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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.

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.
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