Remembering Father John Brennen

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Friday, 05 March 2010 00:00
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Father John Brennen, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Galion died last month after a long and courageous struggle with many health challenges. Finding that I have a half hour to spare between the Sunday Masses I’m preaching, I’m drawn to John’s office to sit and reflect.

Father John Brennen, a priest of the Diocese of Toledo, died Feb. 11 at the age of 44. (Chronicle file photo)
Father John Brennen, a priest of the Diocese of Toledo, died Feb. 11 at the age of 44. (Chronicle file photo)
John’s leather jacket is draped on the sofa, Pope Benedict’s book on the priesthood is leaning against the base of the desk chair, the walls are dotted with crosses and Irish blessings, and a medical tube protrudes from the stack of paper on the desk. A lump forms in my throat; my eyes well with tears. Tears for the suffering and loss of Fr. John Brennen. Tears for the loss of “John” my friend. The minutes tick by, and I close my eyes and lose myself in remembrance.

I remember the young priest who loved children, the priest who placed a high priority on spending time in the parish school. I remember how children and young people loved him, how they sensed his genuine interest in their lives. I remember John involving them in the liturgy. A smile creases my face as I remember the many times John invited children to help bear the Eucharistic gifts to the altar or light the Sunday Advent candles.

I remember a John who swayed and danced, vestments flowing, to both traditional hymns and contemporary religious songs. John and music, how he loved it. And what a musical contradiction he was! A priest who loved the heavy metal music of Creed and Van Halen, the 80s music of Blondie and Eddie Money, a priest who cherished music from Masses dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to St. Francis of Assisi.

I also reflect on the John Brennen who placed such a high priority on “family, faith, and friends.” Life was not complicated for John. For him, a simple list of priorities that even a child could remember were what mattered most.

The people of St. Joseph routinely and consistently described Fr. John as outgoing, warm, friendly, hospitable, genuine, positive and upbeat. John was all of these things. I also remember a John that others often didn’t see, the John who suffered from diabetes, the confinement of kidney dialysis and lingering injuries from a car accident. That John was often weak and in pain. He was a John who even when having a hard time standing was still determined to celebrate a baptism or the Mass.

So many memories flood my mind and heart. The John who loved American history, especially military history. The John who loved crazy hats. The John who loved sports and supported our young athletes with his encouragement and frequent game attendance.

The John Brennen I remember best is the man who strove to be a good priest while dealing with tremendous health challenges, a man who met his challenges with a simple yet pervasive belief: Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. From John, I learned that to live with “courage” doesn’t mean to be free from fear and anxiety, it means to live with trust that despite anything that happens, God is with us, in everything.

I open my eyes, look at the time and ready myself to return to church and the next service. Before I leave John’s office I remember the many times I’ve been asked, “How long did Fr. Brennen serve your parish?” I have consistently responded “nearly two years.” A more fitting response would be “long enough to be deeply loved.”

Requiescat in pace. May you rest in peace, Fr. John Brennen, enjoying the love and embrace of the Jesus you loved and served so well in this life. The people of St. Joseph are grateful for all that you gave to them. Along with you, we will remember to be grateful for what God has given us — salvation, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Editor’s Note: Two memorial Masses are planned for Fr. Brennen: On March 6, Mass begins at 6 p.m. at Galion St. Joseph. Another Mass is to be held March 12 at 5:30 p.m. at Mansfield St. Peter, where Fr. Brennan was an associate pastor.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 May 2010 13:43