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Father Brennan fulfills his calling

Community Portrait
By: Michael Kirby
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At 83, Father Ronan Brennan has seen a lot of life. On June 18, Brennan celebrated his 60th year as a Catholic priest, and the congregations of St. Joseph and St. Theresa of Avila parishes recently recognized his community service during a parish dinner in his honor, two parishes he served many years. Brennan was born in Ireland and ordained at All Hallows Seminary College in Dublin. He was 24 years of age and still not really sure that the priesthood was his calling. “I entered the seminary and I thought I’d see what it was like, to check my vocation, see if it was real. It’s a calling. There’s nothing miraculous, nobody whispers in your ear, you don’t see angels. It’s a desire to serve God,” Brennan said. “I also applied for dental college, and the funny thing is I hate going to the dentist,” he said. By the time Brennan was ordained on June 18, 1950 he felt he had made the right decision. “Sometime just afterward, I wasn’t quite sure, but I thought I had a genuine vocation,” Brennan said. The seminary college he attended was founded in 1842 with the intent to send priests to English-speaking countries: England, Scotland, United States, Australia, Canada and South Africa, to follow the Irish immigrants. His first assignment after coming to the Sacramento Diocese was St. Joseph’s, at the time, a small parish of about 300 people in Auburn with a school. Brennan was an associate pastor with Father Sheehy who was the pastor. He stayed for 18 months. Next he was sent to Truckee, and also served at churches at Donner Summit, Kings Beach and Tahoe City. In 1956, Brennan was assigned to one of the most exciting ministries of his career and spent almost 12 years serving at Folsom State Prison. “It was the most exciting part of my life,” Brennan said. “At the prison we shared a chapel common to the Protestants, Catholics and Jews, we all used the same chapel.” His job at the prison involved counseling inmates, interviewing every new Catholic inmate that came in and delivering death notices to inmates who lost loved ones. He had some luck with making family contacts, and reported death threats and escape plans that he heard outside of confession, if necessary. Brennan was appointed by the Sacramento Diocese Bishop, approved by the State of California, and was employed as a state employee and remained at Folsom from 1956 to 1968. “You could do so much for these men there. Most were lonely, and they all wanted me to write letters to their homes saying how well they were doing. They liked talking with someone who wasn’t condemning. I did a lot of counseling and was very busy,” he recalled. During his time there Brennan said he attended singer Johnny Cash’s famous Folsom Prison concert. Brennan was then assigned to a church in Tahoe City until 1972 when Father Sheehy at St. Joseph’s passed away. “I applied and was made pastor again here in Auburn as one of three priests serving the parish, which I enjoyed very much,” he said. From 1972 until his leaving again in 1980, Brennan was instrumental in the expansion of St. Joseph’s during a huge growth era in the area. He was on the ground floor of helping acquire land for the new St. Teresa of Avila parish in North Auburn and starting the Mardi Gras celebration, a major fundraiser involving more than 400 volunteers to raise money for the parish’s school. The annual event was held at the Gold Country Fairgrounds and was a well attended community event. As the Auburn community continued to grow, Brennan found his job involving more administrative and less people-oriented work, which was something he enjoyed and felt was his pastoral strength. He then applied to leave to a smaller parish. “It became that I was more in the office and less in the field. I really liked meeting and knowing the people and didn’t like administration work too much,” he said. In 1980 Brennan served the church in Sutter Creek for 12 years where he remained until his retirement in 1992. His work with the church has not ended with retirement, as some 18 years later he still is on the move saying Mass a couple of times a week, hearing confessions, filling in where needed throughout the large Sacramento diocese. “I have no regrets whatsoever,” Brennan said. “Every parish I was at I was very happy, I never had a gripe about anything really.”