Bishop Brennan’s priesthood has been about doing God’s will

GREGORY A. SHEMITZ | TLIC
Bishop Brennan

ROCKVILLE CENTRE — With his ordination as auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Bishop Robert Brennan noted, his world and parish have both gotten a little larger.
Bishop Brennan and Bishop Nelson Perez were ordained as bishops July 25 at a Mass celebrated by Bishop William Murphy at St. Agnes Cathedral here. They join Bishops John Dunne and Paul Walsh as auxiliary bishops for the diocese.

The day Bishop Brennan received the news of his appointment, he was celebrating Mass at St. Mary of the Isle in Long Beach, where he is pastor. “It was the Wednesday after Pentecost,” he said. “The Gospel that day was the story of James and John looking for a place of honor” with Jesus. “I remember talking about it at Mass and saying to the people, what Jesus is saying is there are challenges here, but God’s going to get you through it.” So when he learned of his appointment, “that image was right in my head. I think from the very beginning my first reaction was, ‘This is exciting, but it’s also overwhelming.’ But there’s just been this constant assurance that I’ll get through this.”

“As it’s kind of settled in a little more and I start looking at the calendar, it’s exciting in a very positive way,” he noted. “I’m looking forward to it being a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to going around to the parishes, to doing confirmations. In a sense, what’s happened is my world has gotten a little larger, my parish has gotten a little larger, and I’m really looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to working more closely with the priests and pastors.”

Bishop Brennan is very familiar with Long Island and the diocese. “I was born in the Bronx but while I was in first grade we moved out to Lindenhurst. My parents didn’t think we’d be able to go to Our Lady of Perpetual Help at the time. It was tough, but eventually I did go. So yeah, I’m pretty local.” He attended St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip, followed by St. John’s University in Jamaica. From St. John’s he went to the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington.

He was ordained a priest for the Rockville Centre Diocese May 27, 1989 at St. Agnes Cathedral. He was associate pastor at St. Patrick’s Church in Smithtown before being appointed secretary for Bishop John McGann in 1994. He continued to serve under Bishop James McHugh and then Bishop Murphy before being appointed vicar general and moderator of the curia for the diocese in 2002. In 2010, he was also appointed pastor of St. Mary’s.

He expects his experiences to help him in his new role. “For the last 18 years I’ve been involved in diocesan ministry,” he explained. “I’ve worked closely with three different bishops and I’ve learned an awful lot from each of them. I feel like I’ve gotten to know the parishes very well. It’s kind of like I’ve been sitting in the front row seat watching these things for these last 18 years, so I guess now I’ll be driving a little more often, and that’s kind of exciting. It’s been a ministry and a work that I’ve loved, but now I’ll be doing it in a different way. I’ve been connected to the parishes in the past as vicar general, I’ve been to all the parishes as secretary, I’ve seen the work of bishops through confirmation and the celebration of the life of the parish through my own experiences. Now being able to actually do it is a very happy kind of challenge.”

“A lot of the old service and ministry will continue,” he said, particularly “the things I’m doing here in this office, and I’m glad I’m going to continue to work with the people I work with.”

Bishop Brennan noted that his new coat-of-arms incorporates both personal and pastoral elements, but his motto, “Thy will be done,” strikes a particular chord in both his family life and his priestly ministry. “That phrase actually has become very important to me. It’s always been there rattling around in my head. I remember as a kid it was on the tombstone of my grandfather, and I often think that was probably the first line of Scripture I ever learned. My first encounter with the Bible was seeing that written and realizing that’s a prayer most of our parents would have taught us at a very young age. So the image of ‘thy will be done’ has become a prayer that’s important to me. Subsequently I found out that the reason it’s on my grandfather’s tomb is that it was a very important prayer for him. And it has been for my father and my family. Very often when we pray we ask for things we would like but the act of prayer is in the end saying, ‘Whatever it is I’m putting before you, Lord, with great trust and confidence I say, your will be done.’”

This ordination “is a great opportunity for me,” he added. “I see a connection with this nomination coming at the time we’re engaged in this belonging more deeply. If I were to look at a hope I have for my new role, I think it would be that I can be an instrument to help Bishop Murphy in this whole endeavor to invite people to experience more deeply the life of the Church. That has so many different ramifications. I’d like to see it happen at the level of the family. I’d like to see it happen for young people and young adults and if I can be an instrument for that, that would be wonderful. In the Spanish-speaking community, in the English-speaking community, in all of our parishes, through the diocesan efforts, that would be my hope, that I could be some assistance to the bishop in this.”

In his vocation, “I was looking forward to being a pastor” to God’s people in whatever way he was called, noted Bishop Brennan. Being called to be a bishop “is something different, but I’m very happy.”

(Then-Msgr. Brennan addressing young adults at a 2002 youth fest at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Melville.)