The Rev. Patrick Brennan led Holy Family Parish in Inverness for 15 years, growing the congregation by more than 1,000 families and leading a building campaign that tripled the size of the campus and included adding a parish school.
Parishioners loved him so much that even after his second term as pastor was extended, they lobbied Cardinal Francis George for him to stay longer.
Brennan wound up leaving, but his leadership continues to resonate with parish families, who gather in the Brennan Center for Youth, Children and Families, which opened in 2008.
Brennan died Saturday at the age of 66.
The Rev. Terry Keehan took over as pastor at Holy Family in 2009, but he had worked with Brennan at the Archdiocese of Chicago's Pastoral Center, where Brennan served as the director of evangelization and parish renewal from 1980 to 1993.
"His passion for evangelization fueled the growth of the parish," Keehan said. "He reached out to the unchurched, as well as people who had been alienated by the church. He just had this tremendous passion for empowering the laity in the church."
Besides his building campaign at Holy Family, Brennan helped create a model of ministry, with eight divisions and as many as 140 individual ministries all focused on evangelization.
He also promoted lifelong learning with adults, Keehan said, by encouraging them to join Scripture study groups, as well as small Christian communities. Currently, there are 80 such communities that meet regularly in one another's homes.
Bill Leece, a former English teacher at Rolling Meadows High School and Schaumburg resident, was accompanying his mother-in-law to church when he first came across Brennan at Holy Family.
"His homilies were riveting," Leece said. "They were honest, compassionate, loving -- and forgiving. You were just mesmerized. In fact, his homilies were so good, that the congregation would often applaud, which you weren't supposed to do."
Brennan served as a deacon at St. Paul of the Cross in Park Ridge before he was ordained a priest in 1973. His first assignment was at St. Hubert Parish in Hoffman Estates, where he served as religious education director, youth minister and associate pastor.
He also served parishes in South suburban Burbank and Orland Park before joining the Pastoral Center staff. At the time of his passing, he was helping out at St. Julie Billiart Church in Tinley Park, after having served part time at St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville.
When Brennan arrived at Holy Family in 1994, he was just the church's second pastor, after taking over for the Rev. Med Laz, who was appointed to create the parish in 1984.
Parishioners got more than a parish priest. Brennan was the author of 15 books and numerous articles, all on evangelization and parish renewal, and a popular speaker worldwide on the subject. He was a trained counselor and clinical psychologist, and had earned a doctorate in pastoral ministry.
"He was brilliant and brought such intellectual depth to his preaching," Keehan said, "and yet at the same time, he shared his brokenness with people, and that resonated with parishioners."
Visitation will take place from 3 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, before an 11 a.m. funeral Mass Thursday, both at St. Julie Billiart Church, 7399 W. 159 St. in Tinley Park.
A memorial Mass will take place at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Holy Family, 2515 Palatine Road, Inverness.