Put Out into the Deep

This Is a Time Not to Slow Down, But to Pursue New Horizons

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Today, I am happy to offer some ideas on the transition and the responsibility between myself as Seventh Bishop of Brooklyn and Bishop Robert Brennan, newly appointed as the Eighth Bishop of Brooklyn. The date of the announcement on Sept. 29 was a hectic day planned for the arrival of Bishop Brennan. The day started with the 8:00 a.m. televised Mass from the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, concelebrated by its rector, Father Christopher Heanue, followed by the traditional press conference officially announcing Bishop Brennan’s appointment to the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Father Brennan stands next to Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in 2003 during his first public speaking appearance in the Diocese of Brooklyn. (Photo: Gregory A. Shemitz)

Immediately after, we traveled to the Chancery Office for a prayer service in the Chapel with the central diocesan staff and the Auxiliary Bishops of Brooklyn. After a quick lunch with the Bishops, we went to St. Saviour’s Church in Park Slope to have a convocation with the high school students and representatives from St. Saviour Academy.

After the visit in Park Slope, we went to our beautiful Cathedral Basilica of St. James so that Bishop Brennan could meet its Rector, Father Bryan Patterson, and have some time for private prayer in his new Cathedral. Our day continued to the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston, where Bishop Brennan and I were able to greet the senior priests at the Bishop Mugavero Residence during their dinner.

We then met with all of our seminarians — both from the Cathedral Seminary House of Formation at Douglaston and those from the Brooklyn Diocesan Missionary House of Formation Redemptoris Mater for evening prayer. The day’s events ended with dinner shared with those seminarians and their rectors.

Bishop Brennan is no stranger to me as I have known him for many years dating back to the time when he was priest secretary to Bishop James McHugh, Third Bishop of Rockville Centre, who was my predecessor in the Diocese of Camden. Soon after Bishop McHugh was named Bishop of Rockville Centre, he was diagnosed with incurable cancer and died only 11 months after he arrived.

Not only did the then Father Brennan serve as his secretary, he also was a devoted caregiver to Bishop McHugh during his illness. Each time I visited Bishop McHugh, who was also my brother priest in the Archdiocese of Newark and whom I knew well, I witnessed Father Brennan in action with complete control of the situation, which was a difficult one.

Also, I knew him as priest secretary to Bishop William Murphy. As Bishop Brennan took on more responsibility in the administration of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in his role as Moderator of the Curia and Vicar General, it was evident that he was capable of dealing with the complexities of the New York scene.

During our press conference on Sept. 29, Bishop Brennan answered many varied questions, as well as questions posed to him at our other stops during the day. I could not have answered any of those questions better than Bishop Brennan did that day. Certainly, when Bishop Brennan questioned me about the life of the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, I was happy to respond.

Again, his questions were, I believe, the right questions and always on target. His inquisitiveness shows that Bishop Brennan knows well what the issues are about and has a clear idea of how he will deal with those issues once he comes to know the Diocese of Brooklyn better in the days and weeks to come.

Youth has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Sometimes over-enthusiasm can get younger people in trouble. I do not believe, however, that Bishop Brennan has that problem. As I presented to him the schedule for the weeks and months after his Installation on November 30, he spontaneously accepted the invitation to visit our 22 deaneries to conduct a meeting with priests, a liturgy, and then a meeting with the laity to discuss the Synod on Synodality process which began on Saturday, October 9, with the Mass to Open the Synod.

The Synod process was explained in my column last week. Essentially it is a process of listening in an attentive way to understand the needs of all of the Church. Bishop Brennan is very apt at that wonderful listening process so necessary for a vital and future-looking Church.

His immediate acceptance of the very grueling schedule for the first three months as Bishop of Brooklyn clearly shows me that Bishop Brennan is up to the task set before him and well prepared to be a competent and exemplary role model for the Synod process. The administration of the diocese, listening, and accompanying the faithful on the journey of faith will be his goal.

As a native New Yorker, Bishop Brennan had lived on Long Island, an island which we share with the sister diocese of Rockville Centre, until his appointment as Bishop of Columbus in Ohio. He certainly knows our history and the area of Brooklyn and Queens, as well as the difficulties that this New York culture provides.

Brooklyn and Queens as we know are the outer boroughs of Manhattan; however, Nassau and Suffolk may be the ‘outer’ outer boroughs of the City of New York, as many of its residents work in Manhattan and even in Brooklyn and Queens, and all share the same difficulties of traffic and parking. Bishop Brennan knows the area and will be, I am sure, a quick study learning the intricacies of this rather complex Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens.

Bishop Brennan’s knowledge of Spanish and involvement in the Hispanic ministry in the parish he served in Rockville Centre will be a great asset to the diocese. He is well aware of the extra complexity of the various migrant groups who find themselves in the Diocese of Brooklyn. I see a great sensitivity in him for the immigrant communities which confront us here in Brooklyn and Queens.

Allow me to speak a bit about what a retired Bishop does. Normally, a retired Ordinary of a diocese is called the Bishop Emeritus. Recently, I read a book from the Holy See describing the work of a retired bishop. In short, it suggested that the retired or emeritus bishop should be of assistance to the new bishop in any what that he requests, but never to be an interference in his responsibilities in governing the diocese.

I certainly have the great example of my predecessor, Bishop Thomas Vose Daily, who was a great help to me but never interfered in any of the administration of the diocese during my tenure. His rather long retirement gave Bishop Daily an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the priesthood and the episcopacy, which I look forward to myself. The life of a bishop today, especially in a large diocese as our own, is a quick-moving reality.

I cannot believe that I began my ministry here among you in Brooklyn and Queens 18 years ago, almost to the day of my Installation on October 3, 2003, and even now a little longer. Where has the time gone? What has been accomplished? I hope that at the Mass for my 25th Episcopal Anniversary and 51 years as a priest, I can share some of what I have learned during this time. I look forward to assisting Bishop Brennan in any way that I can. I have come to know and love our diocese and its people, and will be available to them according to the vision of Bishop Brennan for the future of the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens.

I will continue to live in the diocese in a rectory and, again, will celebrate the Eucharist upon request, but always in coordination with the wishes and schedule of Bishop Brennan. On a personal note, I will continue to follow what has been the passion of my life, assistance to immigrants and refugees. In this regard, I will become a ‘fellow’ of the Center for Migration Studies in Manhattan. The Center for Migration Studies was founded over 50 years ago by the Scalabrinian order.

I have been associated with the Center for over 40 years and served on its board for 20 years, recently retiring as its board chairman. As a ‘fellow’ in this Catholic think tank on migration, I will provide assistance in analyzing migration policy and perhaps undertaking some research on migration, and also, perhaps assisting with some of the fundraising efforts of the Center. This will provide me with an opportunity to reflect on some of the current and past migration issues which face our country today.

As I look forward to my years of retirement, God willing they will be sufficient to accomplish some of the things that I would like to do. Everyone puts out into the deep when they retire and recognize that the time allotted to continue one’s life can be long or short.

As we grow older, we know that one’s life is limited. So, this is a time not to slow down, but to pursue new horizons. I would hope that I do have the years of good health necessary to accomplish some of the remaining projects that might assist migrants in our society.