At the age of 88, Dr Vincent Brennan was the oldest graduate at UKZN’s autumn graduation ceremonies this year.
Brennan was awarded a PhD in Theology for his study that examined the different callings of the Church in a Christian community.
Brennan’s involvement in the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) as well as his programme organising experience encouraged him to do an in-depth examination of Christianity.
Looking at the nature of the Church as a community of missionary disciples, he explored its situation of being divided into an elite clergy and a passive laity, as well as stewardship as a manner of translating the community model of Church into a way of life.
In addition, his thesis examined the nature of the call to discipleship extended to all who follow Christ as well as the kind of leadership demanded by a community model of church. ‘These efforts bore little fruit,’ said Brennan. ‘I felt it important to reflect in a structured way on this varied experience and suggest what can be learned from it. Without this kind of theological reflection, the Church will continue to do the same thing in the same way and get the same results.’
According to Brennan, his study provides a theological foundation for stewardship to help other churches look critically at their stewardship programmes (or introduce it if they do not have one), steering away from an exclusive emphasis on fundraising and broadening it to being a way of living as disciples, all called, all gifted.
‘I hope too that it will benefit all society as stewardship is not limited to the inner life of the Church but accepts responsibility for all people, especially the poor and those denied their rights as well as responsibility for planet Earth and its future’, he added.
His purpose in undertaking the study was to help the Church in Southern Africa and beyond to shed whatever elements of clericalism that existed and to find a way of making sure the theology of communion became embedded in the life of every diocese and each parish.
He mentioned that juggling work and study was difficult – time had to be found for all the research and for writing and re-writing. He struggled with the
recurrent temptation to abandon the project but received great encouragement from his supervisors Professor Susan Rakoczy and co-supervisor Professor Herbert Moyo.
One of the more interesting aspects of his study was the influence of his supervisors – a Catholic nun from the United States who is listed as a feminist theologian and another from the Lutheran Church.
‘Both left me very free to pursue my own research, but I felt challenged in a refreshing way by the experience and questioning and suggestions of two people whose background and training and life experience were very different to mine’.
Through his research he hopes to translate his findings into a user-friendly publication that will be widely available within the Catholic Church and to other churches who struggle with similar clericalism and lay passivity.
‘My advice to my fellow-travellers is that they deal with this as they do with every temptation: pray not to be overcome by it and carry on’, said Brennan.