By Doug Bean
Catholic Times Editor
Bishop Robert Brennan is returning to his roots after 2 ½ years in Columbus.
Early this morning, the Holy See announced from the Vatican that Bishop Brennan, 59, will become the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. He replaces Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, 77, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 two years ago but continued to serve until his successor was named.
Bishop Brennan, a native New Yorker who was born in the Bronx, will be introduced in Brooklyn at a 10 a.m. news conference today at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn and will be formally installed as the diocese’s bishop on Nov. 30. He will continue to serve as the apostolic administrator of the Columbus diocese until that time. If a replacement is not named by then, a diocesan College of Consultors will elect an administrator to lead until a new bishop is installed.
Less than three years after arriving in Columbus on Jan. 31, 2019 when he was appointed to lead the diocese, Bishop Brennan is headed back to metropolitan New York, where he grew up and served as a priest and auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island.
He is the first Columbus bishop in 53 years to be assigned to another diocese. Three of his predecessors — Bishop Frederick Campbell, Bishop James Griffin and Bishop Edward Herrmann — retired and a fourth, Bishop Clarence Elwell, died unexpectedly while serving the diocese. The last Columbus bishop to be leave for another diocese was then-Bishop John Carberry, who was appointed archbishop of St. Louis in 1968 and later made a cardinal.
“I have been very happy here in Ohio and am heartbroken that I will be leaving,” Bishop Brennan said. “I came to know amazing people here, and there is tremendous sadness leaving you behind. But as I prepare to return to New York, I am ready and eager to embrace the people of Brooklyn and Queens as their pastor.
“Knowing we are loved by Jesus, we will strive to show others his face, bearing the Joy of the Gospel and the Splendor of Truth. In the end, that’s what it is all about – in Columbus, Brooklyn and around the world.”
The Diocese of Brooklyn encompasses the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. It is the fifth largest diocese in the United States with 1.2 million Catholics and home to a diverse immigrant population that offers Masses in 33 different languages and 26 ethnic ministries through 186 parishes with 210 churches. The Brooklyn diocese’s Catholic school population ranks as the seventh largest in the United States with more than 19,000 students.
“In the selection of Bishop Robert Brennan, the Holy Father has called upon a native New Yorker to return to lead the faithful of Brooklyn and Queens. On behalf of the Diocese of Brooklyn, I welcome Bishop Brennan, who I have known for many years, with confidence in his ability to lead our Catholic community and build upon the pastoral achievements we have made. It has truly been an honor to serve as Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn for nearly 18 years,” Bishop DiMarzio said.
“This is a historical moment for the Diocese of Brooklyn, which is a very active place, and Bishop Brennan’s energy makes his a perfect choice. I ask for God’s blessings on this transition so that the work of God, in service to His people, can effectively continue for the more than 1.2 million Catholics throughout Brooklyn and Queens.”
The Diocese of Columbus is spread across 23 counties and covers a larger, more diverse geographic area with 104 urban, suburban and rural parishes, but the Catholic population of approximately 250,000 is much smaller.
“To the people of the Diocese of Columbus, I recognize this announcement comes as an enormous surprise, but we entrust ourselves to the Lord, and we will move forward confident that the Holy Spirit will lead a wonderful new leader here to Columbus to be your bishop,” Bishop Brennan said. “All of you are in my prayers in a very special way today, and you will remain in my prayers and my heart ever day of my life.
“Please pray for me as well. Continue placing your trust in our loving Lord and carry on this marvelous journey of faith that we have been on together these last 2 ½ years as fellow missionary disciples of our Lord and savior.”
Bishop Brennan knows the Brooklyn area well. He was raised in Lindenhurst, New York, where his parents still reside, and he earned a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and computer science from St. John’s University, located in the Diocese of Brooklyn. He studied for the priesthood at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, which served the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre.
The future bishop was ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Rockville Centre on May 27, 1989. He was named vicar general and moderator of the curia there in 2002. On July 25, 2012, he was ordained as an auxiliary bishop for the diocese.
“The clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Rockville Centre celebrate and rejoice with the Diocese of Brooklyn in our Holy Father’s appointment of Bishop-Designate Robert Brennan as the Eighth Bishop of Brooklyn,” Rockville Centre Bishop John O. Barres said. “Born in the Bronx, raised and ordained on Long Island and college educated in Queens, Bishop Brennan’s holiness, missionary zeal, humility, intelligence and pastoral experience will serve and inspire the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York City, New York State and the Universal Church. It is a great joy to welcome Bishop Brennan home to New York and to have the opportunity to serve with him again in the New York Province.
“The prayers and gratitude of the People of God remain with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio who has served the Diocese of Brooklyn with great pastoral and missionary dedication for the last 18 years.”
Bishop Brennan had served under Bishop Barres in the Rockville Centre diocese until he was installed as the 12th bishop of Columbus on March 29, 2019, at St. Joseph Cathedral. During his brief time in Columbus, he has been actively involved in the work of the Catholic community in the 23 counties of the diocese, including serving on the boards of the Catholic Foundation, Mother Angeline McCrory Manor and Cristo Rey Columbus Catholic High School. He also has been a board member and the vice chancellor of the Pontifical College Josephinum in north Columbus.
At the national level, Bishop Brennan has served with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a member of the Committee for Catholic Education, the Administrative Committee, and the Priorities and Plans Committee.
Bishop Brennan’s greatest strength lies in parish pastoral activity. As bishop of Columbus, he has traveled regularly in order to meet and engage people from every part of the diocese, learning about their lives — both their everyday activities and their faith commitment. He has also enjoyed learning about the many parishes and schools here, the many facets of the ethnic and geographic cultures of the diocese, and the vibrancy of the many missionary movements in Columbus, particularly the participation of young people.
“I think we need an attitude of tremendous confidence but profound humility,” Bishop Brennan said in an interview before the announcement. “Tremendous confidence because the power comes from God, the power is in Christ Jesus, who is keeping his promise of I am with you always.
“We have to have perfect confidence that Jesus Christ is walking with us along that path with Him beside us with humility to understand that the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak only through me. The Holy Spirit is working through me through my contributions, but it’s a contribution the Holy Spirit pulls together from believers all around. So confidence, humility and hope – those I think are the attitudes that will carry us forward.”
The hallmark of Bishop Brennan’s time in Columbus has been the initiation of the diocesan-wide Real Presence Real Future evangelization and planning initiative. Real Presence Real Future is a two-year diocesan-wide consultative process that invites participation from clergy, lay ecclesial ministers, parish volunteers and all the faithful. Through listening to the needs and ideas of the people, this process that Bishop Brennan started will help determine the best path forward to increase the presence of the Church throughout the Diocese of Columbus in the 21st century.
“We’re having to take up your cross and follow what Jesus tells you to do and that’s what I have to see in this,” Bishop Brennan said. “This is the Lord asking me to do something, sending me forward. It’s not about me, it’s not about us, but it’s that we are entrusted with ad certain amount of care – all of us – for the Lord’s vineyard. Each one of us is a missionary disciple. And that means following where the Lord sends you. That means embracing the cross and doing whatever he has for you.”