Sister Concepta Marie Brennan, MM

Born: December 28, 1913
Entered: December 8, 1936
Died: December 25, 2009

On December 25, Christmas Day, 2009, Sister Concepta Marie Brennan, affectionately called Conchita by her Sisters and friends, died in Maryknoll Residential Care IV, accompanied by Sister Noel Chabanel. Just a few weeks before on Sister Conchita’s feast day, December 8, Sister Noel had joined the Sisters from Latin America and staff to serenade Sister Conchita in Spanish. We thank the Residential Care IV staff and Sisters for their care of Sister Conchita these past six years.

Isabel Loretta Brennan was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 28, 1913. Her parents were Isabella Lowery Brennan and James Brennan. She had two brothers and a sister. She attended Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary grammar school and Hallahan Catholic Girls High School and worked as a correspondent of the Sears, Roebuck Company for more than six years while studying at night at the University of Pennsylvania.

On December 8, 1936 she entered Maryknoll and professed her First Vows on June 30, 1939 and Final Vows on June 30, 1942. Sister Madeline Maria Dorsey describes their entrance group as tight-knit and fun-loving.

Sister Conchita was chosen to be one of the first departure group assigned to mission in Latin America. Four went to Bolivia in September and Sister Conchita and two other Sisters arrived in Balboa, Canal Zone, Panama in November, 1943, and began home visiting and religious instruction among the Jamaican poor children. Sister Conchita visited and taught in Palo Seco, the Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) Center, and also in St. Vincent’s School. Our Sister Barbara Barr, an American born in Panama, says her grandmother sent her to help these newly arrived American Sisters in their work, the first American Sisters Barbara knew! Although Sister Conchita couldn’t go to the formal celebration of Maryknoll Sisters Fifty Years in Panama in 1994, she came later that year with a young Mexican friend and enjoyed retracing her steps. She met one of her first students from Palo Seco who was then sixty-two years old and expressed her joy at their reunion and the fact that she could embrace him.

In 1950 Sister Conchita was assigned to a remote mining town in Nicaragua called Siuna. Here in a poverty-stricken section of the country the Sisters had established a school, initiated a community health program and provided religious instruction for the people. Sister Conchita became principal as well as teacher. She said the value of this education was abundantly demonstrated by former students in the 50th anniversary celebration which she was able to attend in 1995 in Siuna.

In 1958 Sister Conchita began the forty-three years of her mission journey in Mexico. Sister Elvira Selgas in 1956 began a national novitiate for the formation of young women for an apostolic religious community in Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula. Sister Conchita was appointed to this work in 1958 and for ten years was responsible for the direction and development of the new Institute, an experience which she said was the highlight of her many years in mission. When Sister Concepta Marie Brennan working later in Mexico City she visited them every year and it gave her joy to see how they have continued to grow, presently numbering fifty-six members. She recounted how their work broadened to working with parish priests in response to needs: schools, health care, catechetical and social work, and said proudly, “Our Yucatecan Hermanas consider themselves missionaries in their own country.” This Instituto Seglar de Maria Inmaculada under the leadership of Hemana Irma Gonzalez continues now with secular institute status and considers Sisters Elvira and Conchita their co-foundresses.

A new chapter began for Sister Conchita in 1968 in Mexico City where she taught in Helena Herlihy Hall, a commercial school for young women as well as engaging in catechetical work for which she prepared with a diploma from the Catechetical Institute of Mexico (Sedes Sapientiae). Later she attended the Irish Institute of Pastoral Liturgy and the Pastoral Institute in Carlow, Ireland. She was supervisor of Religious Instruction in five parishes, doing group work with adults and visiting people in their homes, leading bible study groups of women. From 1974 to 1986 she did pastoral ministry in three parishes with Maryknoll priests as pastors. In 1986 she was invited to Cuernavaca in the state of Morelos where she again worked in pastoral ministry and catechetics in two parishes with the Maryknoll Fathers.

In 1995 Sisters Joan Malherek and Mildred Payne helped her pack some belongings and move back to Merida in the Yucatecan peninsula. Sister Mildred recalls Conchita’s love for Mother Mary Joseph and also how the families where she worked took her in and did for her all they would do for family. For the next six years she lived with Sister Theresa Maksym who told us by phone that Conchita was extremely generous with the parents of Down’s syndrome children while they had treatment every Saturday. While Sister Terry returned to the States for her renewal time, Sister Conchita stayed with her former novices who cared for her and celebrated her 60th anniversary in Maryknoll. In 2001, when Sisters Pat Ryan and Mary Lou Daoust visited Mexico, they accompanied Sister Conchita back to the Maryknoll Sisters Center in New York for retirement, after a fond farewell by the Yucatecans, priests and Sisters. Her prayer ministry became Merida, Mexico. When asked what has kept her going all these years with such enthusiasm, she said, “Whatever you do or wherever you are, the drawing card is LOVE! God’s love for all people. I have had the great joy and privilege of bringing a message which holds joy and peace for all peoples on our planet.”

We welcome Maryknoll Associate, Father Timothy Graff, celebrant of our Liturgy of Christian Burial.