Father Winthrop Brainerd
Father Winthrop Brainerd
Father Winthrop Brainerd died of organ failure on July 31 at Sibley Hospital in Washington, with some of his friends from Brookewood School by his side, praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. The priest of the Archdiocese of Washington was 78.

Father Brainerd was born on Sept. 2, 1939 in Montreal. Prior to his priesthood, his notable accomplishments included receiving a medal for singing at the queen’s coronation, helping to plan Winston Churchill’s funeral, and serving as Keeper of Books and Manuscripts of Her Majesty’s Collection of Heralds in London.

Father Vincent De Rosa, a priest at St. Mary Mother of God Parish in Washington, was the homilist at Father Brainerd’s Funeral Mass on Aug. 6 at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Washington. In an interview, he said one thing that can be learned from Father Brainerd’s life is, “He was living proof that sometimes it is okay to have priests who are characters.”

After studying at Ripon Hall Theological College in Oxford, Father Brainerd was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1970 in Newfoundland, Canada. From 1971-73, he stayed in Newfoundland as rector of a parish in Labrador that encompassed more than 300 miles of coastline. The region had no roads, so travel was by boat in summer and by dog-sled or snowmobile in winter.

In 1977, he became rector of Christ’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore. In 1978, he received the “Baltimore’s Best” Award as one of the 23 persons or groups who had made a significant contribution to the life of the city.

He resigned as rector of Christ’s Church in 1985 and was received into the Catholic Church on Feb. 4, 1986. He was ordained a Catholic priest on June 27, 1987 in the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington.

“He was dogged in his pursuit of truth and scholarship,” said Father De Rosa, “That included following Christ wherever He led him, and that ultimately led him to conversion to Catholicism.”

During his time as a priest in the archdiocese, Father Brainerd served as parochial vicar at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle and St. Patrick Parish in Washington.  Father Brainerd also wrote a Scripture column for the Catholic Standard newspaper. He then served as pastor of Epiphany Parish in Washington and as senior priest to St. Bernadette Parish in Silver Spring. He retired to the Cardinal O’Boyle Residence in 2008.

While he was serving at St. Bernadette, some parish families told him about a new school called Brookewood that had opened nearby. He called the school’s headmaster at the time, Joseph McPherson, to offer to teach at the school, which is located in Kensington.

In a reflection that he wrote about Father Brainerd’s life, McPherson recalled how he already knew the priest and his good teaching because he had him as a teacher in a class about diplomatic history at Harvard University.

McPherson accepted his offer, and Father Brainerd began teaching history there and also saying daily Mass for the school. For the last 10 years of his life, Father Brainerd faithfully traveled to the school every day by bus, then by Metro, and then by Ride-on-Bus, sporting his black fedora and silver-headed black cane.

Along the way, Father Brainerd stopped to make friends.

“He knew the name and life story of every Metro station manager on the Red Line,” said Father De Rosa. “It was because he took the time to go and be a human being with them, to engage them.”

In his reflection, McPherson recalled how Father Brainerd loved when the school would sing the Salve Regina after Masses or assemblies.

“He loved teaching, but he loved Christ the most,” McPherson wrote.

Those two passions stayed with him through his last few days, as his friends from Brookewood School were constantly at his side, comforting and praying for him. As he lay in his hospital bed surrounded by members of that community, Father Brainerd’s faith shone through as he received the Eucharist and once again attempted to sing the Salve Regina alongside his friends.