Reached by phone Saturday, Joseph T. “Jay” Brennan, who retired abruptly Wednesday as principal of Bishop Hendricken High School, chose not to elaborate on a statement released Friday to the school’s alumni and the Hendricken community.
In the statement Brennan asks “for forgiveness for my words which were hurtful, ignorant and contrary to every Christian belief.”
Brennan ended his 40-year career at the school, of which he is also an alumni, after a six-second video was released to Channel 12 and the NAACP on Wednesday. In the clip Brennan uses derogatory words to describe black people and Jews.
The source of the video was not released. The news station labeled it anonymous. The clip offers no context to Brennan’s remarks. He appears to be in his school office and presents the words in a joking manner, smiling after their delivery.
But no matter the context in which the words were said, there was no tolerance for them on the part of the school or Bishop of the Providence Diocese Thomas J. Tobin.
School President John Jackson, who will serve as interim principal in addition to president, said in an interview Friday that Brennan had no recollection of his remarks and that the video, which was apparently made without his knowledge, could have been taken “a year or even six years ago.” Jackson said Brennan did not deny saying what was on the video.
Jackson said Brennan’s “legacy can’t be defined by a six-second video.” If anything, Brennan is admired for seeking to make the school inclusionary. During his tenure, the enrollment of black and non-Catholics grew and the school started the “Options Program” that has integrated special needs students into the school, pairing them with students who serve as their mentors.
Two years ago Brennan was honored at the White House during National Teacher Appreciation Day as a “great educator.” He was selected from 33 nominations submitted by the Council for American Private Education. He was nominated by Daniel Ferris, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Providence.
In his nomination Ferris said, “Mr. Brennan knows all 900 students by name and something about each of them. They know he is their advocate and best support.”
In an interview at the time, Brennan said his experience as not only a Hendricken teacher but also coach and guidance counselor has led him to have a unique ability of understanding students, faculty and parents alike as principal.
In the statement released Friday, Brennan writes, “I love all the Hendricken students and tried to show that every day when I entered the school. I would never intend to hurt any of our young men, of any race, color or creed. I am so sorry for the hurt for which I am responsible. I wish there was a way that you could know that in my heart, I am not a racist, I am not an anti-Semite and that I truly care for each member of the Hendricken community.”
In a statement released by the diocese, Bishop Tobin said, “The incident seems completely out of character for a good man who has the reputation of being a fine Christian gentleman and an exemplary Catholic educator. Nonetheless, the administration of the school has taken the incident very seriously and has responded quickly and appropriately.
“Racism is a sin, a grave sin, and expressions of racism will simply not be tolerated by any employee of the Diocese of Providence, its agencies or institutions. On behalf of the Diocese of Providence, I sincerely apologize to any group or individuals who have been offended – and rightly so – by the language which appears on the video.”
In spite of Brennan’s immediate retirement and response by the school administration and the diocese, a group of about 40 students of color rallied Thursday morning in protest of what Brennan said in the video. Jackson said he addressed both the students and faculty in meetings that day.
In his statement Brennan said he failed “to display the example a leader needs to show” and asks for forgiveness.
“My heart is broken that I have caused division, controversy and anger,” the statement reads. “For my entire career, I have tried to bring people together, and in a few seconds of terrible use of words I have created hatred and anger. Everything I have written is from my heart and the truth.”