

“The show was wonderful. Brian absolutely loved it. He was on the edge of his seat,” Kathleen said. “Afterwards we were by the stage door and saw the actresses who played the orphans.  Brian said, ‘Hey, I know you!’ So they stopped to talk to him.”

Like Daddy Warbucks and Annie, Kathleen and Brian enjoyed a fabulous night in New York City.

On Sunday, they attended Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where Brian visited several side altars to light candles for those “new friends” who made the trip possible.  He also prayed for Father Dennis Colamarino, pastor of Christ the Light of the World Parish in Duquesne where his grandmother is a parishioner.

Father Velas says the story reminds him of an old-time movie with a happy ending, where the good guy comes in first.

“Brian gives everything, he doesn’t hold back,” Father Velas remarked. “He teaches us the gift of spontaneity, and he doesn’t question if he has enough for himself.

“Generosity prompts generosity. Goodness prompts goodness. It’s a multiplier effect. Every good act has value. It’s a window into God’s love.”

Thanks to their successful campaign, Saint Patrick’s now will be able to paint the church interior, refurbish pews, fix the organ and pipes, repair the heating and air conditioning system, add a stair lift and replace the windows and carpeting in the CCD building. But Brian has given them much more.

“I was blown away by Brian’s gift. He can be so generous with his possessions and his time,” Kathleen said. “I have to wonder if it is divine inspiration. He seems to have a pure way of seeing things. Sometimes I wish I could be more like him.”

“As his mom, I’m always thinking about how to take care of him, but he really takes care of us,” she said. “We tend to think of people like Brian as disabled, but I look at him as differently-abled.”

Brian McGhen & Kathleen Gwinn

Brian McGhen & Kathleen Gwinn