Waterford Camino Tours founder Dr Phil Brennan discusses his PhD path

Dr Phil Brennan was invited to deliver one of the speeches at an event held to mark the WIT 25th anniversary of the first PhD award. Picture: Patrick Browne

Dr Phil Brennan was invited to deliver one of the speeches at an event held to mark the WIT 25th anniversary of the first PhD award. Picture: Patrick Browne

Completing a PhD helped Phil to articulate a vision of the spiritual path that he believes many are searching for today, here he tells his journey

Gorey native, and former CBS Gorey pupil Dr Phil Brennan runs Waterford Camino Tours. A former teacher, he completed his PhD in 2013, having transferred from a masters.

Current job title and employer

Managing Director of Waterford Camino Tours

How has your PhD influenced your career path?

My PhD has helped me to articulate a vision of the spiritual path that I believe many are searching for today. It opened my eyes to where the real energy is. My role is to give hope and a little direction to people at the grassroots who share this journey. In our Camino tours, through our music, in my role as consultant to community groups, I can engage with people, listen to them and steer them towards where they want to be.         

Path into research

I completed my Bachelor of Religious Science Degree in Mater Dei Institute, Dublin in 1989. I was a teacher in St. Angela's Secondary School, Ursuline Convent, Waterford for 12 years. I transferred from Masters to PhD in 2011 and completed my PhD in 2013. I always had an interest in exploring a new vision of Church that would break from the traditional institutional model and draw its energy from the grassroots. I met with the then WIT Head of Humanities, Professor Michael Howlett, who encouraged me to take the PhD route. Michael acted as my supervisor and I sat my Viva in January 2013.

Year graduated


My PhD title

Translating the vision of Church in Liberation Theology to an Irish setting.             

About my PhD in layman’s terms

I always thought the Church has become something it was never meant to be. The institution needs to be replaced by something more reflective of the vision of its founder. My inspiration came from Latin America where the Church and the people are one; working together to improve health, education and the quality of life of people. During the 1970s, small Christian communities began to spring up all over South America driven by the people with the support of their religious leaders. Men and women became the animators or leaders of these communities and together within their church community revealed a new way of giving expression to the message of Jesus in the world today. My PhD explored ways of seeing how this vision of Church could work in an Irish setting.

Related academic school/research centre at WIT


PhD funding

Self - financed. 


Professor Michael Howlett          

Making a difference

Within a year of finishing my PhD, I published 'In the hands of the people - a new vision of church' and translated the findings of my research into a language that people at the grassroots could relate to. I've spoken with groups around the country on ways they can play a transforming role in their local communities and breathe a new energy into the church. Beyond the boundaries of the institution, new groups are springing up around the country that reflect what the creative and spiritual energy of their people. The Church as we know it is changing and I would like to think that my research will point people in the right direction.

What are you doing now?

My wife Elaine and I have recently started Waterford Camino Tours and are slowly positioning ourselves on the spiritual tourism landscape. We invite people to enjoy reflective trails along some of the most scenic points in our county and our programmes include coach transfers and accommodation. We are at advanced stages of securing deals with 3 tour operators from the States with a view to introducing an Irish Camino trails programme that will include Waterford, Glendalough and West Cork. I am also Founder and Musical Director of the Island of Ireland Peace Choir and we bring our sound to places synonymous with persecution around the world. We've recently toured Children's Homes that we built post 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, the World War 1 Cemeteries in Ypres and Auschwitz/Birkenau in Krakow. Locally, we do a monthly Taize Vigil in the Edmund Rice Chapel, Barrack Street.  

25 years of PhD graduates was marked at Waterford Institute of Technology in 2018. The institute was one the first of Ireland's regional technical colleges to award PhDs in 1993.

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