St. Brendan's Memories: The First Twenty-Five Years:
1987 - 2012
Two weeks into the job, Cat told a reporter, “The congregation was very clear that what they hope to achieve is many more programs and a much larger parish. They’re ready to do ministries; they’re excited about being a church.” She said her vision for Saint Brendan’s is “one where all people are welcomed and celebrated, that has a strong, supporting youth program and that is a joyful witness to God’s love.”
Toward that end, the parish revved up its capital campaign to expand the size of Saint Brendan’s building and Cat inaugurated the use of the Episcopal Church’s Journey to Adulthood, or J2A, as the official youth program of the parish. Young parishioners began at age 13 in Rite 13, the program’s two-year entry-level component, then moved into J2A, the next two-year period which culminates in a pilgrimage of service, camaraderie, knowing God and discovering self. Car washes, hoagie sales, Super Bowl chili and pancake breakfasts became fundraising rituals for Saint Brendan’s youth and the pilgrimages that would take them to the Black Hills of South Dakota, the concrete canyons of New York and the cobblestone streets of Italy, among other places.
Saint Brendan’s expansion would prove a costlier undertaking. With the sanctuary crowded on Sundays and new neighborhoods popping up nearby, the congregation sought to triple the size of the church and create a new sanctuary, chapel, classrooms, a youth room, a music room and new offices. Cost of the new building was projected at $1.3 million, Ralph Alster returned as architect and Mistick Construction was the builder. Ground was broken on Sept. 5, 2001. Less than a week later the national tragedy of 9/11 struck.
Construction on the building proceeded through winter, while in March a crew of parishioners traveled to Saint Luke’s Chapel in New York City to support the Ground Zero recovery effort. Saint Brendan’s volunteers cooked, served food, handed out supplies and offered encouragement to firefighters, police and others who were still trying to retrieve, six months later, the remains of victims of the twin towers’ collapse.
In September 2002, with 240 members, the new 300-seat, two-level Saint Brendan’s was consecrated. The former sanctuary space became the parish’s new fellowship hall. “This house of God has been built for all people,” Cat said. “Like Saint Brendan sailing to a distant shore, our new church gives us a chance to expand our reach and service.” New ministries were begun, such as the Green Thumb Gang (to care for the church grounds), Second Saturday Suppers (to give members more social time), Circle of Women (to provide a spiritual and social connection), English as a Second Language (to acclimate immigrant neighbors), Brendan’s Mates (to engage children in community service) and Miryam’s (to cook meals for homeless women). Despite the parish’s growth and new ministries, a diocesan division was building and about to affect Saint Brendan’s.
With controversy brewing in parts of the Episcopal Church over the proper role of women and gays, a majority of deputies to Pittsburgh’s diocesan convention in November 2002 passed Resolution 1, promoted by Bishop Robert Duncan. It ensured that the diocese not use gender-neutral language in the liturgy, not permit priests to bless same-sex unions and not accept canons that were at variance with the worldwide (and more conservative) Anglican Communion. The historic vote, which made the split in the diocese official, was 72-14 by clergy deputies and 119-49 by lay deputies.
“Nobody joins the church to go to war,” Cat said of the decision to reject Bishop Duncan. “We decided we didn’t want to be in a war anymore. We want to get on with the ministry of the church. We know who we are as Episcopalians.”
A majority of Pittsburgh’s parishes left the Episcopal Church in 2008, and a court battle ensued over which faction owned the diocesan property -- the one that broke away or the one that stayed with the national church. (The court later ruled in favor of the Episcopalians.) That same year Cat accepted a call to lead a parish in Massachusetts.
“I find it really hurtful that there are people all over the church who think it’s OK to render other people invisible,” Cat said at the time. The following year, Gene Robinson, a priest who was gay, was elected bishop of New Hampshire, further fanning the flames of division in some corners of the Episcopal Church. Although Bishop Duncan was about to pull a majority of Pittsburgh’s parishes out, Saint Brendan’s knew its allegiance and its future was with the national church. The vestry voted in 2003 that the parish would not follow any diocesan canon that would conflict with a canon of the national church. In early 2005, after two months of discussion, including two meetings with the congregation and a session with Bishop Duncan, Saint Brendan’s Vestry voted to seek DEPO, Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. Duncan approved the request, and in April the parish came under the pastoral care of Bishop W. Mike Klusmeyer of West Virginia.
A search committee was formed at Saint Brendan’s to select a new priest while The Rev. David Barnhouse served as interim priest. After a search, Rev. Catherine Munz of Royal Oak, Mich., was called to be Saint Brendan’s next rector. She began her service in January 1998, when the church had 190 communicants, 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Sunday services, a 7:30 p.m. Wednesday service and a 6:45 a.m. Friday service.