Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan OCR, OA, passed away on 1 August following a short illness.
Archbishop Brennan was appointed Universal Primate of the Order of Corporate Reunion in 2004 and led that Order with distinction until his death. The Order is a nineteenth-century foundation that came into being at the behest of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Milan, who saw in its organization a means of overcoming any perceived deficiencies in Anglican orders through a system of conditional ordinations and consecrations designed to impart indisputably valid Catholic and Orthodox lineages. Having not succeeded in obtaining official approbation from the Anglican hierarchy, the Order consequently carried out its mission in a clandestine fashion. It was highly active under Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew, its Primate between 1911 and 1919, who conditionally re-ordained many Anglican priests of the Anglo-Catholic persuasion, much to the ire of Canterbury. The Order continued the same work in a much lower-key fashion into the succeeding decades. Even today there are OCR clergy within the Anglican Communion.
The OCR has been continuously united with the Apostolic Episcopal Church since 1933, when our founder Archbishop Brooks was appointed to the Order. In 1998, the then-Archbishop Persson resigned from the Primacy of the AEC and accepted that of the OCR; his six year pontificate saw the original mission of the OCR replaced by a much wider ecumenical worldview that was in keeping with his tenure as AEC Primate. When he installed Archbishop Brennan as his successor on 11 July 2004, it was doubtless with an awareness that he would continue on similar lines. Under Archbishop Brennan, the OCR took on a particular mission to bring unity and ecumenical understanding among clergy of the smaller churches. It also saw Archbishop Brennan himself pursue friendly relations with many prominent clergy of the Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican churches. By the end of his life, there were few well-known church leaders who had visited the United States and not met him in the course of an ecumenical service or gathering, often learning something of the OCR and its mission on the way.
Peter Paul Patrick Brennan was born in 1941, and was of Irish ancestry. He pursued his vocation as a Franciscan friar at Graymoor, attending St John’s Atonement Seminary in Montour Falls, New York, until 1959, and then at St Pius X Seminary, Graymoor, Garrison, New York, until 1964, when he began studies at St Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, transferring the following year to Immaculate Conception Seminary where he completed the third year of studies in 1967.
The course of his life seemed set. But God had other plans. While a seminarian, he met his future wife, Marie Kirby, who was then a member of another Roman Catholic community, and they both left their respective communities in order to marry. This inevitably caused a change of focus, and they pursued careers as teachers, with Brennan graduating from Manhattan College in 1974 and spending thirty-five years in the service of the New York public school system. They had three children, and in due course, five grandchildren, before Marie predeceased her husband, a loss which he felt very deeply.
During the 1970s, the call to the priesthood was still strong, and it was in that context that Brennan discovered the Old Roman Catholic Church under Archbishop Richard Marchenna of New York. Unlike the Vatican, the Old Roman Catholic Church had no bar on married priests, and consequently Brennan was ordained priest by Marchenna on 20 May 1972. Two years later, he was incardinated into the African Orthodox Church, a historically Black church that derived its Holy Orders and jurisdictional authority from Archbishop Joseph René Vilatte, and was conditionally reordained priest in that church on 29 June 1974. On 10 June 1978, he was consecrated bishop in the African Orthodox Church by Bishop Richard McFarland assisted by Leonard J. Curreri, and would serve as a bishop of that church until his death. Latterly he was active in the ongoing attempt before the courts to return Holy Cross Church in New York to its proper ownership among the African Orthodox Church hierarchy.
Subsequently Brennan received conditional consecration on a number of occasions for the purposes of additional commissioning, and was entrusted with episcopal office in a number of different churches and prelatures. He was among the very few prelates who was able to work effectively both in highly traditionalist and highly liberal settings. Being by nature prayerful of manner and willing to meet others on their own terms – values that stemmed from his Franciscan origins – he was at home wherever the people of God were to be found. During his long pontificate he became a leading source of Holy Orders for bishops of the independent sacramental movement running the gamut from ultramontane traditionalists to ultrajectine progressives. He also supported the ordination of women and was friendly with the “Danube Seven”.
From 1984 onwards he had responsibility for the Ecumenical Diocese of the Americas, today known as Good Shepherd Companions, of which he was latterly International President. This was a successful vision of a church without boundaries, catholic in the most expansive sense of that term, and uniting a number of leading progressive clergy.
His most visible position latterly was within the Married Priests Now! Prelature, a cause which attracted wide support from within and outside the Roman Catholic Church. One notable supporter was the Catholic bishop Emmanuel Milingo, who was himself married, and in 2006, Brennan was one of several bishops to be conditionally consecrated by Milingo. The Vatican maintained that this act had no effect on his clerical status, but it was nevertheless happy to extend an Apostolic Blessing from the Pope on the anniversary of his original episcopal consecration.
In retirement, Brennan took to breeding Irish setters, a pursuit that he much enjoyed. He visited London, UK, regularly and took the opportunity to meet with the Prince-Abbot of San Luigi and our clergy there. His friendship with the Prince-Abbot dated from just after the latter’s ordination to the priesthood in 2006. He was frequently an ecumenical guest at St Lucy’s Old Roman Catholic Cathedral, New York, and on occasion presided at the Mass as relief for the clergy there.
On 24 June, Archbishop Brennan entered Mount Sinai Hospital as a result of symptoms later discovered to be a heart attack, together with pneumonia and a lung infection. He specifically requested that no public mention be made of his condition. He was released to the Meadowbrook Care Center and on 1 August was visited by Archbishops Spataro and Lorentzen of the AEC and OCR. Archbishop Lorentzen anointed him and gave him Holy Communion. He passed away shortly after they had left.
The Funeral Mass was celebrated by Archbishop William Manseau and the Eulogy was given by Bishop Pedro Bravo-Guzman. Archbishops Spataro and Lorentzen represented the Apostolic Episcopal Church and the San Luigi Orders.
MEMORY ETERNAL! MEMORY ETERNAL! MEMORY ETERNAL!