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At 28 minutes past 11 last Friday, Father Stan Brennan passed peacefully away, marking the end to an astonishing era for the people of Reiger Park – and for everyone who met the saintly priest.
Born in Ireland in 1929, the seventh of 10 children, Seamus Brennan decided very early on to dedicate his life to God. He said that, even as a young child, “I thought God was all loving and all powerful and if we lived a good life he would reward us”.
As a boy, Brennan read the story of St Francis of Assisi and it made a life-changing impression on him. As early as he could, he applied to join the Franciscan order. “There was something deeply compelling,” he reminisced a few weeks ago, “calling me to the Franciscans.”
After four years studying in Rome and a year spent teaching at the Franciscan college in Dublin, in 1957, Father Stan was posted to SA.
On arrival he spent a very happy time as spiritual director at the Diocesan Seminary in Boksburg and was impressed with the work the Brothers were doing. But he yearned to work with the local community and when the opportunity arose, he grabbed it with both hands and never let go, until advanced age and increasing frailty forced him to.
In 1965, Father Stan was appointed parish priest at St Francis Catholic Church in Reiger Park and was given an old African church-cum-school building with no electricity or running water. From those humble beginnings, the priest – who could be resolutely manipulative when it came to eliciting donations – created the world class St Anthony’s Adult Education Centre in Reiger Park. Over the years, thousands of students have passed through the centre to become valued members of every profession in the city.
In 1992, being deeply disturbed by a lack of concern shown for HIV/Aids patients, Father Stan purchased a property to build a haven where terminally ill patients could be cared for.
Despite fierce opposition from the local community, Father Stan succeeded in the Supreme Court and formally opened the St Francis Centre in 1992. Then,
in 1998, he started the House of Mercy, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. In 2004, he opened Mercy Haven for abused women and children.
Father Stan received more than 50 awards from various governments for his role in the social welfare development of Boksburg, and just three weeks ago, was presented with the Sixth Class Grand Cordon Order Award of the Rising Sun Silver and Gold Rays by the government of Japan.
A friend to politicians – among others, the Sexwales and the Hanis, who previously were in his parish – gangsters and the poor, Father Brennan treated them all the same and adhered to the Franciscan vows of poverty, chastity and obedience while spending his life selflessly serving others. His funeral is in Boksburg today.