‘He’s a Roll-Up-Your-Sleeves Guy’
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Before the Oct. 2 kickoff of the Pontifical College Josephinum “Mud Bowl” — an annual flag football game between seminarians — Bishop Robert Brennan of Columbus jogged across the field to lead the opening prayer. As he did, the crowd of clergy, seminarians, and their families showered him with applause.
Bishop Brennan reciprocated the appreciation, praying for “fun and good laughs.” In a special blessing for the seminarians, he said, “may they know how much we love them, care for them, and root for them.”
In those moments and throughout the game, the bond between Bishop Brennan and the diocesan clergy and seminarians was clear. The clergy credit him for re-energizing them once he arrived. The seminarians consider him a role model.
“He’s an example for us,” Zach Goodchild said of Bishop Brennan. “We want to be like him. He works hard and loves Jesus, and that’s what you need in a priest.”
Sam Severance said Bishop Brennan treats everyone equally and is “always tuned in at that moment with each person” during a conversation.
Tyler Fitzgerald called Bishop Brennan “inspiring” and someone who “genuinely cares about how you’re doing.” Fitzgerald also expressed appreciation for Bishop Brennan’s willingness to share with them his experiences in the priesthood.
The admiration is mutual.
“Wherever I am, I always want to be able to support and encourage the seminarians,” Bishop Brennan said. “I tell them I think they’re the real heroes. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of generosity at any age to step up to be a priest, today even more so.”
Bishop Brennan is the vice-chancellor of the Pontifical College Josephinum, the seminary located in Columbus, as local bishop. Apostolic Nuncio to the United States Father Christophe Pierre is the chancellor. Because Father Pierre is based in Washington D.C., the bishop of Columbus assumes the vice-chancellor role.
From 2016-2019 the Josephinum graduated 147 students between its undergraduate and graduate programs. A typical graduating class is between 30-50 students each year.
Clergy within the Diocese of Columbus say Bishop Brennan’s support for them echoes his fraternal spirit toward those aspiring to be priests.
Msgr. Joseph Hendricks, pastor of St. Brigid of Kildare and the former chancellor and vicar general for the diocese, remembers Bishop Brennan scheduling a meeting with him the day they met at his installation.
“That’s the type of leader he is. I didn’t know him, but he came to see me, and from that day on and from that first time we visited I became a very, very devoted person to Bishop Brennan,” Msgr. Hendricks said. “He wants to be seen. He wants to be present. And for the priests in the diocese he has always been what he was to me: open, honest, transparent, and willing to help.”
Msgr. Hendricks also noted that Bishop Brennan is a “prodigious worker” who doesn’t stop working and holds others in the Diocese of Columbus to the same standard.
Father Michael Lumpe recalls a time St. Joseph’s Cathedral was short-staffed and Bishop Brennan came in to help him mop the floor, unprovoked.
“He’s just a roll-up-your-sleeves guy. He’s always right there on the front lines,” said Lumpe, the diocesan vicar for priests. “He’s always been there for the priests, and you can’t ask for anything more from a bishop.”
Father Stephen Alcott, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Columbus, said Bishop Brennan is the type of person “to send you a personal email or give you a personal call just because he’s thinking about you.” Father Brett Brannan, the head of the Josephinum spiritual formation program, added that it was clear “he made it a priority to build the morale of the priests.”
Father William Hahn is in a unique position as the director of vocations for the diocese; he works with Bishop Brennan as a diocesan priest and also sees his interactions with the seminarians.
He describes the bond between the seminarians and Bishop Brennan as a “warm fatherhood,” full of respect and absent of fear. And he noted how Bishop Brennan always seeks input from the seminarians before making a major decision that would impact them. The latest example of outreach was preparation to add a “pastoral year” for seminarians’ formation to give them more experience with parish life.
A little after halftime of the flag football game, Bishop Brennan was finishing a conversation along the sideline and had to step away to take a phone call.
Seminarian Fitzgerald looked his way and acknowledged, “I don’t know how the man does it. You ask him to come to something — he always shows up.”
Already that day, Bishop Brennan had attended the college’s annual four-mile run in the morning; then after the football game, he stuck around for dinner. Asked how he does it all, the bishop said it’s easy.
“It’s kind of self-serving because it’s stuff that I enjoy,” Bishop Brennan said. “Today’s like a day off. It’s just a nice thing to get out and be with everybody.”