Donald Brebner, a man of Christian action, farewelled


Donald Brebner, QSM, a Catholic layman who was noted for his many works for charity and social justice, was farewelled in the Bay of Plenty last month. 

Mr Brebner died on January 19, at his home in Omokoroa, north of Tauranga. He was 89. 

A requiem Mass was celebrated on January 24 at the Omokoroa Community Church, and handsome tributes were given about Mr Brebner, who was the loving husband of Jackie, beloved father of ten, grandfather of 38 and great grandfather of 22. Tauranga parish priest Fr Philip Billing and Auckland Auxiliary Bishop Michael Gielen were the celebrants. 

Christian symbols were placed on the casket, as was a carved taiaha, representing Mr Brebner’s fighting spirit for the Kingdom of God during his long life as a committed Christian and a man of Christian action. 

In the homily, Fr Billing thanked the family for sharing Mr Brebner with others. “We have been truly blessed and enriched by the gift of his life among us,” Fr Billing said. 

Eulogies were given by two of Mr Brebner’s sons, Mark and Matthew, and by his grandson, Sam Brebner. 

Mark Brebner recalled a grace prayer that his father taught the family to say before meals, asking for blessings for those present, the food and those who prepared the meal, and for food for the hungry. To which Mr Brebner always added: “And to the well fed give a hunger for justice.” 

Mark Brebner spoke of his father running the Tauranga food bank for 11 years, as well as being a director of Habitat for Humanity for 20 years, which saw 80 homeless families in the Bay of Plenty get housing.  

Praising his father’s generosity, Mark Brebner said, “To him the Catholic faith meant getting off your …. and actually doing real good for others”. 

Matthew Brebner noted his father’s great love for his family, and for God and God’s Church. 

“He was a mighty warrior for the less fortunate, a fierce advocate for the unborn child and the threatened elderly. Throughout his life journey, he demonstrated that strength is built through struggle, hard work and optimism. He shared that strength with tremendous compassion and empathy.  Through his charitable works he touched the lives of thousands because he overflowed with energy, imagination and passion. A champion for social justice for the hungry and the homeless, he received the Queen’s Service Medal [in 2013] for his humanitarian works.” 

Sam Brebner referred to his grandfather’s autobiography, Adventures of a Pilgrim, in which he wrote: “God has been Number One in all my life, and I hope you know him for being as kind to you as he has been to me.”  

“For those present here,” Sam Brebner continued, “I’m sure there is no doubt for any of us concerning the truth of these words. Grandad lived every day in such a way that it was clear that God was Number One is his life, and he seemed to make it his personal mission to reflect the kindness that God had shown him to as many people as possible.” 

“We’ve lost one of the greats, and I know many of us are grappling with the gap that has been left behind.” 

Reviewing Adventures of a Pilgrim for NZ Catholic last year, Pat McCarthy noted that Mr Brebner dedicated the book to the memory of Cardinal Reginald Delargey, who mentored him and many others in the lay apostolate. 

Mr Brebner became involved in the See-Judge-Act strategy of Catholic action in the YCS at Sacred Heart College, Auckland, in 1950. He then worked fulltime for the CYM in Auckland diocese (at 10 pounds a week), Mr McCarthy wrote. 

In those days the CYM in the diocese had more than 2000 members, male and female, applying the See-Judge-Act process to workplace problems, boy-girl relationships, and a range of social issues, the review continued. 

“Most of the book is devoted to Brebner’s working life – much of it in marketing for a house-construction company – but he has also put his leadership skills and faith commitment into a surprising variety of church, inter-church, community and social service causes in the Rotorua and Tauranga areas, usually serving in the chair. 

“Of all the charities I have tried to support in a hands-on way, Voice For Life has taken more of my time, energy and dedication than any other,” Mr Brebner wrote. “To stand up for humanity in its most helpless and vulnerable form, the baby in the womb, is the test of our integrity and true worth.” 

  • Additional reporting by MICHAEL OTTO 
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