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A popular St. Paul Parish priest and undergraduate chaplain has been transferred on short notice to service in Rome by his religious order, leaving the College’s Catholic community with one leader fewer as the school year begins.
Late last week, Father Thomas E. Brennan—who has come to be known as Father Tom over the course of his three years at St. Paul—received instructions to move to Rome, where his Salesian order is based, for a new ministry project. Brennan will leave Cambridge in early September, before the fall term begins.
Undergraduate Chaplain Jacqueline Landry, who worked closely with Brennan during his time in Cambridge, said she was surprised to hear of his imminent departure.
“We will miss him profusely. It was kind of a shock,” she said.
Landry said Brennan’s transfer is by no means unusual—religious orders frequently move their members from one community to another based on need, she said. But the sudden nature of his order is less usual for the church community at Harvard, which is accustomed to hearing of staff changes in spring of the academic year, she added.
Brennan’s transfer results from his order’s need for more teachers in their Roman schools. The Salesians of Don Bosco devote their community work primarily to youth ministry. Brennan has served previously as a principal in the Salesian school system.
“He is a stellar priest with excellent credentials and they want him elsewhere,” Landry said.
Monsignor Dennis F. Sheehan—who will take over some of Brennan’s duties in the fall—said transfer is part of life for members of most Catholic orders. “In an analogous way, it could happen to me tomorrow,” he said.
But an order from a more local hierarchy, such as his own, would probably only mean transfer to another parish in the area, rather than to another continent, he said.
Sheehan, who directs the parish, said the Roman Salesians did not expound on the needs behind Brennan’s transfer to Rome.
“They didn’t have to and they didn’t,” he said. “They just said they wanted him in Rome and I said, ‘Oh.’’”
Brennan was on a retreat in New Jersey this week and could not be reached for comment. When he returns, Sheehan said, he will travel for a couple of weeks before leaving for Rome in early September.
Over the weekend, Brennan informed the Harvard Catholic Chaplaincy and executive members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Catholic Student Association (CSA) of his transfer. His departure from the parish was announced to the local community at Mass last Sunday.
Caitlin R. Swanson ’05, president of the CSA, said that his absence will be a loss to the community.
“Father Tom’s role in CSA and in undergraduate religious life at Harvard can never fully be explained or appreciated,” she wrote in an e-mail. “He worked tirelessly to welcome students to Harvard and to Harvard’s Catholic Community, greeting undergrads, graduate students, faculty, and staff in a variety of languages but always with the same grin.”
Brennan’s responsibilities in the local Catholic community included celebrating the liturgy at St. Paul, offering counseling and spiritual guidance to undergraduates, and fostering communication between students and the parish community in his capacity as an advisor to the CSA, Sheehan said.
Brennan’s work at Harvard has focused especially on social justice initiatives.
Swanson said he offered support and helped coordinate student activities. Landry will take on these responsibilities alone next year, she said.
—Staff writer Nathan J. Heller can be reached at email@example.com.
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