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
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
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
Q: Would you please briefly describe the
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
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?
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.
Excellence: Sons of Xavier Forever visit
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites,
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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