By Aakash Jain ’14
Former Brophy teacher the Rev. Anton J. Renna, S.J. died Aug. 9 at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, Calif. at the age of 79.
Fr. Renna taught at Brophy for 45 years until his retirement in 2009.
“(Fr. Renna) left an impression on all who knew him,” President the Rev. Eddie Reese, S.J. wrote in an email to the Brophy community. “He loved to laugh, he loved to be social but mostly he loved his students.”
Fr. Renna entered the Society of Jesus in 1952 and pronounced his final vows in Brophy’s chapel in 1977.
As an English teacher for multiple decades, Fr. Renna taught several generations of Brophy students, including many current members of the English department.
“I often say that he was a great role model in the sense of motivating me to really appreciate literature,” said one of Fr. Renna’s former students Mr. Lane McShane ’82. “He made everything seem interesting. He was flat-out brilliant when it came to all forms of literature.”
Mr. McShane added that one of his favorite memories of Fr. Renna involves a post card he received about 15 years ago.
“We got a postcard from Europe … addressed to Lane Jr. It said something like, ‘How are things going for you? You’ve got great parents. When you get a chance, when you grow up, you should go to Europe,’” Mr. McShane said. “I finally figured out the signature said ‘Little Anton,’ which was one of Fr. Renna’s nicknames … My son got a post card from Europe from Little Anton advising him to have a good life … That just shows the kind of heart (Fr. Renna) had.”
Mr. McShane also said he recalls admiring the way Fr. Renna maintained his classroom.
“Many people who never had him as a teacher would go in his room and just be impressed by the way he decorated,” Mr. McShane said. “He liked decorating the room with students’ work … He vacuumed his own room … and so he never needed maintenance to clean his room.”
Mr. Tom Danforth ’78, who studied English with Fr. Renna during his senior year, said he particularly remembers his sense of humor and described him as a “legend.”
“He was one of those teachers that everybody seemed to know and everybody seemed to talk to,” Mr. Danforth said. “He was just really a great guy … He really made you feel comfortable. He made you laugh all the time.”
Mr. Danforth added that it was actually Fr. Renna who convinced him to teach at Brophy.
“When I first came back from the Peace Corps, I came down to visit … I called up Fr. Renna and we went out for dinner … so we were sitting around, and he gave me this envelope and he said ‘don’t read it now,’” Mr. Danforth said. “So as soon as I got to the car, I ripped it open to see what it was, and it was a contract to teach at Brophy … so I consider (Fr. Renna) responsible for getting me to come here to Brophy.”
Mr. Danforth started teaching at Brophy the next year, 1985, and has continued to since then.
Mr. John Damaso ’97 said he recalls his senior year English class with Fr. Renna as challenging but rewarding.
“He was a captivating sort of teacher from the old school,” Mr. Damaso said. “I just recall the expectations being very high and that I wanted to read and discuss at a high level, and I think everyone that I was in the class with felt the same way.”
Mr. Damaso also said he particularly appreciated Fr. Renna’s unique feedback for class assignments.
“I remember being very excited to get work back that I had submitted to him,” Mr. Damaso said. “A lot of times his comments didn’t resemble typical English teacher comments. Instead they were witty quips or association he was making to other books or references to pop culture … I still have all my old papers with all of his markings on them. I kept all of them. For example, he’d make a lot of Italian references on my papers because of my Italian heritage.”
Mr. McShane said that ultimately Fr. Renna should be remembered as a teacher who was able to do more for his students than just teach them English.
“You want to teach students that there’s more to life than just the academics. I think he did that,” Mr. McShane said. “Everyone who met him was impressed by his sense of humor—his love of life.”