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Obituary: Deacon Walter Luther Brenneman Jr.

Deacon Walter "Ted" Luther Brenneman Jr., 80, died Aug. 19 at The Residence at Quarry Hill in South Burlington.

He was born on Dec. 5, 1936, the son of Walter L. and Beatrice (Blouse) Brenneman in Harrisburg, Penn.

He attended Gettysburg College and received a bachelor's degree in 1958. He received his master's degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School and his doctorate in philosophy from the Union Institute in 1974.

He taught at The Stowe School and Marlboro College and retired as professor emeritus of religion at the University of Vermont College of Arts and Sciences. He also authored several books on topics like the holy wells of Ireland, mythological symbolism and religion. He enjoyed research and traveled extensively to Ireland and throughout the world. He and his wife, Mary, walked the Santiago Pilgrimage together and ran a dairy farm in Marshfield for a number of years. He enjoyed skiing, fishing, kayaking and music; he loved all creatures.

For many years he served as a deacon at St. Augustine Parish in Montpelier. Most recently he was a member of St. John Vianney Parish in South Burlington.

On Sept. 19, 1963, he married Mary Helen Gavin in Gettysburg, Penn. She predeceased him in 2011.

Survivors include his children, Leslie Wheelock and her husband, John, of Colchester; Laurie Covington and her husband, Steve, of Palmdale, Calif.; Tracy Gandin and her husband, Dan, of Leland, N.C.; Valerie Brock and her husband, Ronnie, of Wilmington, N.C.; Robin Wright and his wife, Christine, of Bailey, Colo.; and Gavin Wright and his wife, Karen, of Essex; 11 grandchildren; and nine great grandchildren. He was predeceased by one grandson, Owen Wheelock.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Friday, Aug. 25, at St. Augustine Church in Montpelier. Committal prayers will be offered immediately following the Mass at the Doty Cemetery in East Montpelier.

Those wishing to express online condolences may do so at guar eandsons.com.

Elliott Curtin lives faith through energy efficiency work

Elliott Curtin of St. Augustine Church in Montpelier makes part of his living caring for the Earth.
But it’s more of a way of life and an expression of faith for the owner of Weatherization and Renovation of Montpelier.
He said Pope Francis, author of the encyclical “Laudato Si': On Care For Our Common Home,” is his “favorite pope because he is the most environmental pope we’ve had.”
Through his business, the Gulf War veteran helps people make their homes and commercial buildings more weather tight and more energy efficient. “We make people more comfortable in their buildings and save them money on their heating and cooling costs,” he said.
This is done through energy audits and recommendations for making the buildings tighter and more energy efficient.
“It’s my faith that helps me temper my business decisions,” said Curtin who also is a landlord. “It’s my faith that helps me to put people first. My faith helps me to try to see how other people are living.”
Many people are taking care for the environment seriously, but, sadly, some cannot afford to make helpful changes to their buildings. For them, Curtin recommends seeking help from organizations like Efficiency Vermont. “Most people would do more but have limited budgets,” he said.
The married father of four children ages 9 to 16, Curtin also helps those in need by volunteering in the soup kitchen at St. Augustine Church, where he is a religious education teacher.
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., and 1999 graduate of the University of Lowell (Massachusetts) with a bachelor’s degree in industrial management, he said he enjoys doing the energy audits and making energy recommendations because it gives him “an awesome” way to help others.
“The more homes and commercial buildings are insulated and air sealed, the more it reduces consumption of fossil fuels and benefits the environment,” he said.
Weatherization and Renovation of Montpelier employs five people, including Curtin.
“He wouldn’t be involved in a business that didn’t help people. He wants to help them as individuals … and to be a better steward of the environment,” commented Jo Ann Gibbons, operations and finance director for Weatherization and Renovation of Montpelier who attends St. Augustine Church. “Everything he does is to help and care for everyone. That’s his nature. Being a steward of the environment in his work is a natural.”

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People's Climate March

Carrying banners and signs with quotes from Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si'," hundreds of Catholics joined the People's Climate March to call for moral and prayerful action to protect creation.
On a sweltering day that reinforced the message about the need to respond to climate change -- the 91-degree temperature at 3 p.m. April 29 tied a 43-year-old Washington record for the date -- many in the Catholic contingent said they had a moral obligation to witness in the streets.
"We march for our grandchildren. Stop global warming," read one sign propped up in the back of St. Dominic Church in Washington, where about 300 people gathered before the march for Mass celebrated by Dominican Father Hyacinth Marie Cordell, the parish's parochial vicar.
Underlying the messages on the signs and banners were people who shared a heartfelt concern to carry out Pope Francis' call in his 2015 encyclical to live responsibly with the planet, remember the needs of others around the world and to reduce consumption and energy usage for the sake of God's creation.
The 300 people at the Mass heard Father Cordell call for an "ecological conversion" during his homily. He said each person must act in any way possible to protect God's creation: reducing energy usage; limiting waste; choosing carpooling or biking and walking more; and buying less.
"We can learn increasingly to act not only with our own good and convenience in mind, but above all to think and choose according to what is best for all, especially for the poor and for future generations," he said. "This ecological conversion calls us to self-examination, to make an inventory of our lives and habits so that we can learn to be better stewards of our common home and its resources, which are meant for the good of all."
Sister Kathy Sherman, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph in LaGrange Park, Ill., was pleased to hear Father Cordell stress the encyclical's themes.
"I feel like I'm marching for the children, for the future," she told Catholic News Service. "Earth is getting bad for us. If we don't do something there's not going to be anything like we've known for the future generations, and it breaks my heart."
Along the march route on Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, Nancy Lorence, a member of St. Francis Xavier Parish in New York City, said personal actions are crucial if people of faith are going to make a difference.
"We feel like 'Laudato Si'' calls us to be in the streets, as Pope Francis says, and be active on the social justice issues and climate change," Lorence told CNS.
In Vermont, about 2,000 people gathered outside the Statehouse in Montpelier for the People's Climate Rally, one of 300 protests expected throughout the country.
  • Published in Nation

Rally for Life

More than 350 people marched from Montpelier City Hall to the Statehouse Jan. 21 for the annual Rally for Life, meeting other pro-life advocates there to continue their call for respect for all human life.
The event came the day after Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as 45th president of the United States, hours before the massive Women's March on Montpelier drew an estimated 15,000 participants and the day before the 44th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
The day’s events began with a pro-life Mass at St. Augustine Church in Montpelier celebrated by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne; following the march, life advocates gathered in the House chambers to listen to speeches against abortion and in favor of measures to respect the life of all humans from conception until natural death.
Jewels Green, a pro-life advocate and writer from Philadelphia and one of the featured speakers, said before the Mass that every state is important in the “fight for life.”
She said the “time is right in Vermont” to begin to make changes for life – not just the unborn but also for “Vermont elderly, infirmed and those vulnerable to pressure to assisted suicide.”
She told her Statehouse audience that she had an abortion at age 17, subsequently attempted suicide and spent more than five years working in an abortion clinic. But in 2010 she learned of a surrogate mother who was carrying a baby with Down syndrome, and the parents paid her contract and directed her to have an abortion.
“I knew fundamentally that was wrong,” she said. “If I could say that abortion was wrong, it finally clicked all abortion is wrong.”
Bishop Coyne – who opened the Statehouse gathering with a prayer – gave the homily at the Mass and walked in the march. At the church he prayed for the protection of all human life especially those most vulnerable.
“Sometimes in our society children are seen as something less than a gift, even as a burden,” he said. But “children and life are a gift, a gift of creation….All life is sacred. All life is from God, and we must protect it.”
Dr. Felix Callan of St. Andrew Church in Waterbury, who has been active in the pro-life movement since 1972, said he is more optimistic than in the past for an increase in respect for life. The election of Trump, who has said he is pro-life “could be an opportunity” for the pro-life cause to make strides nationally, he said.
Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington, said she was encouraged by the number of young people involved in the pro-life movement “who have not bought the idea that women’s rights include depriving life to the unborn.”
Regarding Trump, she said, “I have every reason to believe he will be true to his pro-life promises” which include appointing pro-life justices to the Supreme Court and defunding Planned Parenthood, a provider of abortions.
Sharon Iszak, who attends St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington, said she attended the prolife Mass because Mass “is the best way to begin every day.”
She believes the new president “will encourage a sincere respect for life.”
During the march after the Mass, people of all ages made their way up State Street. The messages on their signs included “Abortion stops a beating heart,” “Life,” “Face It. Abortion Kills,” “Abortion hurts women” and “Pray to end abortion.”
Several members of the clergy of the Diocese of Burlington participated in the march with people of various faith backgrounds.
  • Published in Diocesan

Montpelier meal ministry

“Your smiling faces let us know
That you care
And that’s rare
So we just want you to know
You are our
Unsung heroes, stirring soup in pots.
We just wanted to say,
“Hey, thanks a lot.”

The words from a “Soup Kitchen Appreciation Song” by Lauren Sales for the volunteers at the weekly midday meal at St. Augustine Church in Montpelier express the sentiments of the people who attend.
Like “Karen” (not her real name), who appreciates not only the nutritious meal but also the camaraderie.
It’s a social opportunity for the Montpelier woman who lives alone, and not having to pay for the meal is a godsend “since my money for food is gone on the seventh of the month, and then I am broke for the rest of the month,” she said.
St. Augustine’s is one of five Montpelier churches that hosts a meal, so a free meal is available Monday through Friday in the capital city.
What’s different about the meal at St. Augustine’s is that guests sit at tables in the parish hall, and their meal is served to them, no standing in line.
“It gives people dignity,” said volunteer Sue Walbridge, a parishioner of St. Augustine’s. “It gives them worth.”
When asked what she likes about the meal at the Catholic church, “Karen” was quick to say, “They wait on you.”
She doesn’t get to eat in restaurants often, so once a week, “it’s nice to sit down and have somebody bring [the meal] to you.”
On a recent Friday – St. Augustine’s day to serve the meal – sloppy Joes (and a vegetarian version) were on the menu along with coleslaw, rolls, crackers, desserts and beverages.
Cindy Ross of St. Augustine’s is one of the parishioners who waits tables. “I like to communicate with the people who come here,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite days. We help so many people.”
More than 80 people braved a cold, snowy, rainy day to attend one of the Friday meals; 75 is about average attendance.
Parishioners, businesses, non-profits and others support the ministry with both food and monetary donations.
Sometimes volunteers are concerned there will not be enough food for the meal – which began at least 30 years ago as a soup-and-sandwich meal, but “like a miracle” they never run out, said volunteer Bonnie Giuliani of St. Augustine’s.
She is one of nine regular volunteers who do everything from set up, to serve, to clean up; occasionally others join them. “Helping people is what Jesus would do,” said volunteer dishwasher Elliott Curtin, another St. Augustine parishioner.
And they have fun while they are helping others; they joke and laugh; and they share in the joys and challenges of one another’s lives.
But their focus at the meal is the people they serve. “This is one thing we can do that makes life a little bit better for people,” said Deb McCormick of St. Augustine’s.

A candle and prayers for legislators

A white candle burns in a red lamp just inside the front door of St. Augustine Church in Montpelier, a reminder to all who pass to pray for state legislators.
“One of the highest forms of charity is praying for people,” commented Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington, who attended the 8 a.m. Mass in the Capital City church Jan. 3 at which the candle was lit for the legislative session that began the following day. “As people of faith, we can pray for our government leaders in their important responsibilities.”
Such a candle has been burning at St. Augustine’s during legislative sessions for more than a dozen years.
Msgr. Peter Routhier, pastor of St. Augustine Parish, invited members of the congregation at the Mass to gather near the candle as he lit it and acknowledge their desire to pray for government officials so they will enact laws that protect life and promote “the common good.”
Next to the candle hangs a reminder of the candle’s purpose: “As you pass this lamp, offer a prayer for our state legislature. We, the parishioners of St. Augustine, who share this city with the men and women who gather here from across our beloved state to serve in the legislature, keep this candle burning while the state legislature is in session, as a sign of our ongoing prayer that the Holy Spirit may guide them in wisdom, knowledge, counsel, understanding, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.”
St. Paul encouraged Christians to pray for the Roman leaders “regardless of politics,” Lawson said. “We pray in the Our Father: ‘…Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’”
He said the prayers for the lawmakers can help to “build bridges and make them aware we are here to pray for them and that they are always welcome here” and to affirm the dignity of their work.
In the prayers before the lighting of the candle, Msgr. Routhier prayed that legislators would execute laws with justice and mercy and seek to restrain crime, vice and immorality. “Let the light of your divine wisdom direct the deliberations,” he continued, “and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government.”
After the Mass, St. Augustine parishioners Bill and Maureen Moore agreed that having the candle at the door as churchgoers go in and out is a good reminder to prayer for the legislators. “Most of the time people are screaming and yelling at them,” Mr. Moore said. “It’s good to pray for the wellbeing of everybody and … the needs of people.”
The legislators “need prayers too,” his wife said.
The week after the legislative opening, Lawson plans to coordinate the distribution of flyers to the more than 180 members of the legislature with a picture of the candle, indicating the prayers being said for them and their intentions.  The legislators will be invited to a Mass for them and their intentions on Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 8 a.m.  A light reception will follow.

Deacon/artist reveals 'vision of hope' in his work

MONTPELIER—An onion, houses, a butterscotch candy, a rabbi with the Torah, flowers.
These are all part of one work in a series of “spiritual bouquet” paintings done by Deacon Regis Cummings of St. Augustine Parish. “It’s an expression of (the Gospel of St.) Matthew (chapter) 25: When you share your life with somebody, it is a sacred thing,” he said.
His work is eclectic: some politically motivated works like a reaction to the 1998 murder of James Bird Jr. in Jasper, Texas; some interpretations of Bible stories like the Seventh Son in the Book of Maccabees; others inspired by Vermont scenes like a tree at the pond at Weston Priory.
His painting of a Montpelier scene was selected to be displayed on the submarine USS Montpelier when it was commissioned in 1993.
Most of his work is done in acrylic, some uses collage. It is influenced by his interpretation of Old and New Testament scriptures and by artists and authors.
“I consider myself to be a self-directed studio artist having developed over the past 40 years by studying other artists’ work, being especially influenced by the Impressionist painter Marc Chagall,” he said. “Chagall’s blending of the sacred in the ordinary and the sacredness of the ordinary of life spoke volumes to my understanding and reflection on the meaning and purpose of religion, myth, politics and art in the ordinary of life.”
Deacon Cummings traces his lifelong passion for art to elementary school. “If you couldn’t read well, they sent you to art (class),” he said with a laugh. He began painting seriously in the early 1960s.
Art is his voice. “I paint because I have to paint….Some people have to play the piano. It’s just who I am,” he said.
Over the years his work has changed from a focus on landscapes and portrait work to more of a spiritual reflection on different events or works.
For example, one book that has influenced his art is “The Brothers Karamazov” by Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In one chapter, an onion is, for Deacon Cummings, an image of salvation, so it has become a significant part of his paintings.
Jesuit Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his “notion of the cosmic Christ” also inform the deacon’s work, as does Meister Eckhart’s notion of God as “green and flowering” to represent new life and new beginnings.
“Those are common, current themes,” Deacon Cummings said of his work.
The father of four and grandfather of six, Deacon Cummings is married to Vermont State Sen. Ann Cummings, a former mayor of Montpelier. He works as a roofing consultant for a commercial and industrial roofing company.
He has lived in Montpelier since 1975 and was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 1982. As a deacon, he preaches, visits the sick and those in nursing homes, teaches Christian meditation, directs the parish Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program, counsels and offers spiritual direction. He also works with cancer support groups.
In the past he has lead prayer and Bible study groups, served as president of the local clergy association and coordinated seminars.
For Deacon Cummings, painting is a prayerful experience. He usually paints for an hour or two a day in his basement studio with about 10 paintings in the works simultaneously; some take a couple of years to complete.
He gives some of his paintings to charities for fundraisers, gifts some and has a collection of his own.
He acknowledges the “patient endurance” of his wife and family for “putting up with” him as an artist.
Summing up his work, Deacon Cummings said: “I hope my art reveals a vision of hope.”

Author's note: If you're wondering why he included the butterscotch candy in a painting, it was an acknowledgment of a man in a nursing home who showed him kindness by offering him candy.
  • Published in Parish

Annual Rally for Life

The annual Rally for Life will take place in Montpelier on Sat., Jan. 16, sponsored by the Vermont Right to Life Committee.

The theme will be "Standing Together – Defending Life."

At 9:30 a.m. there will be a Respect Life Mass celebrated by Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne at St. Augustine Church.

Then, at 10:45 a.m., people will gather behind City Hall and prepare to proceed down State Street to the Statehouse.

Signs will be provided.

At 11:30 a.m. keynoter Sarah Mary Toce will speak in the House Chambers.

Toce, of Louisiana, was instrumental as the leader of numerous successful outreach seminars for young people in her home state. She is currently pursuing her master of divinity degree at Boston College. She has been named the New England Life and Leadership Project director, and in this new capacity is collaborating with various National Right to Life affiliates in the New England area to foster more youth education and training initiatives in this area of the country. 

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