History Professor Fills Schedule Volunteering, Making Service Trips (Web Exclusive)
Sean Brennan, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of History
To most of the patrons and his fellow volunteers at St. Francis of Assisi Kitchen in Scranton, Sean Brennan, Ph.D., is on a first-name basis, while others simply call him “professor.” Before that however, they weren’t quite sure what to make of him.
“When I first started volunteering, a lot of people thought I was a priest,” he laughs. “All they knew was that I was from the University.”
Since arriving as a faculty member in fall 2009, Dr. Brennan has become a regular at the soup kitchen, often volunteering during the facility’s dinners, held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. “It’s nice that the kitchen is only a few blocks away from campus,” he explains. “One of the reasons I volunteer there is because it is so close and convenient. Plus, it’s very well run.”
Dr. Brennan’s role at the kitchen changes from day to day, jumping into whatever spot is vacant. This includes washing dishes, distributing desserts, handling crowd control, etc. “I told them to send me where they need me, and I have pretty much everything from one time to another,” he says.
Patrons and visitors come in all ages and situations, according to Dr. Brennan. “There are people who are clearly down on their luck,” he says. “There are a lot of young families, but also older men who just can’t cook on their own. You see all types of people there.”
In addition to his work at the soup kitchen, Dr. Brennan volunteers with Catholic Social Services. In summer 2012, he taught a driver’s education course to refugees from Bhutan. This spring, again through social services, he led a U.S. citizenship course to local immigrants interested in starting the process.
While active in the community, Dr. Brennan tries to also engage with the University’s students. He’s chaperoned two separate spring break service trips to Kentucky, building and rebuilding homes for impoverished families. This spring, he teamed with four other chaperones to take 35 students to New Orleans to clean up and complete repairs. “For me, it is a great opportunity to get to know the students outside the classroom,” he explains.
Beginning in summer 2015, Dr. Brennan will start offering a study abroad trip to Germany and Austria, with another trip to Russia planned in 2016. He hopes to continue the trips in the years that follow. “My great experiences with the spring break service trips – which I plan to continue – inspired me to offer historical trips to Europe in the summer for Scranton students,” he says.
Additionally, the trips to Europe fit neatly into Dr. Brennan’s academic endeavors, especially his new book project – a biography of Passionist priest Fabian Flynn. An Army chaplain during World War II, Father Flynn later served as the director of Catholic Relief Services in Austria and Hungary from 1946 to 1961.