When Michael Brennan steps onto the Mater Dei High School campus on Feb. 1, he not only starts a new job, but also a new challenge, as the 72-year-old school undergoes an independent safety assessment by an outside law firm.
“I will begin by spending time listening and learning before collegially determining next steps, said Brennan.
“I’m mission-driven,” he added. “The mission of [Mater Dei] has been — and will always be — to form young people into Monarchs by teaching each student the principles of Honor, Glory and Love.” In announcing his appointment on Jan. 7, Dr. Erin Barisano, superintendent of OC Catholic Schools, said, “We are very pleased that Mike has returned to us here in Orange County, where we know he will continue the legacy of excellence at Mater Dei, just as he did at Servite.”
Born and raised in Anaheim, Brennan went to Chapman College (now Chapman University) on a basketball scholarship and was studying sports medicine when his professor and mentor, Monte Smith, suggested that he consider being a teacher.
“I loved the idea of being able to work with young people – not just in athletics, but to help them grow academically,” said Brennan. “My first teaching job at Anaheim High was exactly that mix as I taught science and served as their athletic trainer and strength coach.”
It was at his next campus, Anaheim’s Western High School, that he made a profound personal decision that ultimately opened a new career path as well. While serving as an assistant principal at Western, Brennan began the process of becoming Catholic. While he was raised in a Protestant and Catholic household, his extended family members also practiced Judaism.
“I felt a calling to become Catholic and join the Catholic Church,” Brennan said. “My father was born and raised Catholic. My mother, brother and sister had already joined the Church. My family and closest friends were excited. Everyone supported my decision. As I went through the RCIA process, not only did it deepen my Catholic Christian faith, but I found a welcoming and new community in the Church.”
Later, when Brennan learned of the principal opening at Servite High School, he saw an opportunity to serve his Catholic faith as well as utilize academics and extracurricular activities to form students into the people God has created them to be.
“I was new to the Church and was worried that I did not have enough Catholic experience,” he said. “A close friend and Servite graduate, Jack Bauerle convinced me to apply for the position at Servite. I had only been in the public school system and had not considered Catholic school until I was encouraged to do so. Moving from public to Catholic
education has been a great blessing.”
Brennan led Servite for 15 years. During this time, he also took on the role as president of Trinity League and, due to his high school sports background, experience and positive relationship with many school leaders, was named chairperson for CIF Southern Section Orange County League Placement.
Roxanne Barrera, the executive administrative assistant at Servite, worked with Brennan during his tenure there. She said during their time working together, Brennan demonstrated himself to be a faith-filled leader who had a lot of compassion for his students.
“He is honest and believes in every student,” she said. “He’s a very sincere individual and a huge motivator.”
Barrera said Brennan’s strong faith, positive attitude and belief in students and staff alike, make him a stand-out educator and administrator.
“He just has so many good qualities and I wish him the best,” she said.
When he left Servite to join St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, Servite President Randall Adams credited Brennan with modeling and instilling “desire, dedication, discipline and determination” in its student body. He also noted that he played a pivotal role in developing Servite’s formation and academic programs as well as helping the school achieve its status as a sports powerhouse in the Trinity League and California.
It was during his time as president of St. Anthony’s, when the call from Mater Dei came.
The prominence of Mater Dei’s athletic program, his own athletic experience (both personally and at Servite), all made Brennan uniquely qualified for his new role. However, he believes that it was his collegial and mission-driven when work creating Servite’s formation program that had the biggest influence on him being selected as Mater Dei’s next president.
It’s Brennan’s understanding of how to lead Mater Dei by its core principles — and his experience of weaving these principles into every facet of faith formation, academics,
arts, service and extracurricular activities — that has Mater Dei administration excited for his arrival.
“Mike’s focus on mission, Catholic identity and formation of the whole person will lead the Mater Dei community to live out their tradition of Honor, Glory and Love,” Superintendent Barisano said.
“I am deeply humbled and grateful to have been selected for this position,” Brennan added. “I have always had a great respect for the entire Mater Dei community. I look forward to developing life-long friendships and collaboratively working to help Mater Dei become the best version of itself.”