Monsignor Michael J. Wrenn, a beloved trustee of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, passed away in a New York hospital on October 26 at the age of 72. Monsignor Wrenn devoted much of his pastoral life to writing and speaking about the state of contemporary Catholic catechesis. He was a great admirer of John Henry Cardinal Newman’s writing on education, and he believed that Thomas More College was developing into an institution very much in conformity with Newman’s understanding of the nature of a Catholic university.
Monsignor Wrenn dedicated his life to examining the decline of quality religious instruction in Catholic schools and parish religious education programs following the close of the most recent ecumenical council. In his 1996 Flawed Expectations: The Reception of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Wrenn and colleague Kenneth D. Whitehead accused the “religious education establishment,” professional Catholic religious educators, of failing to properly teach the Faith following Vatican II.
Wrenn and Whitehead cited the prevalence of the permissive secular culture of our age which has led to a void in truth and in its stead has led to moral relativism. Applied to the Faith, this led to a questioning of Church doctrine and ignoring her teachings and traditions.
“Examples abound, unfortunately, not only of significant errors, omissions, and distortions in many of today’s religious education programs, texts, and teaching materials, but also of an apparent determination on the part of many in the religious education establishment to continue promoting a ‘new catechesis’ developed over the past half century,” wrote Wrenn and Whitehead. “Some professional religious educators persist in promoting this new catechesis, in spite of its manifest failures, as evidenced by the lack of religious knowledge on the part of those who have been subjected to it.” The laity, they point out, have not been well-served by this new catechesis, produced by dissenting theologians and echoed by their “parrots” in catechetical organizations in the Church and local parishes.
This new catechesis of which they write emphasizes feeling, emotion, and imagination over truth. Plus modern ideologies like feminism, environmentalism, and liberation theology have been incorporated into the new catechism.
Wrenn also authored Catechism and Controversies: Religious Education in the Post Conciliar Years and Pope John Paul II and the Family, as well as contributed to the New Catholic Encyclopedia and to The Catholic Encyclopedia for School and Home.
Wrenn was born in 1936 and received his B.A. in Philosophy from St. Joseph Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York in 1957. He received his M.A. in Catechetical Theology from Manhattan College in 1970, an M.S. in Secondary Education Administration and Supervision from Fordham University in 1973, and his Doctorate in Humane Letters from Notre Dame Apostolic Institute in Arlington, Virginia in 1988.
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1961 in the Archdiocese of New York and served as a high school teacher and administrator. Later, he served as Director of Religious Education for the Archdiocese and was the founding director for its Drug Prevention Office in 1973. During that time, he was a member of the Chief Administrators of Catholic Education and the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA). He also was a Representative of the International Catholic Education Office at the United Nations. Wrenn also was the founder and a director of the Archdiocesan Catechetical Institute of St. Joseph Seminary.
He was elevated to the rank of Monsignor in 1986 and was made a Reverend Monsignor in 1990.
Monsignor Wrenn was pastor of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan and served as the Dean at the Institute of Religious Studies at St. Joseph Seminary.
“Msgr. Wrenn’s life is a shining example of spiritual and intellectual integrity”, said Thomas More College President Jeffrey O. Nelson. “Msgr. Wrenn’s enduring writings remain for me a living witness to the importance of every age’s need to tend to the renewal of Catholic education at every level. Msgr. Wrenn will always be a guiding star for Thomas More College, its faculty, and administrators. I personally know many families in New York and around the country who benefited from Msgr. Wrenn’s imaginative educational wisdom. He was a great gift to the Archdiocese of New York and to the Universal Church.”