Bishop Barron Goes to Hollywood – Pope Names Mundelein Mogul One of 3 LA Auxiliaries
Suffice it to say, the prophecy’s panned out.
In a stunning move, at Roman Noon this Tuesday, the Pope named the 55 year-old rector/president of the Windy City's Mundelein Seminary as one of three auxiliary bishops for the nation’s largest local church — the 5 million-member archdiocese of Los Angeles — alongside two of its most well-regarded lifers: Msgr Joseph Brennan, 61, the career pastor turned lead vicar-general to Archbishop José Gomez, and the Irish-born Msgr David O’Connell, 61, whose decades of ministry in LA’s violence-torn South Central corridor arguably comprise the Stateside bench’s most potent example yet of the “peripheries” Francis insistently wants present at the church’s center.
While each bishop-elect brings a compelling story, to use one op’s term, the appointment of Barron is likely to “suck the air out of the room” far beyond the three-county SoCal juggernaut, now the largest diocese in American Catholicism’s five centuries of existence. A protege of the late Cardinal Francis George (whose own successor in Chicago some leading prelates hoped Barron would be), the nominee's Word on Fire ministry of films, widely circulated, conservative-leaning columns and YouTube commentaries have made him a household name in church circles as well as one of the US fold's most popular speakers, and now, the highest-profile Stateside priest to enter the episcopacy since one Timothy Michael Dolan became an auxiliary of his native St Louis in 2001 after seven years of taking Rome by storm as rector of the Pontifical North American College.
Along these lines, Barron is one of the few incoming US bishops who's already appeared before his new confreres as a speaker, having served as spiritual director for the bench's 2013 summer retreat. Yet even as the calculus behind his Western move remains a mystery, its seismic impact on two of the nation's three largest dioceses is immediate: in LA, the bishop-elect heads to the most influential seat of pop culture on earth, his "rock star" talents for communication (and, indeed, fund-raising) on-hand to shore up a sometimes restive Anglo minority in the trenches, while in the 2.3 million-member Chicago church, the leadership of Mundelein – long regarded as the "crown jewel" of American seminaries, currently the US' third-largest formation house – now falls vacant for Archbishop Blase Cupich to fill just nine months into his tenure, a pick with implications across the Midwest.
All that said, now comes the interesting part. With Brennan likely to remain at the helm of the Chancery – which was recently reconfigured into nine core departments reporting to him – Barron and O'Connell are expected to take up duties as regional bishops each overseeing one of the LA behemoth's five pastoral areas. On their own, four of the regions have at least a million Catholics – a figure which would place each region among the US church's 15 largest outposts – and given the massive scope of the larger local fold, the regions essentially function as five mini-dioceses. How that ministry will mesh with Barron's wider purview remains to be seen, but in a statement released this morning by Word on Fire, the bishop-elect said "the short answer is that" his media work "will certainly continue" as the apostolate's staff "will keep bringing you my regular articles, sermons, videos, and media resources."
On the local front, meanwhile, it might seem unusual for a diocese that's now no less than 70 percent Hispanic to receive three Anglo appointees, and as the first round chosen by a Mexican-born archbishop at that. Beyond further evidence of a pressing national demand for Latino candidates that far outstrips its supply, however, the nods for Brennan and O'Connell – both fluent in Spanish and with broad experience in Hispanic communities – manifest the almost unique degree to which LA's Anglo clergy has proven fully effective at ministering to what's become the archdiocese's ethnic supermajority, the lead force behind its doubling in size over the last 25 years.
Said effectiveness is especially apparent in O'Connell's case. Having done double duty in South Central pastoring an African-American parish alongside a Hispanic one, the Irish emigré has won wide acclaim for his work on fronts ranging from immigration to unemployment and South LA's notorious history of gang violence. Hailed as an exemplar of the priesthood in a 2002 LATimes profile as the clergy sex-abuse crisis made national headlines, the candid cleric likewise made a wave of a different sort in the piece with an indirectly cited statement that "women should be ordained and clergy should be able to marry."
"If there had been some parents in there running things," O'Connell said then in reference to abuse and its cover-up, "none of this would have ever happened."
For his part, having served at the now-decommissioned St Vibiana's on Skid Row, Brennan – who's kept his home in an inner-city parish, shirking a space in the archbishop's Cathedral residence – enjoys a reputation as not just a committed pastor and engaging preacher, but a fairly accomplished tenor, even logging some YouTube cameos of his own....
The trio will be presented by Gomez at a 10am Pacific presser in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (on-demand video). While the ordination date remains in the works, the rites are expected to take place before the Pope's late September visit to the East Coast, during which Francis will address the US bishops in Washington's St Matthew's Cathedral.
In preliminary comments this morning, Gomez said he "could not be happier" over the appointments.
"They are good priests. Each one is a man of prayer and a man of service. Each one has a heart for the poor and a passion to share the good news of God’s mercy and love with everyone in the world today. So I am delighted and grateful that the Pope has called them to be auxiliary bishops."
SVILUPPO: With the diocesan Angelus News portal running a full package on the picks, here below are the prepared statements from the bishops-elect, in the order of their appointments as announced by Rome.
First, from Bishop-elect Joe Brennan....
Overwhelmed and even a bit perplexed by this appointment, I am humbled and deeply indebted to Pope Francis and Archbishop Jose Gomez.From Bishop-elect Dave O'Connell....
This moment has somehow led me to reminisce about many things, including my seminary days. The first ‘seminary’ I attended, however, was not St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo but the family home in Van Nuys. My ‘professors’ were incredible. Mom and Dad had ‘Doctorates’ in the school of love, devotion and ‘hard knocks’. My Uncle, Msgr. John L. Brennan (“Fr. John”), merits special mention here too as a model of sanctity and service, incredible priest and loving shepherd of the flock. Like you, I have had some great teachers and whether those among them who have died are smiling or wondering about this turn of events, I know that I am on the receiving end of their loving care from heaven. For that I am beyond grateful. Their prayers, care and support will sustain me. I’m counting on it. I’m counting on yours too!
We are certainly in this together. As St. John Paul wrote in chapter 5 of his Apostolic Exhortation entitled, “Pastores Dabo Vobis” (I Will Give You Shepherds), “The spiritual life is, indeed, an interior life, a life of intimacy with God, a life of prayer and contemplation, but this very meeting with God and with his fatherly love for everyone, brings us face to face with the need to meet our neighbor, to give ourselves to others, to serve in a humble and disinterested fashion, following the example which Jesus has proposed to everyone as a program of life when he washed the feet of the Apostles.”
God bless you, always and all ways.
I read that sometime last year that Pope Francis told some newly named bishops not to take their appointment as an honor or a title or even as a reward for good work, but as a call to follow Jesus more closely and to serve His people with more fervor.And, of course, Bishop-elect Bob Barron....
So I am very moved that the Holy Father has named me as an auxiliary bishop in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, and I must admit, I am a bit nervous about it.
I have had the privilege of being a priest of this Archdiocese for 36 years since I was ordained in 1979 in All Hallows' college in Dublin, Ireland. I regard it as a great blessing in my life to have had the opportunity to serve here. I thank God that as the years go on I have more and more love for my priesthood and for the people in the parishes I have served. The parishioners of St. Raymond's, St. Maria Goretti and St. Hilary's where I was an associate have taught me how to be a priest. The parishioners of St. Frances X. Cabrini, Ascension, St. Eugene's and St. Michael’s have taught me how to be a good pastor. The people from these parishes have also given me a great gift; the gift of a living relationship with Jesus which is the most precious gift of all.
I want to thank Cardinal Manning who ordained me a deacon in 1979 and Cardinal Mahony who has been my Archbishop for most of my priesthood here, and I also want to thank Archbishop Gomez for his support of me and for accepting this nomination of me as auxiliary bishop. (I am not sure if he had a choice or not, but I thank him anyway). I think there is no Archdiocese in the country where the Catholic faith is more alive in parishes from the poorest area of the Archdiocese to the most wealthy and everyplace in between. I think this is because of the great leadership of Cardinal Manning, Cardinal Mahony and of course Archbishop Gomez and our auxiliary bishops. I am excited about joining them in this great work of Jesus among the people.
The greatest joy of my life is being a pastor. It is a privilege to be part of people's lives especially in their time of suffering and need. I think our parishes and schools are powerful instruments of transformation of people's lives and of neighborhoods. I hope that as an auxiliary bishop I can continue to be a good pastor for the people. In this we all have a great example in Pope Francis who, even though he has the cares of the whole Catholic Church on his shoulders, continues to reach out to the poor and the rejected in a very loving and compassionate way. It's a great time to be Catholic since we are entering into the Synod on the Family and on a Holy Year of Mercy. The Pope is calling all of us to show the face of the compassionate and merciful Jesus to the world. I am proud to be part of this great ministry in the years ahead.
It was with enormous surprise that I heard the word of my appointment last week, but it is with a humble and joyful heart that I have accepted it. I am grateful to Pope Francis for his confidence in me and to Archbishop Gomez for his willingness to allow me to minister in this beautiful, richly diverse, and spiritually vibrant Church. I have visited the Los Angeles area many times, including seven or eight journeys to speak at the legendary Religious Education Congress in Anaheim. Over the years, I have also spoken here at the Cathedral, at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, at Act One in Hollywood, and at Thomas Aquinas College. So although I cannot say that I know this Archdiocese well, I have indeed been able to taste and see some of its goodness.-30-
The late Cardinal Francis George, who was a mentor to me, taught me the central importance of evangelizing the culture, bringing the power of Christ to the arenas of politics, law, the arts, higher education, the media, and entertainment. This has been my preoccupation over the years, informing my work as teacher, writer, and evangelist. I cannot imagine a more exciting field for this sort of endeavor than Los Angeles, one of the great cultural capitals of the world. I believe that the most significant challenge facing the Catholic Church today is the attrition of our own people. That upwards of 75% of Catholics do not regularly practice their faith is directly repugnant to the stated desire of the fathers of Vatican II and constitutes a serious threat to the future of the Church. And if the Church loses its voice, then who will speak to an increasingly secularized culture of God, of Jesus, of salvation, of eternal life? Therefore, if I can use the words of St. Paul, “woe to me if I do not evangelize!”
I will confess to some trepidation in my heart as I leave behind friends, family, and familiar surroundings, but I trust very much in the providence of God and in the kindness of the people of the great Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Please pray for me and teach me how to be a good bishop. God bless you.