As new Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Mark Brennan processed through the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen to offer his first blessing to the people gathered there for his Jan. 19 episcopal ordination, Mary Carmen Soler said she almost had tears in her eyes, because she knew the blessing that he had offered her and other members of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg over the years when he was pastor there.
“That’s what he offers you, his peace. That’s what he says, and he gives you,” she said after the Mass.
Reflecting on the priest who served St. Martin’s from 2003 until his new appointment, Soler, St. Martin's director of religious education, said, “He always has time for everybody. He’s very humble and patient. Whatever you need, he’s always there for you.”
That afternoon, many St. Martin’s parishioners, along with bishops, priests, seminarians, deacons, religious and other lay people from the Archdiocese of Washington, were among the capacity crowd filling the cathedral, for the ordination of Bishop Brennan and another new auxiliary bishop for Baltimore, Bishop Adam Parker.
Baltimore Archbishop William Lori was the principal celebrant and consecrator for the Mass where the two auxiliary bishops were ordained, and the co-consecrators were Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington and Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, the grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem who previously served as the archbishop of Baltimore.
“What a day of grace and joy for the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” said Archbishop Lori in his homily. He thanked Cardinal Wuerl “for sharing with us one of your finest priests.”
Bishop Brennan was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1976 and in his 41 years as a priest there had been pastor at St. Martin’s and at St. Thomas Apostle Parish in Washington and had served as the archdiocese’s director of priest vocations and as a parochial vicar at several parishes. In recent years, he was known for his leadership of St. Martin’s, a large multicultural parish, where he celebrated Masses in English, Spanish and French.
Bishop Parker, who was ordained to the priesthood in 2000, has served since 2014 as the vicar general and moderator of the Curia for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and earlier served as priest secretary for Cardinal O’Brien.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, read the apostolic mandate – the document from Pope Francis certifying the appointment of the two new auxiliary bishops of Baltimore. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was in attendance at the Mass. The concelebrants included about 200 priests and 20 bishops, including Washington Auxiliary Bishops Barry Knestout and Mario Dorsonville, and Memphis Bishop Martin Holley, who served as an auxiliary bishop of Washington from 2004 to 2016.
In his homily, Archbishop Lori emphasized the role bishops play in teaching and sharing the faith and being witnesses of Christ’s love and hope to their flock.
“The greatest challenge in being a bishop is not administration, public relations or fundraising. The greatest challenge is always and everywhere to be an example to God’s people,” he said.
The office of bishop should not be seen “as a source of power, but as a form of service to Christ and his Church, to the poor and vulnerable,” Baltimore’s archbishop said.
In the key moment of the rite of ordaining the new bishops, Archbishop Lori and then Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal O’Brien, followed by the other bishops, did the laying on of hands upon the heads of Bishop Brennan and Bishop Parker, as a sign of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The Mass also included the singing of the litany of saints. The new bishops’ heads were anointed with oil, and they were presented with the Book of the Gospels, and then with the symbols of their new office – their bishop’s ring, miter and crosier (shepherd’s staff). They then received the sign of peace from their brother bishops.
After Communion, Bishop Brennan and Bishop Parker processed down the center and side aisles, to offer their first blessing as bishops. The newly ordained bishops then addressed the congregation, offering thanks to their families for their example of faith and to the priests, bishops and lay people whom they worked with for their support over the years.
Acknowledging his mother in the congregation, Bishop Parker said, “It was from you and Dad I first heard about Jesus Christ and to you I have gratitude for my life and faith.” Concluding his remarks, he asked his new flock for prayers. “Please pray for us, that we will be worthy and faithful shepherds.”
Bishop Brennan then spoke, joking that he could just say “ditto” to his new fellow bishop’s remarks. He thanked his late parents, and noted what a blessing it was for him to serve his diverse parish community at St. Martin’s. “We’re all God’s people,” he said, later also addressing the congregation in Spanish and French.
He also offered thanks to Archbishop Lori, noting that they share the same middle name – Edward – and have shared a friendship spanning their four decades of ministry. Archbishop Lori, ordained to the priesthood in 1977, the year after Bishop Brennan was, served as the late Cardinal James Hickey’s priest secretary, and later as chancellor, vicar general and moderator of the Curia, and as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Washington, during the years when then-Father Brennan served in vocations work and as a parish priest for the archdiocese.
During the Mass, Archbishop Lori had noted that he and Bishop Brennan “go way back,” and afterward, he told the Catholic Standard that he never dreamed that he would have the opportunity to work with his friend again. “It’s like a reunion,” Archbishop Lori said, adding, “He’s a good and holy priest. He’s a wonderful gentleman who has such a depth of understanding for so many things.”
Baltimore’s archbishop said Bishop Brennan’s key responsibility with his new family of faith will be to help spread the Gospel and strengthen that archdiocese’s outreach to its Hispanic community.
Father Thomas Kalita, the pastor of St. Peter Parish in Olney, assisted Bishop Brennan at the Mass and has a special connection to both new Baltimore auxiliary bishops. Years earlier, Father Kalita served as the chaplain at the Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland in College Park, where then-Father Brennan was in residence, and where the future Bishop Parker was once a student.
“They’re both excellent priests. They both love the Lord very much. They’re both good servants of God’s people,” said Father Kalita.
The guests at the Mass included Jeff Kinney, the author of the best-selling children’s book series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, who knew Bishop Parker during their student days at the University of Maryland, and they have remained good friends since.
“He’s the best… He’s the full package – super smart, extremely likable. He’ll be a tremendous representative of the Church,” said Kinney, who added that he felt from the start that people in the Church recognized something special about his friend, who only aspired to be a parish priest.
The guests included Paul Brennan, Bishop Brennan’s younger brother who is retired from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and lives in Frederick. “He’s just a good guy…,” he said, noting his brother’s concern for the poor. “He never takes a day off.”
That point was echoed by Luis Gorres, a longtime parishioner of St. Martin of Tours. “The guy never stops praying or working,” the computer science consultant said of Bishop Brennan, noting how he made people from different countries feel accepted and welcome at the parish, and added different spiritual and cultural activities there to reflect their traditions.
Helene Redmond, a Golden Apple Award winning teacher at St. Martin of Tours School, said then-Msgr. Brennan visited her eighth grade class each month to talk to them about the importance of prayer and serving others. She said their former pastor was known for “his humility, his service and his genuine care for people… He was an inspiration to us.”
Jonathan Barahona, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Washington whose home parish is St. Martin of Tours, said he admired then-Msgr. Brennan for how he managed such a diverse parish. “You could tell he had a real love for the people,” he said.
The seminarian studying for the priesthood said he learned important things about what it means to be a priest from the example of his former pastor.
“I learned the hard work it takes to really minister to the people of God, and the love it takes to do that work,” Barahona said.