New rector at St. Brendan

| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A priest who served as a chaplain at Virginia Tech at the time of the 2007 mass shooting there is the new rector at St. Brendan's Episcopal Church in Franklin Park.

The Rev. D. Scott Russell will be installed during a service at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 8.

The Rev. Dorsey McConnell, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, will lead the service in the sanctuary of the church, which is at 2365 McAleer Road in Franklin Park.

Russell, who lives in Ohio Township and likes to be known as Father Scott, has been at St. Brendan's since the end of October. During the installation service, the bishop symbolically will unite the church with its new pastoral leader, Russell said.

“It's not quite a wedding, but it's an official launch,” he said.

Before coming to St. Brendan's, Russell, 45, spent 10 years serving as the associate rector at Christ Church in Blacksburg, Va., and simultaneously acted as a chaplain at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, also known as Virginia Tech.

He worked there at the time of the shootings on April 16, 2007, in which 32 people were killed and several were wounded before the gunman fatally turned a weapon on himself.

“It was devastating,” Russell said.

“A lot of our parishioners were professors. Another was a student who lost five friends and a professor. It shook me a lot as a priest and as a human. I tried to be a comforting presence because I couldn't fix (what had happened). God is in the aftermath, in the people who are caring for the victims and their families. We were God's agents of healing.”

Russell grew up in Baltimore, where his father served as a United Methodist pastor.

“I grew up Methodist,” he said. “But during a visit to an Episcopalian church, I found that the formal liturgical style of the Episcopalians really spoke to me. I felt a real connection, a real resonance.”

Ordained in 2002, he attended Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry in Ambridge, where he earned a master of divinity degree, and he served as a seminarian and then as deacon at Church of the Nativity in Crafton.

This latest move brings him back to Pennsylvania and closer to his parents, who live in Scranton.

At St. Brendan's, Russell said, his main job is helping the church community focus its time, energy and financial resources on outreach and Christian education.

“We were looking for an energetic rector who had ideas for enfranchising all age groups,” said Jim Gray, 64, of Pine Township, a 15-year member of St. Brendan's who led the search committee in its nine-month recruitment period for a new rector to replace the Rev. William Pugliese, who had led the congregation for the five years before retiring.

“The search committee felt that Father Scott would meet our needs and expectations. We were attracted to his energy, his clear belief in how to express his love for the Episcopal style, and his personality that accentuated communication and commitment.”

St. Brendan's was established in 1987 as a mission church out of Christ Episcopal Church, North Hills, which is in Ross Township.

The 300-member congregation has been led by two permanent rectors and an interim rector prior to Russell's arrival.

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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