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A Look at the Roots of Excellence
Author Interview with George Brennan, Jr. Excellence: Sons of Xavier Forever
by Lisa M. Hendey

In his first foray into publishing, George Brennan, Jr. has given readers a book they’ll want to both enjoy themselves and share with their teens. 
Excellence: Sons of Xavier Forever (1st Books Library, November 2003, paperback, 140 pages) is Brennan’s tribute to the life he led as a student at Manhattan’s prestigious Xavier High School.  Combining the dual disciplines of military and Jesuit education, Xavier is renowned for its academic excellence.

With wit and insight, George Brennan, Jr. offers his reader an insight into the life of a Xavier student.  Brennan credits the institution with preparing him to face the many challenges life has thrown his way.  His freshman effort at writing is results in a book that is both enjoyable for adults and appropriate for young adults.  Readers have described the book as both amusing and inspirational. 

In my recent interview with George Brennan, Jr., he shared the following comments on his life, his education at Xavier, and his transition from MTV to published author.

Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your family.

A:  I was born on August 12, 1970 and raised in New York City, the oldest of three children. (I have two younger sisters, Bridgette and Bobbi-Anne.) We grew up in a loving traditional Irish-American Catholic home where my Father, George Brennan, Sr., was the sole bread winner as a notable resident manager on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. My Mother, who passed away in June 2002, was a devoted homemaker who dedicated her time to family, faith, sacrifice, and the comforts of home.
 
Ironically, Dad was raised Irish Catholic but Mom was raised German Lutheran. (A combination that I am sure would not have sat well with our Brennan ancestors in the religiously divided regions of Northern Ireland.) It was actually Mom who persistently encouraged and persuaded all of us in the importance of a Catholic education and the necessity of having a strong faith to get through life.
 
It was no secret that public education in New York City was becoming increasingly dangerous and less academically advantageous, even back in the late 1970's. We would soon transfer from one of the last respected public elementary schools to a rigorous and challenging St. Ignatius Loyola School before the third grade. Although it was financially burdening on my family, it was Mom's persistence that a Catholic education and installment of faith remain mandatory at any cost.
 
I was accepted to the prestigious Xavier High School in 1985, an all-boy Jesuit military school in lower Manhattan that has maintained a consistent reputation around the five boroughs of New York for being the second best academic Catholic high school for boys after Regis. As a shy, yet "Golden Boy" during high school, I often struggled with the curriculum early on and I spent more time trying to find my place in the competitive school than academically excelling in it. I did survive it and did find my place. It surely turned out to be the best foundation in life anyone could possibly ask for.
 
After graduating from St. John's University in 1994 with five university awards and two national awards for my work in college media, I began a creative seven year production career with MTV Animation. I worked my way up the ladder from Production Assistant to Assistant Director on hit shows like Beavis and Butt-Head, Daria, and Celebrity Deathmatch. My most proud MTV accomplishment was composing and recording seven original songs for the animated band Mystik Spiral on MTV's hit series, Daria. In 2000, one of those songs, "Friggin Friends" went in to music video rotation on MTV.  As well as being an aspiring author, I am also an aspiring song writer. I have over 200 original compositions written to date.
 
In July 2000, I married Katie Burns at St. Ignatius Loyola Church, which was attached to my old elementary school. Ironically, Katie attended the Loyola School, right around the block from the church and elementary school. It was in front of her high school that we were both introduced for the first time back in 1988. It would only seem fitting that I would find my love on the same block where I found my faith. Katie and I moved from Manhattan to Ridgefield, Connecticut in 2003. Katie is a third grade teacher in Westchester.
 
Q:  Would you please briefly describe the book?

A: 
Excellence: Sons of Xavier Forever is a coming of age story that tackles the issues of maturation during the peer pressure and angst filled adolescent years. What makes this experience different than your average tormented teen troubles is that on top of dealing with all of the pressures of adolescence and trying to fit in, multiply that in a setting of an all-boy, Jesuit, military school and you get drama! This was when my faith was first tested and boy did God pull me through!
 
Q: What prompted you to take on the project of writing about your experience as a product of Xavier and a Jesuit education?
 
A:  I had always wanted to write a book. Knowing that God writes straight in crooked lines, my window of opportunity opened. September 11, 2001 took place and with it went the life of my 27 year old first cousin Michael Brennan. Michael was a fire fighter who was stationed just two blocks from my studio at MTV. Not long after, word got back that eight more friends of mine (five of which had attended Xavier) perished.  A few months after, MTV dissolved the animation division. Here I was out of work after 9/11 and thinking things could not get any worse, but they did! My Mother suffered a massive heart attack that put her in a coma for two weeks. As she was slowly deteriorating, we were left with the agonizing decision to remove all care. Mom truly realized the importance of our faith. It was only with our faith that we were collectively able to stick together and come to peace with our decision. Less than six months after Mom's death, Dad began to break down and took a heart attack himself. Luckily, we were able to save him.
 
It was after all of these experiences, plus being unemployed, that I seized the opportunity to write. It actually became therapeutic for me. I wanted to focus my writing on all of the great gifts God had given me as opposed to the ones He may have taken away. One of those gifts was my education at Xavier. It not only fortified the faith I needed to get through the endless agony I was facing, but it also provided a foundation of survival skills and analytical thinking I needed to make it in this world. The more I would write about Xavier, the more I would smile. The experiences seemed to joyously pour out of me. As nearly 15 years had passed since my Xavier graduation to the publishing of the book, I had truly become more thankful for the decision Mom made to send me there. By the same token, my respect and admiration for the Jesuit order is endless. These brilliant men endure a rigorous thirteen year commitment in order to become a member of the Society of Jesus, which is why you will find SJ after many of their names. You would have a hard time convincing me that there are any educators in this world that are anywhere in their league. They are the brightest and I was the lucky one to learn from them.
 
Q: How has your Catholic faith and your education at Xavier impacted upon the type of person you are today?

A:  They both have allowed me to be compassionate and understanding. They have allowed me to be tolerant, yet stay strong. Most of all, they allowed me to realize that what I do and who I face along the way are not coincidental. They are pre-destined and how I handle both of them will be judged by God.
 
Q: How has your book been received by former teachers and your fellow students?
 
A:  The feedback has been incredible. I began receiving e-mails from Xavier graduates as early as 1952 to as recent as 2004. They all seemed to revel in the same pride and similar experiences. I found it so interesting how many fellow alumni had the same teachers thirty years ago. I have met up with some of those teachers recently and they too enjoyed the humorous descriptions of Xavier experiences. It was sort of like sitting around with a bunch of friends and talking about a movie that we all witnessed and enjoyed. It was like one of those movies where you sit around and laugh at character names and quote lines from the movie. That is pretty much how the feedback has been. The book has popped up in school publications and message boards to scholarship letters and, in the case of St. Ignatius Loyola, a listing on their seventh grade mandatory reading list.
 
Q: What did you take away from the task of writing this book?
 
A:  How therapeutic writing was for my soul. Everyone has an interesting story to tell and more people can relate to my experiences than a high profile celebrity writing a memoir. I realized too that while I was trying to comfort the depression I was in while I was writing it, I was putting more smiles on many faces than just mine. I also took away, or perhaps reminded myself, what the power of faith and the belief in self can do.
 
Q: What benefits would you say come from pursuing a Catholic education and are they worth the costs?

A:  The benefit of a Catholic education is the gift of an incredible education, unparalleled discipline and a connection to faith. It is no secret that Catholic educators are the lowest paid among the teaching profession, but it is their commitment to put education and their love for teaching before salary that may make them better than their public counterparts. The discipline allows you to resume responsibility for all actions and reminds you that for everything you do or don't do, there will be consequences to pay. The teaching and practice of faith remind you that your life and what you do with it are a gift offered to you because Jesus died for you to have it. It reminds you that all of the love you give and all the good you do will bring you eternal happiness. A person without faith is only half alive. The benefits of a Catholic education exceed any costs it takes to get you through it. You can not put a price tag on faith, discipline, and good teachers.
 
Q: What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book, especially young people who have the opportunity to read it?
 
A:  I hope they enjoy reading it, I hope they laugh, and I hope they learn. Learn to enjoy life, learn to laugh at life, and no experience is a bad experience, they are all learning experiences. Find something that makes you happy, work hard at crafting it, and treat people like you would want to be treated. Don't try to be anyone but you.
 
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

A:  For all of you out there who enjoy writing, please continue to cultivate it. Remember - EVERYONE has a story to tell. We will not know about your story until you write it. So keep writing so I can read your books one day.

For more information on Excellence: Sons of Xavier Forever visit Amazon.


Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.christiancoloring.com, and an avid reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.

 


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