April 10, 2003
Celebrating a Call
By Kristen Fox / SUN contributing writers
Father Robert E. Brennan remembered for his devotion to the priesthood
Graciousness, kindness, and a desire to serve above and beyond the call of duty characterized Father Robert E. Brennan’s 59 years of service to the church. Through his ministering of the Gospel, Father Brennan left an indelible mark on all those he met. On March 29, family and friends gathered at St. John the Baptist Church in Syracuse to pay their final respects to a friend, pastor, and counselor, much loved and admired by all those he served.
Father Brennan, 84, of Syracuse, died on March 26 at the St. Camillus Health and Rehabilitation Center in Syracuse. He was born in Rochester on Sept. 22, 1918. Father Brennan attended Acquinas Institute and St. Andrew’s Seminary in Rochester. He received his degrees at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and was ordained at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on May 22, 1945.
After serving in 1946 at St. Anthony’s Church in Honolulu, Hawaii and from 1946-1949 at St. Augustine’s Church, also in Honolulu, Father Brennan came to the Syracuse Diocese. His first assignment in June of 1949 was as assistant pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in North Syracuse. He then served as assistant pastor at Most Holy Rosary Church in Syracuse and as pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Cleveland, and the mission of St. Bernadette in Constantia; and St. Mary’s Church in Hamilton. In 1970 Father Brennan was appointed Chaplain of the Utica State Hospital where he ministered until 1975, when he became pastor of St. Christopher’s Church in Binghamton. In 1978, he was appointed pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Mexico. Upon his retirement in 1986, Father Brennan lived at St. John the Baptist Church and was senior priest in residence until he went to St. Camillus Health and Rehabilitation Center in October of 1997.
Monsignor Eugene M. Yennock, pastor of St. Daniel Church in Syracuse, delivered the homily during the funeral Mass with Bishop James M. Moynihan as the main celebrant. Monsignor Yennock reflected on Father Brennan’s commitment to the priesthood, a call which Father Brennan first heard in the sixth grade. “The bottom line for Father Brennan, even when he was a child, was always to serve as a priest,” said Monsignor Yennock. “He was not complicated. He heard a call from Christ and answered it.” It was this call to serve that Monsignor Yennock believed Father Brennan would want to be eulogized during his funeral Mass. His life was a celebration of being a faithful servant, which he did with great humility, Monsignor Yennock stated. “This simple humility made him such a lovable person,” he noted. “Father Brennan could not believe how he, with his limitations, could be called to the priesthood. Yet he did not question God’s plan. He loved what he did and knew the importance of being a priest.”
Monsignor Yennock recalled how proud Father Brennan was of his family, including his nieces and nephews. His room at St. Camillus, he said, was adorned with their pictures. “Know that your uncle was proud of you and your accomplishments and loved you so much,” Monsignor Yennock told relatives. He also said that Father Brennan had a special place in his heart for the parishioners of St. John’s. He appreciated their cards, gifts and prayers. Each week, he eagerly awaited the parish bulletin and news of what was happening.
“Father Brennan came to the people of St. John’s as a priest in residence, but this title did not matter to him, nor the people at St. John’s,” said Monsignor Yennock. “They loved and respected him as a priest working for them and he loved and respected them. He had such a beautiful relationship with the people.” Sometimes a priest will wonder if he is successful, said Monsignor Yennock. According to St. Theresa, he pointed out, it does not matter if one is successful, but what is important is if one is faithful. “Well, Father Brennan was both,” Monsignor Yennok said. “Through his faithfulness he was a credible sign of Christ’s presence in the world. He left thousands of ‘spiritual children’ throughout the diocese.”
The son of Thomas Brennan and Agnes Conway, Father Brennan had three sisters and five brothers who are deceased: Eileen Brennan, Adelaide Brennan, Helen Dowling, Father Thomas Brennan, Herbert Brennan, Paul Brennan, Edward Brennan and Donald Brennan. He is survived by several nieces and nephews mostly living in the Rochester area; Sister Peggy Brennan, Jody Brennan, Tuggy Alicandri, Eileen Byrne, Martin Dowling, Betsy Weishaar, Joan Wedow, Nora Shannon, Pete Brennan and J. Paul Brennan.
“I believe that when he got to Heaven, Father Brennan told our Lord, ‘I’m glad you sent me. Thank you for the privilege of being a priest,’” Monsignor Yennock said. “But it is we who thank you for your life of service. For your faith, love, compassion and generosity of spirit, we will be eternally grateful.”