6 April 2011
Monsignor Charles Drennan is looking forward to taking up the position of coadjutor bishop of Palmerston North in June but at the moment his mind and heart are very much rooted in quake-stricken Christchurch.
For the past 18 months, Msgr Drennan has been administrator at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Barbadoes St as well as parish priest of St Anne’s, Woolston. The 100-year-old basilica lost its two towers in the 6.3 magnitude quake on February 22 and the cupola is soon to be removed because of its precarious lean.
He told Kim Hill in a National Radio interview on March 5 that the screams of the children at the nearby school when the earthquake struck at nine minutes to one will stay with him for a long time.
He and three other priests were having lunch when the violent shaking started and they dived under the table from where one of them watched the towers fall from the cathedral.
Msgr Drennan grew up in Christchurch with an Anglican father and Catholic mother, attending a variety of schools including St Teresa’s in Riccarton, Kirkwood Intermediate and the Anglican secondary school, Christ’s College.
The possibility of priesthood was ‘always there’ particularly after a teacher introduced the nine-year-old to Dr Tom Dooley’s book Promises to Keep about the Vietnam War and he became impressed with the notion of service.
While in India after finishing university and having taught for a couple of years he volunteered at the Ryder-Cheshire Foundation’s home for physically and intellectually impaired and lepers and children of lepers and in a hospital for tuberculosis patients.
‘It was there that I made the decision to apply [to enter the seminary] when I returned to New Zealand.’
After one year at Holy Name Seminary in Christchurch, Msgr Drennan went to Propaganda College in Rome to finish his priestly studies. After ordination and some parish work he returned to Rome for post-graduate studies.
He later taught at Good Shepherd College in Auckland, from where he was invited to work in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
This is an umbrella department which supervises the work of all the Vatican departments.
‘It is the primary seat of the church’s efforts in diplomacy.’ It is also the secretariat of the pope so it undertakes preparing speeches for the pope ‘and it would be the primary avenue through which he is briefed about affairs both of state and the Church’.
Msgr Drennan says the seven years he was working there covered the final years of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.
He says he learned of his appointment to the Vatican job when he returned a call from the then bishop of Christchurch, Bishop John Cunneen, who relayed a message from the apostolic nuncio.
‘I asked him what the work entailed and he replied, “No idea”!’
It was ‘intense, finely focused and hugely stimulating. I met some wonderful people there – priests and lay, working in the Vatican.’
Image: Msgr Charles Drennan in Rome.