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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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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.

Vermont Catholic parishes actively involved in social justice ministries

Mindful of the words of the Lord: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”(Jn 13:35), Christians can yearn for nothing more ardently than to serve the people of this age successfully with increasing generosity. Holding loyally to the Gospel, enriched by its resource, and joining forces with all who love and practice justice, they have shouldered a weighty task here on earth and they must render an account of it to him who will judge all people on the last day.
--"Gaudium et Spes" (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965 #93

A recent survey of parish social justice activities reveals that Vermont Catholics are serving others with untold generosity.  There are 73 parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington and more than 100 active churches.
From visiting the sick and imprisoned, to assisting the homeless to feeding the hungry, the people of Vermont parishes are contributing thousands upon thousands of dollars in volunteer services to people in need throughout the state. 
Based on the survey, 96 percent of responding parishes participate in feeding the hungry either by donations to a local food shelf, managing their own food pantry, serving meals at the parish hall or food drives. Most parishes support multiple ministries: 89 percent poverty; 83 percent illness/infirm; 66 percent homeless; 30 prison and 29 percent other. Parishes support and partner with more than 155 organizations throughout Vermont to volunteer, donate goods and money.

Father Yvon Royer, pastor of St. Peter Church in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Church in Bristol, said the various ministries parishes offer help people in the larger community “to know God’s love through the acts of our parishioners.”
Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Morrisville, Johnson, Hyde Park and Eden reaches out to persons in need through its SAM – Social Action Ministry – program, which provides assistance with things like rent, utilities, gasoline, food and phone minutes. Spiritual guidance is available also.
“We try to give them hope,” Mary Elfer said of those who seek assistance from the parish.
She is the parish ministries coordinator and considers assisting others as integral to her faith. “We are to follow the Gospel and practice our faith through works of love toward our neighbor,” she said. “Christ told us to help each other. We are supposed to take to heart those in need.”
The parish also works with local service agencies to meet needs.
Ted and Kathy Barrett of St. Jude Church in Hinesburg coordinate the twice-monthly senior meal hosted by the parish in partnership with Age Well, an agency that advocates for the aging population of northwestern Vermont.
Motivated by their faith and their desire to help others, they have been involved in the meals for about 10 years. “The seniors need a place to get out and meet other seniors,” Mr. Barrett said.
“We enjoy doing it, and they enjoy the camaraderie, the friendship,” Mrs. Barrett added.
The meal program serves about 20 meals at each dinner, and volunteers include parishioners and community members.
In addition to a free bingo game, “there is a lot of chatting, telling stories and reminiscing,” Mrs. Barrett said.
Many parishes are involved in providing gifts to persons in need at Christmas. At St. Thomas Parish in Underhill Center, for example, a food project provides about six to 10 families with food and fruit boxes/baskets that include a ham or turkey and a gift card for additional needed items.
“God calls us to love our neighbor,” said Laura Wells, coordinator of religious education and coordinator of the Christmas food and fruit boxes/baskets. “When we open our heart to Christ…we are happy and … want to serve our neighbor.”
The parish collects food all year for people in need, but during Advent, the collection is used specifically for the food and fruit project.
“People are so good” about helping others in need, Wells said, noting that the Christmas food project is but one of the social justice works in the parish.
One of the important social justice ministries at St. Michael Parish in Brattleboro is St. Brigid’s Kitchen and Pantry. Healthy noontime meals are served four days a week, and a food pantry helps those who need food to take home. About 17,000 meals a year are served there.
St. Brigid’s is nearly 35 years old, and throughout the years faith has motivated many of its volunteers. “We are compelled to care for the poor because God demands it,” said Volunteer Coordinator Carolyn Pieciak.
But it is important to point out that as much as varied parish charitable works assist people in need, they also give volunteers a broad selection of ways to “give back” or to live out their faith.
“The old adage that ‘it is in giving that receive’ is made very true through the opportunity to share of one’s self through these different ministries,” Father Royer said.
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
-- Mt 25:34-40

  • Published in Diocesan

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

Pro-life Vermonters mark anniversary of abortion legalization with Mass, rally

Supporters of the sanctity of all human life endured snow and freezing temperatures to march from Montpelier's City Hall to the Vermont Statehouse Jan. 16 for the annual right to life rally, this year commemorating the 43rd anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing abortion.

About 100 people began the day's activities with Mass at St. Augustine Church, a short distance from the city hall in downtown Montpelier. Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne was the main celebrant and homilist.

Those who support life are misunderstood in a culture of waste and death, he said, adding that more and more people are coming to understand that abortion is the killing of a human life. "And more young people are pro-life," he said.

Among those attending the Mass was Corine Carpenter, 11, a parishioner of Mater Dei Parish in Newport. This was her first right to life rally, and she said she wanted to be part of it because it is a good cause. "We are the next generation, and I hope more people will be pro-life," she said. "I hope laws are passed soon to protect (all) life."

Maeve Bathalon, 12, a seventh-grader at St. Paul School in Barton and parishioner of Mater Dei Parish, said every child has the right to be born, a right given by Jesus.

The two girls are members of Teens for Life.

Another member, Chrisana Morris, 18, of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Barton, has five sisters also involved in the pro-life teen organization. She said it's important for teens to be involved in the movement because "people listen to them … people are attracted to our energy."

The message she wants to impart is that all life in precious, "no matter how strong or weak, young or old."

The emcee of the Statehouse meeting was Joanna Turner Bisceglio of Blessed Sacrament Church in Stowe. "This is the prolife generation. Amen!" she said.

She offered statistics that pro-life Vermonters found encouraging: 85 percent of Americans oppose abortion after three months, and 58 percent think abortion should be illegal in most circumstances.

Yet more than 58 million abortions have taken place in the United States since Roe v. Wade.

Following a personal testimony from a woman who had two abortions, keynote speaker Sarah Mary Toce of Louisiana gave the keynote address for the Rally for Life in the House Chambers. She was instrumental as the leader of numerous successful outreach seminars for young people in her home state.

The New England Life and Leadership project director, she 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.

While in Vermont she met with students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington and with priests of the diocese.

"We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to bring her here to speak to Catholic teens. She made a very positive impression on the priests at our in-service, and we've already received several requests for her to speak as a result," noted Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.

"I also was encouraged by Sarah Mary Toce's presentation on pro-life education for our youth. Youth had a big impact on the Civil Rights marches in the South during the '60s, youth can have a big impact on the protecting unborn life," said Father Luke Austin, pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary-St. Louis Parish in Swanton and Highgate Center.

In her talk at the Statehouse, Toce emphasized that the pro-life movement is a "logical and a reasonable one," and said that while abortion provider Planned Parenthood presents itself as giving hope to women with unwanted pregnancies, "they are actually soliciting murder."

Throughout the 43 years since abortion has been legal, respect life proponents have "gotten angry and rightfully so," but she emphasized that such anger not be directed at women and abortion providers.

She called for members of the pro-life movement to work to alleviate suffering and poverty, two reasons some women feel trapped into having an abortion. "We go the long haul" with women, she said. "Planned Parenthood is not in it for the long haul but we are."

Toce said that to resolve suffering, "don't get rid of the suffering (people)" but learn to listen to their needs and try to address them.

She said that abortion supporters have claimed that legalized abortion would make life better for women, but after 43 years women are still being raped, still feeling ashamed when pregnant out of wedlock and still going hungry. "It has not worked" to improve the lives of women. "We can do better than abortion."

Calling abortion "nothing short of a human rights issue," she said she believes that one day children will ask their parents and grandparents, "How did America allow abortion to be legal?"

Her confidence in the current generation of young people is so great, she said it will be their generation that will overturn Roe v. Wade. "We're going to make it happen," she declared.

Paul Niekrewicz, a Knight of Columbus from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Williston, attended the pro-life Mass with two of his six children. He said it is important that they "know the truth about the disrespect for human life in our culture," and he hopes that with that knowledge they will be involved in witnessing to the truth and stand up for life.

Some people have been participating in the Rally for Life for years, and Father Michael Augustinowitz, pastor of St. Augustine Church, said it's important to keep rallying to make people aware of the need to change the current culture of death.

"That's what we still hope to do, and it's not just the unborn … certainly we are concerned about everybody," he said, encouraging an emphasis on the "importance of life over death."
  • Published in Diocesan
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