JAMAICA — Soon after Bishop Robert Brennan took the pulpit at St. Thomas More Church on the campus of St. John’s University to deliver his homily Sunday night, the 200-plus congregants filled the circular nave with booming applause.
The tribute came after Bishop Brennan, a class of 1984 St. John’s alum, spoke of the significance of the university to his own life and how much he looks forward to being a frequent presence at a place he considers home.
“I wish I could explain to you what it means to be here tonight. This is such a big deal for me; it’s kind of like a spiritual pilgrimage,” Bishop Brennan said in the homily. “Having studied here myself, this is the part of the Diocese of Brooklyn that I call home.”
The 5:30 p.m. Mass was the regularly scheduled student Mass at the university. The difference, of course, was Bishop Brennan’s presence — on what was his first Sunday as the shepherd of Brooklyn and Queens.
The decision to come to the campus was intentional. Bishop Brennan considers outreach to college students a crucial aspect of his ministry. That was the case in the Diocese of Columbus, and he plans to continue that work in the Diocese of Brooklyn — the home of his alma mater.
Ohio State University “became a big part of my life there in Columbus, so I look forward; I want to be here for you,” Bishop Brennan said to the students in his homily. “I want to be a friend to all of you; a companion on this journey through life — this journey to know and love God so that we can show each other the way to Jesus.”
The significance of Bishop Brennan’s return to the university wasn’t lost on current students or alumni, either. Billy Rabold, a St. John’s alum who was dressed in a crimson red suit ahead of that evening’s men’s basketball game, called it a “home run.”
“To know that he’s from Long Island and he’s an alum here, he gets it. He understands the Vincentian mission, and he understands what we’re about,” said Rabold, who is known around campus as a superfan attending every home basketball game in the red suit. “I know it’s going to help, and I can’t wait to see how much growth there is going to be during his time here in Brooklyn and Queens.”
St. John’s student Phillip Schacht said Bishop Brennan is an “example” for the students to follow. Fellow student Alex Schrell said the fact that he’s an alum “will spark something in a lot of students” to want to get involved in their faith.
Hannah Manjooran, also a St. John’s student called it “inspiring.”
“Usually I don’t see this many students here, so I think it’s really kind of calling people and encouraging people to come back to the church and really be in touch with their religion,” Manjooran said.
The majority of the 200-plus people at the Mass were students.
After Communion, Father Brian Shanley, the president of St. John’s University, came to the pulpit to congratulate and welcome Bishop Brennan to the Diocese of Brooklyn and to St. John’s. His remarks also included a surprise for Bishop Brennan — a picture collage that incorporated his yearbook picture plus a previous time he was honored at a St. John’s basketball game.
“It is such an extreme honor and delight to have Bishop Brennan with us here tonight on his first Sunday as the Bishop of Brooklyn,” Father Shanley said. “I think you’re the first bishop who’s an alum of St. John’s, and that tells us something special about our relationship with the Diocese of Brooklyn.”
After the Mass, Bishop Brennan greeted and took pictures with congregants in the foyer of the church before heading over to the St. John’s men’s basketball game on campus against Fordham (an 83-69 win for the Red Storm).
Bishop Brennan was honored during the first time out of the second half and was presented a basketball jersey with his last name on the back. The jersey number was eight, representing that Bishop Brennan is the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
As he walked off the court, the student section showered him with chants of “Bren-nan,” to which he replied with a smile and thumbs up toward the Red Storm faithful.