PITTSFORD — Even though he wasn’t in the room, the late Father Joseph P. Brennan was on the minds of several people at the Anti-Defamation League’s Bearing Witness Summer Institute for Catholic Educators and Ministers, which was held last month at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.
The program focuses on the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, addressing issues of diversity, prejudice and bigotry in contemporary society and teaching about these topics in a Catholic-school setting.
Father Brennan, a pioneer of local interfaith dialogue among Catholics and Jews, died Sept. 22, 2008, at 79 years old, following a long battle with cancer.
“This is exactly the kind of thing he devoted much of his passion to,” said Patrick Connelly, a theology teacher at Aquinas Institute who attended the ADL program.
Father Brennan began working in interfaith relations during the 1960s, and his resume included being the director of religious affairs at the University of Rochester. He helped lead the group that signed the Rochester Agreement between the Rochester board of rabbis and the Diocese of Rochester, and he was instrumental in forming several local interfaith groups.
He also was a partner in the establishment of the Brennan-Goldman Institute, which was started at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in 2006 to further Catholic-Jewish relations. The Brennan-Goldman Institute helped underwrite the Bearing Witness program locally so it could be offered to participants free of charge.
Father Brennan would be smiling to see the Bearing Witness program taking place locally, said Isobel Goldman, the other half of the Brennan-Goldman Institute’s founding duo.
“It’s in his honor and memory that all of us are around this table,” she said during the institute.
Connelly said the groundwork to bring the Bearing Witness program to a local venue began two years ago, when he attended a presentation of the program in another area. He then suggested that Rochester might be an ideal host for the program.
“It is wonderful to see 39 people here,” Connelly remarked during the institute. “Each person will take that message (of the institute) home, and people will be touched by that message.”
One of those touched was Amanda Rayburn, faith-formation coordinator at Christ the King Parish in Irondequoit, who said she will try to incorporate the Bearing Witness lessons into her parish’s faith-formation curriculum.
“I’m excited to take some of it back,” she said.