On the feast of St. John Vianney, patron of priests, the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens welcomed its newest Auxiliary Bishop Neil Edward Tiedemann, C.P.
The bishop’s family and friends joined diocesan clergy for a Welcome Mass in the chapel at the Immaculate Conception Pastoral Center in Douglaston, Aug. 4.
When Pope Francis named Bishop Tiedemann as an auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn in late April, Tiedemanns on both coasts rejoiced.
It was happy news for the bishop’s family, especially his older brothers, Robert and Joseph, and younger sister Mary Lou Kelly. Word spread quickly to the bishop’s eight nephews and nieces and their children, as well as cousins in Brooklyn and New Jersey.
“I was thrilled and kind of shocked,” said Mary Lou, who lives with her husband David in Syracuse, N.Y. “He called and said that they had just announced it.”
She said her brother sounded excited when he told her about his appointment.
“My brother and I are very close,” Mary Lou said. “He’s been gone for a long time. It’ll be nice having him home again.”
In El Segundo, Calif., Joseph Tiedemann sat down at his computer to check his emails, and noticed one from his bishop-brother in the West Indies. It wasn’t unusual for the brothers to correspond this way, but this was no ordinary note.
“Fantastic!” was the word that popped out of Joseph’s mouth, and he immediately shared the good news with his wife, Barbara. “I was overjoyed,” he said.
“We went to his ordination on the island of Jamaica, and his first Mass (as bishop) in Jamaica (Queens)” about a month later, he said. “We have not seen him since. Going down to Jamaica is quite a trek.”
He’s happy his brother will be “back home,” and closer to their sister and brother Robert on Long Island.
A Second Home
For the Tiedemanns, the Brooklyn Diocese is like a second home, and Mary Lou knows her brother will be “quite comfortable” serving the people of both boroughs.
In Brooklyn the family can trace its Irish and German roots back at least three generations. Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in Red Hook is where the bishop’s grandparents and great grandparents were married.
The bishop’s parents met in Red Hook, but moved to Franklin Square, L.I., which was then part of the Brooklyn Diocese. The bishop attended St. Hedwig’s School, Floral Park, and then transferred to his parish school at St. Catherine of Sienna.
On weekends, they could be found in Flatlands, near St. Thomas Aquinas parish, for “Sunday dinners at my aunt’s house,” Mary Lou said. Their maternal grandmother lived there as well so all of the cousins gathered around her – and the dinner table – to eat, talk, laugh and make memories.
Years later, Joseph said those cousins helped in the parish and rectory when Bishop Tiedemann served as pastor of Visitation, 1998-2005.
Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, the Tiedemann children made some of their greatest memories developing a love for America’s pastime and Brooklyn’s home team.
“We spent a lot of our time as kids playing baseball,” Joseph said, recalling how he and his brothers had a day off from school when the Brooklyn Dodgers won the 1955 World Series.
Bishop Tiedemann is still a “big baseball fan,” according to his sister, so people in the Brooklyn Diocese shouldn’t be surprised to see him catch a game at Citi Field. He became a Mets fan after the Dodgers headed west.
The bishop also knows Queens very well, particularly Jamaica, having completed his graduate studies in theology and divinity at St. John’s University.
He also ministered with Catholic Charities in Jamaica, served as parochial vicar of Immaculate Conception Church there and spent a year at the Immaculate Conception Passionist Monastery.
While his family agrees that his priesthood takes primary importance in his life, Bishop Tiedemann also makes time to maintain strong ties with his loved ones.
Mary Lou said he enjoys spending time with her daughters, and sitting down with his nephew to discuss the books they’re both reading.
“Family is very important to my brother,” Mary Lou said.
“When we’re together, he’s the life of the family. He’s funny. My kids love him and he teases them. We don’t treat him like he’s holier than thou.”
Although his ministry has taken him to various places, Mary Lou said that her brother has traveled to be with her and her husband whenever they’ve needed him, especially after their four children were born.
“He was there when I came home from the hospital with each of them,” she said.
In the last year and a half, Mary Lou also welcomed three grandchildren into her family, and Great Uncle Neil has visited them all. “He’s made it his business to come up and see each one,” she said.
Mary Lou said that the love her brother has for his priesthood and his family extends to the people he serves.
“He’s always been one with the people,” she said. “He’ll be very much a part of the lives of the people (in the Brooklyn Diocese). He’ll try to do his best by them.”
Red Hook resident Sylvia Dobles said she can’t wait to see her former pastor from Visitation.
“I still call him Father Neil,” she said, days before his return to the diocese.
As pastor, she said the future bishop developed a good rapport with his parishioners. It was obvious he cared for them on a personal level.
“It’s like he knew everyone by name,” she said, noting that he’d stay to shake hands and chat after the Masses.
Even more impressive was seeing him waiting for local boys and girls to arrive for religious instruction on Wednesday afternoons during the school year.
“It didn’t matter if there was rain, snow, heat. He was there, and they all loved him,” she said.
Impressed by his devotion to the parish, she agreed to help then-Father Tiedemann when he asked if she could do “some office work” in the rectory. She’s been an assistant in the parish office ever since.
Msgr. Fernando Ferrarese, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, Astoria, came to know Brooklyn’s newest auxiliary when they studied Spanish together at the Maryknoll Language Institute in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
The newly ordained Passionist priest and his seminarian friends, including Msgr. Ferrarese, went to classes on weekdays, and played tennis and went to the movies on weekends.
Over the years, Msgr. Ferrarese kept in touch with Bishop Tiedemann, and is happy to welcome him home.
“He’s a great priest, a wonderful pastor,” the monsignor said. “He’s always been very warm, very concerned about others. Being a bishop is an extension of that.”
As an auxiliary in Brooklyn and Queens, Msgr. Ferrarese says he believes Bishop Tiedemann will provide “an effective pastoral presence,” especially in ministry with Spanish speakers.