Michael Brennan: a year in review


Photo Courtesy of Mater Dei High School

NEW FACE OF MATER DEI: Michael Brennan was announced the new president of Mater Dei High School on Jan. 7, 2022. After long-time president Patrick Murphy retired, the position was held by Father Steve Sallot before Father Walter Jenkins was hired. After Jenkins returned to Notre Dame for a special assignment, Brennan applied for and received the position and has now been part of the Mater Dei community for over a year.

Lilly Ashworth, Editor-in-Chief

Michael Brennan officially took office as president of Mater Dei High School on Feb. 1, 2022. The position was filled following Father Walter Jenkins’ leave at the end of the first semester of the 2021-2022 academic year. Brennan has been in the role for more than a year now, and continues to make an impact on the Mater Dei community.
Despite having started his new role in the middle of a school year, Brennan received a warm welcome from a campus he already knew a lot about. Brennan worked as Trinity League President, having a close working relationship with Principal Frances Clare and other members of administration, and even served on an accreditation committee six years ago.
“It was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be because the campus is so warm and welcoming,” Brennan said. “The student body has been incredibly fantastic with me, and I’m really grateful.”
Brennan made his first formal address to the entire student body during the first all-school Mass of the school year in late February 2022. Having previously served as president of Servite High School, a known rival school, Brennan was unsure about the way he would be received by the students.
“I wanted to deliver a message that I loved being at the school,” Brennan said. “I wanted the student body to know that I loved and cared about them, and that everything we were going to do on campus was not because it’s in the best interest of me, but it’s in the best interest of you.”
Making sure the student body was well-cared for was a top priority for Brennan during his first year; however, this wouldn’t come without discipline. Stricter enforcement on the dress code and attention to student behavior are just two examples of the ways in which Brennan set out to help Mater Dei elevate to the highest potential.
“If you take really good care of the student body, [you] hold them accountable for what it means to be a Monarch,” Brennan said. “If you get a Mater Dei diploma, you know that you’ve gone through Campus Ministry, faith formation, personal formation, academics, and then some type of performing art or athletics or journalism. Not everybody can do all of that, so this diploma means something.”
Monarch character is a common phrase used to describe the expectations of students on campus. According to Brennan, it goes hand-in-hand with the mantra of honor, glory, and love that most students have heard countless of times.
“To be a Monarch means that you’re going to live a life where you honor God, yourself, and others,” Brennan said. “You give glory to God, but you [also] give glory to other people. You’re humble and loving and kind.”
The principles of honor, glory, and love extend to all members of the Mater Dei community, not just its students. Brennan turns towards the mantra as a way to hold himself accountable and make sure every decision he makes is a reflection of the philosophy.
“The president and principal of the school have to live a life of honor, glory, and love too,” Brennan said. “It pushes you to a higher level [and] makes your faith deeper. If I’m expecting it from others, I make sure that I’m modeling it too.”
Brennan emphasizes the communal effort it takes to create an honorable and loving campus. Coming back from COVID-19, many procedures and expectations were lost due to the demanding nature of in-person schooling during a pandemic. During his first year, Brennan hoped to return students back to what it means to be a Monarch.
“It’s a team effort,” Brennan said. “We’re really blessed with a wonderful principal, a lot of great people on our leadership team, great teachers, and great kids and donors. I can’t say it’s just me.”

ALL SMILES President Michael Brennan and religion teacher Ben De Los Reyes, recent recipient of the Teacher of the Year Award from the Diocese of Orange, smile for a camera during the Catholic Schools’ Week Mass. The Mass was celebrated almost one year after Brennan took office, and Brennan’s welcoming presence in the Mater Dei community was shown as he posed for the photo. (Aidan Halderman )

Going into his second year at Mater Dei, Brennan remains committed to raising the bar for Mater Dei, pushing the school to be better and better. The formation of students as they transition from young teens to young adults is the goal of Mater Dei.
“We’re going to continue to pursue [the return to Monarch character],” Brennan said. “I always put an informational emphasis on doing everything we can to intentionally form the students. The mission of the school is to use everything we have on campus as a vehicle for your student experience.”
The many resources and extracurriculars that Mater Dei students can access make it easier for a well-rounded student to emerge after four years. During Brennan’s previous years teaching and administering, this hasn’t always been the case.
“I started my career at Anaheim High School, [and] worked with lower socioeconomic students,” Brennan said. “I learned how to work with students who are struggling, but if I gave the students 50 percent effort, they gave me one hundred percent.”
Moving from school to school, Brennan picked up the knowledge to work with a diverse group of students. After working at Servite High School for 15 years, Brennan combined his knowledge from working at public schools with biblical principles he wanted students to aspire to.
“The diversity of Mater Dei is the most beautiful aspect of the school,” Brennan said. “I take all [of my] experiences with me, [which] helps me deal with the diversity of the school. Mater Dei is a warm and welcoming school and everybody who works here really loves the kids. It’s a great community.”
After his time at Servite, Brennan worked at St. Anthony’s for six months before receiving the job as president of Mater Dei. Although leaving one school after a short period of time was not ideal for Brennan, he believed that his new position was a sign from God, telling him he could create more impact somewhere else.
“It was a calling,” Brennan said. “When Mater Dei does well, it’s like a pebble in a swimming pool. It reverberates and helps everybody else do well. Once you go through the community, you’re part of this community for the rest of your life. Mater Dei will always be embedded in you.”