Bishop Brennan helps install successor, who says he has ‘big shoes to fill’
WESTERVILLE, Ohio – The Diocese of Columbus welcomed its new Shepherd on Tuesday, May 31 with the ordination and installation of Bishop Earl Fernandes – an American-born son of immigrant parents from India.
As the 13th bishop of the diocese, he succeeds Bishop Robert Brennan of the Diocese of Brooklyn, who returned to Ohio to lead the consecration with Bishop Dennis Schnurr of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
At 49, he is the first of Indo-American origin.
The ordination and installation rites took place at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Westerville, about 15 miles northeast of Columbus, the state capital.
Throughout these ceremonies, Bishop Fernandes beamed his signature smile, but he took on a serious tone as he addressed the congregation, emphasizing the urgency of bringing more men into the priesthood.
“I promise to work hard for you, to shed my blood for you,” he promised. “But I draw your attention to the fact that this year, in the diocese of Columbus, there will be more bishops than ordained priests.
“We need a new Pentecost to set the world on fire,” he said. “We need missionaries and priests ready to give themselves to the service of the Gospel. I ask every man, woman and child to pray for vocations to the priesthood, especially for our diocese.
Family, friends, priests, men and women religious and prelates from across the United States filled the church to celebrate the new bishop.
Three former bishops of the diocese were present: Bishop Brennan and bishops emeritus James Griffin and Frederick Campbell.
Bishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, read the special letter from Pope Francis, informing everyone that the new bishop is eminently qualified and therefore chosen by him, the Holy Father, to lead the Diocese of Columbus.
Bishop Fernandes followed Church tradition by proudly holding the Apostolic Letter aloft and parading it around the congregation for all to see. A thunderous applause followed.
Bishop Fernandes was born September 21, 1972 in Toledo, Ohio – the fourth of five sons of Sydney and Thelma Fernandes.
His late father was a doctor and Fernandes also entered medical school. But after two years, he chose the seminary and was ordained a priest in 2002.
Bishop Fernandes has worked in many pastoral ministries, but he later became personal secretary to the Apostolic Nuncio from 2016 to 2019.
Immediately after his installation, his former patron, Archbishop Peter, reached out and adjusted the new bishop’s distinctive headgear.
“I am grateful for the fatherly affection he has shown me over many years,” Bishop Fernandes said of Bishop Pierre. “I’m also grateful that he fixed my miter!”
On Monday evening, Bishop Brennan led the solemn Vespers prayer service for his future successor.
“I want to thank Bishop Brennan and welcome him to Ohio,” Bishop Fernandes said Tuesday. “I have big shoes to fill. He was only here briefly, but he lifted the spirits of the people and the clergy, and we are happy to see him again, if only for a few days.
Pope Francis announced April 2 that Bishop Fernandes would be the successor. At the time, Bishop Brennan called the announcement “Very good news indeed.”
“I couldn’t be happier for him and for the Church of Columbus,” he said.
On Tuesday, Bishop Brennan said on social media that he was grateful to God to be back in Ohio for the installation of his successor.
“Knowing the faithful of this diocese, I am convinced that he will be a wonderful shepherd for the people of God in Columbus,” Bishop Brennan said. “With great joy and prayers, I congratulate Bishop Fernandes as he begins his episcopal ministry.”
Fragile health prevented Bishop Fernandes’ mother from attending the ceremonies. He remembers telling him that Pope Francis had chosen him as bishop.
“She said, ‘That’s good news. It will be a blessing. It will be a blessing to our family. It will be a blessing for everyone,” Bishop Fernandes shared. “Let’s hope and pray that it is prophetic.”
The Diocese of Columbus covers 23 counties in central and southern Ohio, approximately 11,310 square miles, with a Catholic population of approximately 207,000.
More than 2.8 million people in total live there, a statistic underscoring the new bishop’s call for more priests.
Meanwhile, Bishop Fernandes addressed his already ordained clergy.
“I am so happy to be your shepherd and your brother, and I look forward to hearing from you and working with you in the vineyard of the Lord,” he said. “But I want to work for you, so that you may exercise your ministry with joy.
“I promise you that I will be near you.”