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Obituary: Father Gerard M. Brennan, retired Air Force chaplain

By Father Robert M. O'Grady Pilot Staff
Posted: 3/18/2016

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Father Gerard M. Brennan Pilot file photo

Father Gerard "Gerry" M. Brennan died peacefully in his sleep at Regina Cleri Boston on March 9. He would have been 90 on May 21.

Born in the Hub's Dorchester section on May 21, 1926, he was the last surviving of the six children of the late Francis and Susan (Greenan) Brennan. Two of his deceased sisters were Sisters of Notre Dame, Sister Clare Francis, SNDdeN and Sister Gerard, SNDdeN. The family lived in St. Paul Parish and young Gerry went to Boston College High School before entering St. John's Seminary. A member of the class of 1950 he was ordained by fellow BC High Alumnus and Boston's Archbishop Richard Cushing at Holy Cross Cathedral on May 3, 1950 -- about three weeks shy of his 24th birthday.

Following ordination he had two assignments as an assistant; St. Pius Fifth, Lynn and St. Peter, Cambridge. In October 1953 Archbishop Cushing, who was flush with priests and was even more generous in sharing his surplus with other dioceses and the military services, released Father Brennan for service in South Dakota; but as a reserve Air Force chaplain he needed to be closer to Boston and so ended up in the Burlington diocese. At the small town of Bennington he found himself the founding builder and principal of the new Bennington Catholic High School. In 1961 he was incardinated into the diocese of Burlington and the following year was released to serve full time in the US Air Force chaplain corps.

"You see the Church in a different way, when you come from a home parish and neighborhood where more than 75 percent of the population is Catholic, go to state where it was about 30 percent and then to another state like Oklahoma where it was perhaps one percent."

For more than two decades, he was moving about the U.S. and the world to Air Force bases in war torn Viet Nam; in politically tense Korea and the more sedate, though still strategic Hickham Air Force Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

In 1986 when he retired from the Air Force he returned to Boston and helped out his friend and fellow Air Force chaplain, the late Father Robert Bergeron who was then pastor at St. Joseph (French) Parish in Waltham. He remained at the parish until 1995 when he was granted senior priest status. During this time on July 17, 1990 he was "re-incardinated" in the archdiocese. With good humor, always one of his trademarks, he used to say "that's 're-incardinated', not reincarnated." While at Waltham and serving as the administrator of the parish he saw the 100th anniversary of the parish and organized more than a score of events for the centennial.

After retirement he was readily available to assist in archdiocesan parishes, and following his move to Regina Cleri in 1998 he was weekend assistant at St. Luke in Belmont's Waverly section.

An avid sports fan, he was a regular with the late Father James L. McCune at Boston College's hockey games at Kelly Rink at Conte Forum.

At Regina Cleri he was the in house chaplain; visiting brother priests, tending to their spiritual needs, celebrating the Anointing of the Sick, bringing Viaticum and often staying up late hours with those who were at the door of death.

In recent months he has been in declining health and had been himself at "death's door" several times, but rebounded to the surprise of many and the delight of many at Regina Cleri.

Bishop Robert Hennessey was the principal celebrant of Father Brennan's funeral Mass at St. Luke in Belmont on March 15. North Regional Vicar, Father Gerard Petringa, who had been the parish's pastor much of the time Father Brennan served as weekend assistant, was the homilist.

Among concelebrants were classmate and close friend and Regina Cleri resident, Msgr. James Tierney; St. Luke's current pastor Father Thomas Mahoney, Regina Cleri resident Father Michael Regan; Regina Cleri residents Fathers William Pearsall and Dennis Dever, and Msgr. Dennis Sheehan, senior priest at Our Lady Help of Christians, Newton.

Following the funeral Mass, Father Brennan was buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, West Roxbury.