“He had a passionate commitment to Catholic education; a true love for all things Augustinian,” said Michelle Brock, former director of religious education at St. Clare of Montefalco Parish in Grosse Pointe Park.
Fr. Brecht, who served three terms as prior provincial of the Midwest Augustinians and most recently was pastor of St. Clare of Montefalco until 2012 and founding headmaster of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s newest Catholic high school, Austin Catholic High School in Ray Township, died Sept. 6 after a two-year battle with a leukemia-like condition known as myelodysplasis. He was 75.
A member of the first graduating class of the original Austin Catholic High School in Detroit, Fr. Brecht was instrumental in starting its eventual successor in 2011, a project that became “his baby,” Brock said.
And the lessons he learned from the Augustinian friars who first taught him stayed with him even until he became too ill in 2012 to continue in his original role as headmaster.
“He really focused on making sure we had the charism of the Augustinian order,” said Janel M. Coppens, who became principal of the school last year. “He was very adamant that we teach at least a semester to all our students about St. Augustine, read the ‘Confessions.’”
Fr. Bill Sullivan, OSA, a provincial counselor of the Midwest Augustinians, said Fr. Brecht was an “expert” on St. Augustine who authored a small booklet on the great saint that’s still used in the province’s schools and participated in archaeological digs in St. Augustine’s diocese in modern-day Algeria.
At Austin, Fr. Brecht made sure faith was never an afterthought, including daily Mass and prayer at the beginning and end of the school day, and making sure students always wore their ties. “He made tradition so important,” Coppens said.
He was also a man of God who was gentle, approachable and compassionate in his ministry, Brock said.
“He conveyed the joy of his relationship with Christ to others,” she said. Even when there wasn’t a musician available for Mass, “he would lead us all in song” and “you couldn’t not sing when Fr. David was singing,” she added.
Fr. Brecht used his homilies as occasions for teaching, especially about the Blessed Mother and the Augustinian saints, sprinkling in “different tidbits and trivia” whenever possible. “He was a walking Gospel,” Brock said.
Coppens joked that “we used to laugh that he would do a ‘pre-homily,’ a homily, and then a ‘post-homily,” because Fr. Brecht always seemed to have more to teach.
Throughout his ministry, Fr. Brecht did teach — in parishes, schools and colleges across the country, including in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Michigan and Ontario, Canada.
Lisa Schulz, a religion teacher at Austin, said Fr. Brecht was a “mentor” and would be a “tough act to follow in regards to teaching his religion classes.”
Part of his dedication to teaching was his personal spirituality, said Janet Guensche, pastoral associate at St. Clare of Montefalco, who recalled Fr. Brecht would always get up at 4:30 a.m., wherever he was, to make a personal holy hour.
Guensche said Fr. Brecht also was an expert on Great Lakes freighters, and loved to go to Windmill Pointe Park to watch the ships pass.
David Brecht was born Oct. 17, 1938, in Detroit to John Lloyd and Mary Brecht. He entered the Augustinian order in 1956, professed first vows Sept. 10, 1957, and solemn vows exactly three years later. He was ordained a priest Feb. 6, 1965.
A lifelong student, Fr. Brecht earned several academic degrees, including from Villanova University, Loyola University in Chicago and Salesian University in Rome.
He served three four-year terms as prior provincial of the Midwest Augustinians, from 1991-99 and again from 2002-06, one of only two to ever do so, said Fr. Sullivan.
“It speaks to his competency and dedication,” Fr. Sullivan said, adding that Fr. Brecht was an “excellent administrator” who always held the order’s best interests in mind.
He became pastor of St. Clare of Montefalco Parish from 2006-08 and again from 2010-12, when he also began his work as headmaster at the “new” Austin Catholic High School. When he was diagnosed in 2012, he stepped down from that role, but remained as director of mission effectiveness at the school.
While the school’s seniors were disappointed Fr. Brecht won’t be around for their first graduating class next spring, Coppens said, they were happy he was able to see the start of their senior year.
Three students, Oscar Aponte, Regina Marogi and Lindsay Malzahn, wrote that “when we were down and in need of some help or inspiration, he would gently pull you aside and share some of his words of wisdom.”
“We may be weeping now on earth, but Heaven is rejoicing for they have gained a new saint,” they said.
A funeral Mass for Fr. Brecht was celebrated Sept. 11 at St. Clare of Montefalco Church. Burial is in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Detroit.