The Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus has a new bishop – the first person of color in this role and the first Indo-American bishop in the Catholic Church.
On Saturday morning, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had appointed the Reverend Count Fernandes, now a priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, as the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Columbus.
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“It’s the land of opportunity,” Fernandes said. “There’s a lot of pride (to be the first Indian-American bishop).”
The Ohio native is also the first person of color to lead the Diocese of Columbus and the first Indo-American to be appointed as a Catholic bishop, Deacon Thomas Berg, diocesan chancellor, confirmed.
The fourth of five sons born to Indian immigrants in Toledo, Fernandes remembers celebrating the United States Bicentennial on July 4, 1976, holding signs with his brothers. His father, who had memorized the Constitution before taking his citizenship test, had fashioned his own version of the Liberty Bell together.
Fernandes, 49, who describes himself as “a young and happy priest,” will be ordained a bishop and installed as head of the Diocese of Columbus on May 31.
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News of Father Fernandes’ appointment as bishop comes months after Pope Francis reassigned former Bishop of Columbus Robert Brennan to head the Brooklyn Diocese in September. Brennan said her final Masses locally Nov. 21 after serving in Columbus for about two and a half years.
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Humility guides Father Fernandes.
This is the lesson his parents passed on to him, having grown up poor in a neighborhood of Toledo. And that was the moral imperative that followed his spiritual journey and his career, he said.
Before becoming a pastor at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Cincinnati, Fernandes attended the University of Toledo, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, before attending the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
In medical school – he comes from a family of doctors and teachers – Fernandes realized he wanted to be a priest. He holds a doctorate in moral theology from the Alphonsian Academy in Rome, Italy.
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Prior to being a pastor at St. Ignatius, Fernandes served from 2016 to 2019 on the staff of the Apostolic Nunciature, the offices of the Pope’s representative to the United States, in Washington.
While living in Washington, the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., which left one dead and 35 injured, was an eye-opening experience for Fernandes.
“I see myself as a man, a human man, created in the image of God, and everyone I see as a brother and a sister,” Fernandes said. “We don’t need to use violence to achieve peace.”
Violence and hatred diminish a person’s soul, the bishop-elect said, and he practices affirmation, not diminution. He said he knows what it means to encounter prejudice firsthand.
‘You don’t let others dictate your life and bring you down,’ bishop-elect says, recalling times he’s been accused of theft, had mud thrown on him or been passed over for jobs in the Catholic Church.
That adversity shaped Fernandes’ own empathy, and he said he was thrilled to meet and work with the people of Greater Columbus and learn about the area’s diverse population.
As a first-ordained priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati on May 18, 2002, Fernandes served as parochial curate at Holy Angels Church and taught religion at Lehman Catholic High School, a coeducational school in Sidney, N. Shelby County from 2002 to 2004.
This experience in rural Ohio guided Fernandes’ commitment to serve as bishop for the 23 counties of the Diocese of Columbus, which includes a large majority of rural areas and farmland beyond Columbus.
“I’m not just here for the city dwellers,” he said.
Fernandes’ vision for the future of the diocese
Nicknamed “Father Speedy” by his parishioners in Cincinnati for his brisk walk and conversation, Fernandes is committed to efficiency when it comes to prioritizing the goals of the Diocese of Columbus.
He referred to Pope Francis’ desire to create a synodal church, or a church that walks together, listens and discerns.
“It’s not so much a program of social and political reform as it is of evangelism – to bring the joy of the gospel to all levels of culture and to all hearts,” Fernandes said.
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One of the bishop-elect’s first tasks will be to study Real Presence, Real Future, draft parish restructuring plans in the diocese amid declining attendance and a shortage of priests across the country. ‘Catholic Church.
Fernandes sees his appointment as an opportunity to create a mission-oriented diocese, adding that the Catholic hierarchy cannot be seen simply as bureaucrats lounging in air-conditioned offices.
“We have to be spiritual entrepreneurs,” he said. “We must help everyone to live their vocation and to see Christianity not only as a set of rules, but as a way of life.”
Before Fernandes was named bishop, Bishop Stephan J. Moloney, vicar general of the Diocese of Columbus under three bishops, had served as acting leader — called a diocesan administrator — since December.
“Today’s news is a joy-filled moment for all of us here in the Diocese of Columbus,” Moloney said. “We know and are confident that Bishop-elect Fernandes will be a wonderful and deeply caring shepherd to all of us here in the Diocese of Columbus, and I know he will find the warmest of welcomes from his new diocesan family.”
The departure of former Bishop Columbus Brennan marked the first time in recent history that the diocese has appointed an administrator instead of having bishops serve until their successor is installed.
The two bishops who served the Diocese of Columbus before Brennan — Bishop Frederick Campbell and Bishop James Griffin — both retired and served until the installation of the next bishop, Deacon Berg said.
Brennan, now bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, also applauded the announcement.
“I couldn’t be happier for him and for the Church of Columbus,” Brennan said. “During my time in Ohio, I knew Bishop-elect Fernandes as a neighbor and through his service on the board of trustees of the Pontifical College Josephinum. He will bring his many talents, deep faith, and a true love for the Lord to a Church that vibrates with that same love for the Lord.”