ROCKVILLE CENTRE — At a joy-filled liturgy rich in symbolic tradition, the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s two newest auxiliary bishops were ordained at St. Agnes Cathedral here July 25. Introducing Bishops Nelson Perez and Robert Brennan, Bishop William Murphy instructed the congregation to “see in these two priests the successors of the first apostles.”
The cathedral was filled with members of the Perez and Brennan families, friends and co-workers, along with close to 200 priests and deacons from the Rockville Centre Diocese and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where Bishop Perez comes from. At the altar with Bishop Murphy were co-consecrators, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and Bishop Paul Walsh, a Rockville Centre auxiliary; three cardinals and dozens of other bishops.
It was the second day of celebration and ritual as the evening before during solemn vespers at the cathedral, the bishops-elect made a profession of faith and swore an oath of fidelity to the Holy See. The insignia of a bishop — the ring, pastoral staff (crosier) and miter (the tall, pointed hat) were blessed during the liturgy. Archbishop Chaput preached the homily.
During Wednesday’s ordination Mass, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, apostolic nuncio to the United States, read letters from Pope Benedict XVI calling the priests to the episcopal ministry. In the letters, the pope addressed each as “beloved son,” and spoke of the importance of the Church providing shepherds for God’s people. He also mentioned that Bishop Brennan has, by serving as vicar general for the Rockville Centre Diocese since 2002, already taken on some of the responsibilities of a bishop’s ministry and has “carried them out with pastoral zeal.”
As the ordination continued, the bishops-elect stood before Bishop Murphy who questioned them on their intentions to remain faithful to the Church and their duties as bishop. Then the candidates lay face down before the altar as the choir led the Litany of Supplication.
Continuing the ancient tradition, Bishop Murphy laid his hands on his new auxiliaries’ heads, conferring the power of the Holy Spirit. In a show of collegiality, each bishop in attendance followed suit. Bishop Murphy also anointed each new bishop with holy oil and gave them the symbols of episcopal office — the ring, miter and crosier. He then led the two new bishops to the chairs on either side of him, joining them with the other concelebrating bishops. As they turned to face the congregation, Bishops Perez and Brennan were greeted with sustained applause.
Both bishops made brief remarks, both in English and Spanish, at the end of the Mass. Bishop Perez said he could sum up all the feelings in his heart in one word — “gratitude.”
“I thank our loving God for the gift of calling me to serve Him as a priest and in this new role,” he said, also thanking the bishops and cardinals and priests at the ordination. He introduced his family, which included his parents, Emma and David, his brother Martin and Martin’s wife Rosie and his nephews, David, Martin and Michael, “and my brother David, who shares this moment from heaven.”
“To all the people of this great diocese, thank you for your warm welcome, especially to all who have worked so hard to make this such a faith-filled and joyful celebration. I am truly blessed to be now among you,” said Bishop Perez.
Bishop Brennan also expressed his gratitude and made a request: “Please, I ask your prayers. I ask you to pray that I might respond to this new call of the Lord — humbly, generously and joyfully.”
“God has been so very good to me and I can think of nothing more than the opportunity He has given me to serve as a priest these last 23 years,” Bishop Brennan said. He spoke of his admiration for his fellow priests in the diocese and noted, “It is a privilege also to serve with so many men and women — religious and lay — who work in the vineyard of the Lord, co-workers in the diocesan work and parishes, professional and volunteer. I know you do what you do because you love God and because you seek to build up His Church.”
Addressing young men who might be discerning a call to priesthood, he said, “I can tell you there is no more satisfying way to live your life.”
Joking that it would take too long to introduce his whole family, Bishop Brennan said, “I can say nothing better than that I am the son of Bob and Pat Brennan.”
When he said to Bishop Murphy that “Nelson and I are ready to get to work,” Bishop Murphy interrupted, saying “good,” and drawing laughter and applause from the congregation.
Retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan recalled Bishop Brennan’s days as secretary to his good friend, the late Rockville Centre Bishop James McHugh. “I would come to see him, and the door was always answered by a young and wonderful priest (Bishop Brennan) who could not have served that bishop any better than if it was his own father.”
There were plenty of other stories about both bishops being shared by family, friends and others whose lives have been touched by Bishops Perez and Brennan over the years.
Bishop Perez’ brother Martin spoke for the family that had traveled from Florida for the ordination when he said, “we are all elated and grateful.”
“For my mother, it is like she has come full circle,” he added. “She realized she brought us up to have a personal relationship with Jesus and now we live that out, myself as a married man for 20 years and my brother as a priest and now, a bishop.”
“You are extremely lucky to have him,” said Kathy Gallagher, a parishioner at St. William’s in Philadelphia where Bishop Perez was pastor from 2002 to 2009. “He is a ‘do-er.’ He gets things done.”
“He’s going to make an excellent bishop,” said Joyce Costigan of Bishop Brennan. A parishioner of St. Mary of the Isle in Long Beach, where Bishop Brennan has been pastor since 2010, she said, “He makes you feel at ease no matter what crisis you are having.”
Following the Mass, a reception was held in St. Agnes’ parish center, where the two newly ordained bishops greeted well-wishers.