Catholic Bishop of Columbus Robert J. Brennan, installed as 12th bishop of the Roman Empire Catholic Diocese of Columbus in March 2019, was appointed by the Vatican eighth bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Pope Francis appointed Brennan, 59, in the Brooklyn Diocese, and this was announced Wednesday morning by Bishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio in the United States.
January 2019:Robert J. Brennan named new Bishop of Columbus by Pope Francis
“I was very happy here in Ohio and I’m heartbroken to leave,” Brennan said in a statement. “I have met some amazing people here, and there is immense sadness that leaves you behind.”
The Vatican has yet to announce her local replacement, and Brennan will lead the Diocese of Columbus until November 30. If a new bishop has still not been appointed, a diocesan administrator will be elected to lead until that date.
A bittersweet goodbye
Deacon Thomas Berg, Jr., the diocesan chancellor, said it was bittersweet to lose Brennan: sweet because they are proud that he was chosen to lead such a large diocese, but sad because they will miss him.
“We are very proud that he has been chosen to lead such a large diocese and to meet the needs of so many people,” said Berg. “But at the same time, I have this feeling of sorrow.”
Brennan has been a “beloved leader” in Columbus, Berg said, and has shown such a “wonderful personal approach” to everyone, including Berg himself.
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When Brennan first visited Columbus in January 2019, Berg’s mother was in the hospital. Despite Brennan’s busy schedule, the bishop took the time to visit Berg’s mother, and it meant so much, he said.
To parishioners, Berg said he knew the announcement was a “huge surprise and a real shock.”
“At a time like this, I think the best thing you can do is surrender it to the Lord and trust his wisdom and God’s mercy,” Berg said.
Diocese of Brooklyn
As the new head of the Diocese of Brooklyn, Brennan will serve approximately 1.5 million Catholics.
The diocese holds Mass in 33 different languages in its 177 parishes, according to its website.
Current Bishop of Brooklyn Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio retired at 77 after a Vatican investigation cleared him of allegations of sexual abuse, according to Associated Press reports. Two men accused him of abuse, which he denied, but the Vatican said in September that they did not “appear to be the truth.”
Bishops generally retire at age 75, which is why the 11th Bishop of Columbus, Bishop Frederick Campbell, retired in early 2019, making way for Brennan in the service of Columbus.
DiMarzio tweeted about his retirement on Wednesday, expressing his confidence in Brennan.
Real presence, real future campaign
Many in the Diocese of Columbus noticed how gracious and approachable Brennan was and also appreciated that he spoke Spanish.
Brennan had recently announced a two-year campaign in the Diocese of Columbus called Real presence, real future. Its objective was to re-imagine how the diocese can better serve its people with the resources at its disposal. The diocese called this effort the “hallmark” of Brennan’s time in Columbus.
Reverend Michael Hartge, curia moderator for the Diocese of Columbus and campaign leader, said efforts will continue.
Hartge said the campaign was a hallmark of Brennan’s time in the diocese because he wanted to respond to what he heard from priests locally, the need for a “real global plan for the future,” but also to hear from as many voices as possible about this future.
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Brennan also had a personal impact on Hartge, who joined diocesan offices a year ago after serving as pastor in Perry County.
“Working with him has been one of the greatest joys and pleasures of my priesthood,” said Hartge. “Basically, he’s just a real father. He has real concerns for his priests, for leading the people of the diocese.”
Brennan’s leadership was a great example for Hartge, he said.
“Her humility, caring and caring for people, that will stay with me for a long time,” said Hartge, who was surprised to learn that Brennan was leaving after two and a half years.
“When he came there were people talking” and saying – because Brennan was from Rockville Center in Long Island, New York – that he was a “big fish in a little pond,” Hartge said.
“Some people were saying he wouldn’t be staying here for long,” Hartge said. “But we still hoped he would be here much longer.”
Leading Through Conflict
During her tenure, Brennan made strides in investigating the sexual abuse of minors by priests. In early 2020, Brennan hired a law firm to check diocesan records and see if more priests should be added to the diocesan membership roster. those who are credibly accused of abuse, which the diocese published in March 2019.
He also created a task force to examine diocesan policies related to sexual abuse and how the diocese is reaching out to survivors to help them heal.
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“I need to know for my own conscience that I’m doing my best,” Brennan said in January 2020. “I think that also protects people who have watched it in the past; it is someone objective who looks at him.
It also broke a precedent in January. After two black men were killed locally by Columbus officers in December, Brennan released public statements about racial justice. The bishops of Columbus had not yet spoken on the subject, but the bishops of other dioceses had.
Brennan led the diocese through COVID-19, dispensations for Masses, and then the reopening of many churches with caution.
He nearly reached the 105 parishes in the 23-county diocese in the year he served before the pandemic began, Hartge said. And, Brennan handled the pandemic “expertly,” in Hartge’s opinion.
“What was so expert about it was his very frequent communication with priests, ward administrators and schools through all of these different channels,” Hartge said.
Brennan was born and raised in New York City and her family still lives there. He served in the Diocese of Rockville Center, Long Island, for nearly 30 years before being named Bishop of Columbus.
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Reverend Tim Ahrens, Senior Minister at First congregational church in the city center, worked with Brennan on an interfaith basis and met her one-on-one.
“Bishop Brennan has been a wonderful spiritual presence within the Columbus interfaith community,” Ahrens said in a statement. “He will be truly missed.”
“He will be sorely missed,” he said. “He is someone who touched our hearts very sincerely and very quickly.”