Friday, April 17, 2015

"A Tribute to Jesuit Padre Bill Brennan, an Example to Pope Francis" Co-Presider and Advocate of Women Priests" by Janice Sevre Duszynska, ARCWP

Janice Sevre Duzynska ARCWP and Jesuit Bill Brennan at liturgy at SOA Watch Vigil in Nov. 2012 photo by Bob Graf

A great and beloved Jesuit priest died at the age of 94 on Aug. 11, 2014. He was Fr. Bill Brennan of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He did many things in his life: He worked as a missionary in British Honduras (Belize) for 17 years. The suffering of the poor rooted him to social justice and to our Latin American sisters and brothers.
photo by Bob Watkins
He struggled for the poor and the marginalized, including immigrants. He witnessed for human rights and for peace and demonstrated to close the ROTC program at Marquette University. He was a Jesuit for 75 years and served as a parish priest to Hispanic communities in Milwaukee. He wrote a novel, “A Drama of the
Caribbean,” which some say reveals much of his experience.
photo by Bob Watkins
He did all these things but what I most know him for was that two years ago he celebrated Eucharist with me at the annual School of the Americas Watch Vigil in Columbus, Georgia. For this action, his Jesuit order told him he could no longer publicly celebrate Eucharist, even for his beloved Hispanic community at St. Patrick’s in Milwaukee. Moreover, he could not present himself publicly as a Catholic priest or talk to media. He was told he could no longer leave Milwaukee without permission or take part in protests as a Jesuit.
Photo by Bob Watkins
It’s just like Fr. Bill Brennan to evoke a smile from us and share solidarity --even from the coffin. Friends attending his funeral describe him as wearing a white surplice, stole and a yellow button with the words:  “= Equal Rites, Ordain Women.” He adopted the slogan from Women’s Ordination Conference and had buttons made a few years ago and gave them out to visitors at St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Milwaukee, where he lived.
He had been paralyzed for more than a year. In early July when I last saw him, I had the feeling it could be our farewell visit.
I first met Bill at our Annual School of the Americas Watch Vigil in November 2010. He was having difficulty maneuvering his walker on the uneven Ft. Benning Rd.
“Where you going?” he asked.

photo by Bob Graf
“Didn’t we meet before? ” I answered. A couple of weeks ago at the CTA Conference in Milwaukee?”
“Some call me Wild Bill Brennan,” he said, shaking my hand. “ Is something going on?”
 “An action.”
“You mean civil disobedience? Could I go with you?” he asked.
I was somewhat surprised by his request. Before I responded, he continued. “Would I be back in time for Bishop Gumbleton’s Mass at 6 p.m.?”
“We’ll probably be in jail by then,” I told him.
Photo by Bob Graf
I watched his eyes and mouth express both concern and delight. Then, as if turning a page in his life and settling on it, he replied, “Okay then. I’ll go with you.”
It was no easy task making our way up the rutted road and then crossing onto the grass. Sometimes Fr. Bill would walk; other times I pushed him in the walker. We moved at a snail’s pace as we passed the police squads along the way with gads of plastic handcuffs hanging on saw horses like wash on a clothesline. There seemed enough to arrest the thousands of us there plus everyone else in Columbus, Georgia. We greeted the many cops along the route, the most that I had ever seen on Ft. Benning Rd. They seemed to take note of our walking together.
photo by Bob Watkins
Finally Fr. Bill and I caught up with the others and took part in blocking the traffic on the highway, singing, and sharing with those in their cars a brief history of the suffering caused by SOA grads. Our action took place in what seemed a very short time, and then the police told us to get on the curb.
While the other activists were being arrested and placed in squad cars, I noticed that some were not being handcuffed. Then, too, a different police officer seemed assigned to Bill and me. He took down our information as Bill sat in his walker.
“I want jail solidarity,” I told the policeman. “I want to be with my friends.”
“Oh, you and the padre won’t be going to jail. You’ll have the same charges but a different judge,” he told us as he handed out our charges, court date and time.
As the policeman drove away, Bill looked at his watch. It wasn’t six o’clock yet. We knew he couldn’t make the walk back, so we called a taxi for the six blocks to the bus that would take the Milwaukee contingent to Bishop Gumbleton’s celebration of Eucharist. Bill did make it in time for the Mass.

I later learned that seven of the “activists” were spies for the police. Those were the ones who were not being handcuffed. The others spent the weekend or more in jail and were fined thousands of dollars. Bill and I had our day in court, too. He was fined $50. I was fined $500! We were both given six months of unsupervised probation.
The following year, Bill attended the Eucharist that I celebrated, joined by Franciscan Fr. Jerry Zawada – another courageous male priest who like Marynoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Fr. Bill Brennan suffered persecution for supporting justice for women priests.
In 2012, Bill decided that he would be the one to celebrate Eucharist with me at the SOA Watch Vigil. I’ll never forget his beaming smile as he walked toward the Eucharistic table with peacemakers cheering and moving us forward. He will always be one of my favorite brother priests: full of conscience, full of justice-making, full of divine humanity, including the gift of making people laugh.
As I mourn him, I find the card he wrote me after I sent him a letter for his June birthday. On the cover is the seal of the Society of Jesus. Inside, the nursing assistant had written out Bill’s words:

Photo by Bob Watkins
“Don’t forget that my walking as a supporter to the intersection for Civil Disobedience with you changed my life.”
Photo by Bob Watkins
In his final email to me he wrote: “When you get the opportunity, gently mention that the principal revelation of Christianity did not involve any males, only God and Mary.”
Photo by Bob Watkins
Have you ever known of a male priest buried with a button in support of women priests? Perhaps Bill has set an example for his fellow priests who are afraid to speak out while they’re living in favor of women priests… including his Jesuit brother, Pope Francis.

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