MONROE, Mich. (CNS) — A funeral mass was celebrated at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters’ motherhouse in Monroe for Sister Margaret Brennan, an Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister who served as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in 1972.
Brennan, 92, died April 28 in the motherhouse’s infirmary.
In addition to her year of leadership with the LCWR, Brennan was elected general superior of her order in 1966 and ministered as its president until 1976. In those roles, she helped guide U.S. sisters through the changes wrought by the Second Vatican Council.
Born Feb. 13, 1924, in Detroit, Margaret Brennan was educated in Catholic schools in the city, including Marygrove College, run by her order. She joined the order in 1945 and took the religious name Sister Benedicta.
Brennan later earned a doctorate in philosophy and religion from St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. She taught at two IHM-sponsored grade schools in the Archdiocese of Detroit before returning to Marygrove to teach theology.
She served as her order’s novice director from 1962 until her election as president in 1966.
Rev. Robert Schramm, the celebrant and homilist at her funeral mass, said he had been told that Brennan had a goal that “one in 10” Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters earn a degree in theology.
Following her tenure as IHM president, she studied for a year at St. Joseph College in Toronto. In 1978, Brennan returned to Toronto as the first female theology professor at Regis College, where she stayed until 2002 as an associate or full professor of theology.
Returning to Michigan in 2002, she made the Detroit suburb of Farmington her home base for five years, save a one-year term as a visiting theology professor at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota. Brennan then moved to her order’s motherhouse.
During her year as LCWR president, Brennan was at the centre of struggles to maintain unity among seriously divided religious congregations. In 1992, she called the formation of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious a “tragic occurrence.” She added: “It has structured division among the major superiors,” and warned it could lead to new divisions within religious communities.
In 1993, she was invited by the U.S. bishops to address their spring meeting in New Orleans on the future of religious life. In a separate address later that year in Dallas at the LCWR convention, she said the future was filled with hope but also uncertainty — the latter due to “the charismatic and prophetic nature of religious life itself.”
Among “urgent challenges” to which the Holy Spirit may be calling religious orders today are the ecological and feminist movements, Brennan said. “The discernment of what we as Christian feminists have perceived as a gift of the Holy Spirit to the church has and continues to be a painful reality,” she added. “Our basic inequality remains.”
In a 2001 talk at St. Paul College in Ottawa, Brennan said spirituality had emerged as a popular but ill-defined topic in the modern age. “The contemporary challenge to Christianity is the acknowledgment of the reality and acceptance of spiritualties in the lives of persons whose commitment is not to Christianity nor to any specific religious tradition,’’ she said.
Patricia Cooney Hathaway, a professor of spiritual and systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and one of Brennan’s nieces, said in the eulogy during the funeral mass that her aunt “had an incredible capacity for nourishing and sustaining relationships. She had a way of making us all feel good about ourselves.”
Hathaway added, “She would look you straight in the eye, letting you know you had her full attention. ... We sought her opinions and views on various issues, and she always left us with perspectives that would not have considered on our own.”
Copyright (c) 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops