Diocese of Brooklyn Bishop-Designate Promises Focus on Catholic Education During First Appearances

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Family, Inspiration, Media, Pope Francis, Queens, NY, World News

By Paula Katinas and Emily Drooby

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Bishop-designate Robert J. Brennan introduced himself to the Diocese of Brooklyn by pledging to support immigrant communities, strengthen Catholic schools, use social media to reach young people, and listen to the needs of people in the pews.

Earlier in the day, Bishop Brennan of Columbus, Ohio, was named by Pope Francis as the eighth Bishop of Brooklyn. The announcement was made on Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C., by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.

Under his episcopacy, he said the Diocese of Brooklyn will fully embrace social media and technology as evangelization tools to draw young people to the Church. 

“The world in the 21st century has changed enormously,” Bishop Brennan said. “We have to meet the needs of today with the tools of today.”

His top priority as he assumes the role of guiding the diocese’s 1.5 million Catholics is evangelization to bring people closer to the faith. 

“Evangelization is very important to me,” he told The Tablet. Part of evangelization, he continued, is listening to everyday parishioners voice their views on the Church. 

Bishop Brennan appeared at a morning news conference side-by-side with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, 77, who has served as the leader of the diocese for 18 years. He called his successor “the perfect man for the job.” 

Bishop DiMarzio submitted his resignation to the Holy Father in 2019 when he turned 75, as all Bishops are required to do. He has been ministering since then pending the selection of his successor.

Bishop-designate Brennan noted he will begin his service in Brooklyn and Queens as as a synod process of local and global discussions is getting underway. 

“The timing of that fits perfectly with this transition,”  he said. “My tenure here will begin with listening. I’m kind of excited by that.”

Pope Francis has called on the world’s bishops to gather in Rome in October 2023 to discuss issues important to the Church. Before that meeting, synods will take place in dioceses worldwide to gather input and ideas from clergy, women religious, and parishioners.

Bishop Brennan comes to the Diocese of Brooklyn from the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, where he has served as bishop since 2019. He will be officially installed on Nov. 30 at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Prospect Heights.

Bishop Brennan was born in New York City, lived in Long Island, and served as a priest in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. 

“He knows New York. He is someone familiar with the issues here,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “He’s a quick study. He knows a lot of the priests already in the diocese.”

Bishop Brennan, 59, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 1989, and in 2012, was ordained as the diocese’s Auxiliary Bishop.

The Diocese of Brooklyn is known as the “diocese of immigrants,” and Bishop Brennan said he was looking forward to getting to know the various immigrant communities in Brooklyn and Queens.

He talked about the close ties he has formed with the Hispanic community in the Diocese of Rockville Centre: “It was the Dominican community … that really embraced me and opened many, many doors for me, so I look forward to that.” He spoke in Spanish during portions of the news conference.

Bishop Brennan was well aware of immigrants’ important role in the Diocese of Brooklyn long before he even became a bishop.

“As a student at St. John’s University, in the heart of Queens, I first experienced the remarkable diversity of the Diocese of Brooklyn,” he said. “The parishes of Brooklyn and Queens have long embraced the richness of that diversity and the bishops and diocesan leadership have sought to provide for and learn from immigrants from around the world. 

“I intend to continue that journey in faith, and I am eager to get to know each of the many and varied communities that form this amazing and unique diocese.” 

At a time when large numbers of Catholic schools across the U.S. are closing, the Diocese of Brooklyn saw increases in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic — something marveled at by Bishop Brennan. He said that strengthening the schools is a priority because schools “are where one encounters Jesus Christ.”

The fallout of the clergy sex abuse crisis is something the Church continues to work through and heal, but he stressed that it is a ‘societal problem’ and that many of the cases took place a long time ago. 

Still, he called it “horrendous” and “intolerable” and said, “it’s something we will work hard to fight. The church has a big responsibility.”

Bishop Brennan praised the efforts of the diocese to assist victims. Under Bishop DiMarzio, the diocese established a hotline for victims and others to confidentially report charges of sex abuse. 

He also expressed confidence in the findings of a Vatican investigation, known as Vos Estis Lux Mundi, into accusations of sex abuse against Bishop DiMarzio, dating back more than two decades, that cleared him after being independently led by a former federal prosecutor and the firm of a former FBI director. 

The news conference came after Bishop Brennan concelebrated his first Mass as bishop-designate with Bishop DiMarzio. They welcomed Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and a contingent of police officers to the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph for a Mass to celebrate the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of cops.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know each and every one of you,” Bishop Brennan said. “I want to serve you with all my heart.”

Born in the Bronx, Bishop Brennan is the son of Robert and Patricia Brennan. He is the oldest of five children.

He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Lindenhurst; St. John the Baptist Diocesan H.S. in West Islip, New York; and St. John’s University, Jamaica, where he earned a degree in mathematics and computer science. 

He studied for the priesthood at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception and was ordained on May 27, 1989. His first assignment was at St. Patrick’s Parish in Smithtown, New York. In 1994, he was appointed secretary to the bishop, working for three bishops: the late Bishop John McGann, the late Bishop James McHugh, and Bishop William Murphy. 

In 2002, he was named vicar general and moderator of the Curia for Rockville Centre. Eight years later, he was appointed pastor of St. Mary of the Isle Parish in Long Beach, New York. 

Bishop Brennan serves on the Board for the Institute for Catholic Schools at St. John’s University. 

He is also a member of the three different committees in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — the Committee for Catholic Education, the Administrative Committee, and the Priorities and Plans Committee.

Bishop Brennan, who appeared relaxed and at ease in the spotlight, joked about being a New York Mets fan, despite being born in the Bronx. 

“We’ve learned the virtue of long-suffering,” he said as the baseball season neared the end for the Mets, who missed the playoffs for the 13th time in the past 15 years.