COLUMBUS, Ohio – Paying tribute to his family history of faith, Bishop Robert J. Brennan of Columbus urged the people of the diocese to appreciate their own faith heritage and pass it on to future generations through everyday sacrifice and concern for others during his installation Mass.
“My grandfathers handed on a priceless legacy of faith, hope and love that was passed on to us by my parents,” Brennan said during his homily at St. Joseph Cathedral March 29. “These are the great treasures, aren’t they? Here for us in the Diocese of Columbus, we too are the heirs … to a wonderful legacy of faith.
“We stand on the shoulders of the people who built this up for us. And now it’s our turn, It’s our turn as the new generation. The faith they handed on to us – faith, hope and love – these aren’t museum pieces to be admired and watched, but a living encounter with the risen Jesus Christ.”
About 800 people, including 35 other bishops, filled the cathedral for the nearly two-hour ceremony, at which Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, read Pope Francis’s Jan. 31 letter appointing Brennan as the diocese’s 12th bishop.
Brennan had been auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, for nearly seven years. He has lived on Long Island his entire life.
Brennan, 56, succeeds Bishop Frederick F. Campbell, spiritual leader of the diocese from January 2005 until the pope accepted his resignation Jan. 31; he turned 75 Aug. 5, 2018, the age at which canon requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope. He remained as apostolic administrator until Brennan’s installation.
The motto on Brennan’s episcopal coat of arms is “Thy Will Be Done.” He said in his homily that those words are inscribed on his paternal grandfather’s grave. Another phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come,” is the inscription on his maternal grandfather’s grave. The two men are buried in cemeteries a short distance apart on Long Island.
Brennan said one of his grandfathers died before he was born and the other died just before he turned 4, so his grandmothers played an important role in raising him. Both women worked in New York City, visiting his family and tending to their respective husbands’ graves on weekends.
“So from a very, very young age, I would see those words (from the Lord’s Prayer) “etched in stone and therefore eventually etched in my own head, carved in my own heart. So years later, when I was asked to choose a motto, I went right to the words ‘Thy Will Be Done.’ Made sense,” he said.
Brennan described the lives of his grandfathers – one a coal miner and the other a trainman in the New York subways – and said: “Both of them never sought to make their lives better. They did all these things to make a better life for their children and their grandchildren, for us.”
He said that the words “Thy Will Be Done,” along with a scene of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, were on a prayer card which his paternal grandfather carried with him throughout his life and that they made a difference to his grandfather in his final illness.
In choosing that motto, Brennan said he felt that his grandfather was “teaching me from eternity. ‘Thy will be done, thy Kingdom come’ – easy words to say, but can you imagine the fortitude it takes to pray those words when life is tough – when it’s painful?”
“The great mystery we celebrate today is that God comes to reveal that will,” he said. “God doesn’t have us out there guessing, trying to figure out or stumble in the darkness. But God comes to reveal that will.”
He concluded the homily by noting that when he visited his great-grandparents’ grave in Ireland, there, too, he found the words “Thy Will Be Done.”
“It moved me deeply, that powerful legacy of lived faith, hope and love,” he said. “It’s a legacy that’s brought me here to you today in this place and in this moment. My fervent prayer now is that we together, in this beautiful Diocese of Columbus, will etch our own legacy of faith: our embrace of Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Before reading Pope Francis’s letter appointing Brennan, Pierre referred to the Catholic history of the Diocese of Columbus, where the state’s first Mass was celebrated in 1808 in Somerset, about an hour southeast of the diocesan seat.
“This is a special day for you in Columbus, the heirs of the great Dominican missionary Edward Fenwick,” who celebrated that Mass and eventually became the first bishop of what is now the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio’s original diocese, the nuncio said.
“By God’s grace, you will build on the great legacy of faith in this state and this capital of Ohio,” Pierre said, addressing Brennan.
“The Columbus metropolitan area is one of the largest in the United States, with a thriving business and financial sector, and has become a melting pot of cultures,” the archbishop continued. “Your experience with many cultures and your love of immigrants has prepared you to being the joy of the Gospel to the people of the diocese as their father and shepherd.”
“I ask you to be close to your priests, especially those in need of encouragement,” Pierre said, noting that as bishop of Columbus, Brennan automatically becomes vice chancellor of the Pontifical College Josephinum, which is located in Columbus and is the only papal seminary outside of Italy.
The archbishop read the pope’s letter and gave it to the diocesan chancellor and the diocesan College of Consultors, an advisory body of priests. Brennan then walked around the cathedral with the document so that all could see it.
He then was escorted to the cathedra, the bishop’s chair, by Pierre and Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, head of the ecclesiastical province of Ohio, who presented him with a crosier dating to the establishment of the Diocese of Columbus in 1868 and used by Bishop Sylvester H. Rosecrans, the diocese’s first bishop.
Puet is a reporter at The Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of Columbus.