Walter Gregory Brennan was born in Oakland, California (U.S.A.) on September 13, 1927, and was baptized on September 25. He graduated from a high school run by the La Salle Christian Brothers. Then on September 1, 1945, soon to become 18 years of age, he entered the Society of Jesus at the California Province novitiate in Los Gatos. His father owned a huge “Brennan’s Restaurant” in Oakland, which was a favorite stop for truckers. He was not favorable to his son entering the Jesuits and it is said that, when Jesuits stopped by, he would imply or actually say “I hope you don’t expect a free meal.”
After first vows Walter did his first collegiate (juniorate) studies at Los Gatos (1947~49) and then went to Spring Hill College in Alabama for the study of philosophy (1949~52). Young Jesuits aspiring to a science major went to Spring Hill in order to pursue studies in science while occupied with the philosophy program. There Walter obtained a Bachelor of Science in chemistry, with a minor in biology.
The next phase of his formation was the usual 3 years of “regency” (1952~55), which for most young American Jesuits meant teaching in high school. His first 2 years were spent at Loyola High School in Los Angeles and the 3rd year at St Ignatius High School in San Francisco. This was the beginning of a long career devoted to teaching chemistry.
Meanwhile he had answered the California Provincial’s call for volunteers for the “California Hiroshima Project,” which was soon to issue in the founding of Hiroshima Gakuin. He arrived in Japan on June 13, 1955, age 27. Immediately after his 2 years of language school (1955~57) and since he had already done his regency, he went on to the study of theology in Kamishakujii, Tokyo (1957~61). He was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Doi in St Ignatius Church, Tokyo, on March 18, 1960. Tertianship was made in Manila under the direction of Fr Charles McCarthy (1961~62). On returning to Japan from tertianship, he joined the staff of Hiroshima Gakuin, but in autumn of that year went to St Louis, U.S.A., to get a Master’s degree in chemistry at Washington University (1963). It was while he was in St Louis that he pronounced his final vows on February 2, 1963.
Returning to Japan in June of 1963, he taught chemistry at Hiroshima Gakuin and continued to do so until 1981. His classes involved the students actively through various experiments. He also became head prefect of some 200 boarders (1976~81) and was quite skilled at getting vegetables to grow in the dormitory garden, though some of the boarders were not so enthusiastic about helping with this work. He was a valuable presence at the summer mountain camps. He also related well with the families of the students he accompanied through their years at the school, often enough even to baptism.
In April of 1981 he was appointed Superior of the Eiko Gakuen Community in Kamakura (Ofuna) and in the following year succeeded the durable Fr Gustav Voss as Chairman of the School Board. Fr Voss, founder of the school, had been Chairman for 30 years. It was a hard act to follow but Walter rose to the challenge and recovered the losses that had been previously incurred from bad investments. He also took on the thankless tasks of adjusting teachers’ salaries to the prefectural norm and phasing out the teachers’ apartments on one corner of the campus.
During time off from the classroom and the office, he was at the vanguard of ecological action, gathering a group of volunteer fathers of the students to work together on Sundays and holidays at beautifying the grounds. This group was dubbed “Green Power.” But Walter’s sense of beauty came into question in 1986, when the red tiles were removed from the outer walls of the buildings (they had been falling off) and the walls were painted a cheerless battleship gray.
In February of 1982 he was granted Japanese citizenship and took the name Kozaki Jiro—Kozaki in honor of the young St Thomas Kozaki, one of the 26 Japanese martyrs of 1597, and Jiro, meaning “second son,” because he was the second son of the Brennan family.
On finishing his 6-year term as Superior in 1987, he moved to Fukuoka to teach at Taisei High School (the present Sophia Fukuoka) for 2 years. One day while out walking in Fukuoka, he was asked to show his alien registration card. On saying that he was a Japanese citizen, he was ushered to a police box to get his authenticity verified.
In 1989 he moved to Hiroshima as Assistant Pastor of Gion parish and responded to an invitation to teach science in Elisabeth University of Music in Hiroshima. Here his imagination came up with a practical means of teaching chemistry to women students of music by focusing on the chemistry involved in foods and cooking. Thanks perhaps to the restaurant DNA inherited from his father, Walter was always in his element in the kitchen. The aromas wafting from his classes in Elisabeth surely helped pique interest in his subject.
However, the pastoral ministry at Gion and the “chemistry” classes at Elisabeth had to give way to more weighty work, because in 1990 he became Chairman of the Elisabeth University School Corporation and moved to the Noboricho Community at the University. Then in 1992 he also became Superior of the Community. After finishing his term in 1998, he moved to Nagatsuka (the former novitiate) but continued as Chairman of Elisabeth. It is worth noting that, despite being a septuagenarian, he most often walked to work from Nagatsuka to Noboricho, some 6 km away.
He had come to savvy how to make advantageous investments, and, despite one heavy setback along the way, gave Elisabeth the solid financial grounding which has endured to this day, 13 years after he left the post in 2005. He foresaw the dwindling number of youth in Japan and opened the doors to students from abroad. On the occasion of departing Elisabeth he was awarded an honorary Doctorate.
His next posting was to the Yamaguchi-Shimane District, where he was responsible for Hosoe parish in Shimonoseki and saw to the finances of the District. He greatly loved pastoral ministry. In 2009 he became pastor of Hofu parish. Here too he did his own gardening and often enough his own cooking until he fell victim to a stroke in the residence and had to be hospitalized for a number of months.
On being released from hospital in January 2017, he took up residence in a retirement home near Nagatsuka called “Mikokoro no Ie” (Sacred Heart Home). Though occasionally getting lost when out on a walk, he was deemed able to move to SJ House in Tokyo in February 2018, where he could help with confessions in St Ignatius Church. This seemed to start well, but he sometimes fell asleep in the confessional, and after some 3 months it became obvious that he was failing further both mentally and physically. He moved to the 24-hour care center, Loyola House, in May but was mostly bedridden. His liver had weakened and he lost his appetite.
He finally surrendered himself quietly to the Lord just after noon on June 11. Cause of death was liver failure. He was 90 years old and had been a Jesuit for 72 years.
May he rest in peace.
by Robert Chiesa, SJ