“St. John’s University was the place where my vocation was really solidified. I came here believing I wanted to be a priest, and I left here knowing I wanted to be one.”
Most Rev. Robert J. Brennan ’84C made that statement shortly before celebrating Mass on his first Sunday as the eighth Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, NY, at his alma mater, St. John’s University.
At his request, Bishop Brennan celebrated Mass at St. Thomas More Church on the Queens, NY, campus on December 5, where he was welcomed by a host of students, clergy, and other members of the St. John’s community, including Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President. “Our ties to the Diocese of Brooklyn run deep,” Fr. Shanley stressed, noting that St. John’s was created at the request of Bishop John Loughlin in 1870, and its campus was located there for the first half of the University’s life.
“It is such an extreme honor and delight to have Bishop Brennan here with us on his first Sunday as Bishop of Brooklyn and as an alumnus of St. John’s,” Fr. Shanley said. “I’m grateful that we have as our Bishop someone who is so closely tied to St. John’s University.”
Noting that Bishop Brennan realized his true vocation at St. John’s, Fr. Shanley recalled that one of the most important facets of a Catholic education is “helping our students find out who God made them to be.” During Mass, he presented Bishop Brennan with a collage of important pictures that included his St. John’s graduation photo.
“I’m so delighted to be your Bishop and delighted to be a part of St. John’s,” Bishop Brennan told the congregation.
Bishop Brennan compared his St. John’s experience to that of the minor seminary. “I began my formation here through daily Mass at what was then Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel getting to know the Vincentian priests, and being a part of campus ministry. All of that helped to form me and point me in the direction of the seminary.”
Originally ordained a priest for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY, Bishop Brennan became an Auxiliary Bishop there in 2012 and was named Bishop of the Diocese of Columbus, OH, in 2019. Bishop Brennan likened the role of a Bishop to that of a pastor of a very large parish. “In Columbus, I spent time visiting a lot of parishes. We had about 100 parishes spread over 23 counties, and I loved getting to know the people in each and every one of them.”
Fluent in Spanish, Bishop Brennan is excited to take the reins of what many consider to be the most diverse diocese in the United States. “Coming back here is exciting. Diversity is a big part of the experience here. The whole world is in Brooklyn and in Queens. I look forward to all of the different expressions of the one true faith.”
During his homily, Bishop Brennan articulated how important it was for him to be back at St. John’s. “This is the part of the diocese I call home,” he explained. “Coming here is very important to me.” He added, “I want to be here for all of you. I want to be a friend to all of you—a companion on this journey to know and love God, where we can show each other the way to Jesus.”
Bishop Brennan reminded the congregation of the Latin phrase “Ecce Agnus,” which is found on the University crest and means “Behold the Lamb of God,” recalling St. John the Baptist’s testimony to the divinity of Christ. “Our job, our role in life, is not very different from John the Baptist—to proclaim the tenderness of our God, to proclaim mercy, to proclaim liberation from all of those things that hold us down, and to do so by pointing each other in the direction of Christ. Ecce Agnus becomes our mantra.”
During the Red Storm Men’s Basketball game against Fordham University in Carnesecca Arena following Mass, Biology major Margaret Scott and Health and Human Services major Raphael Civil, both juniors and Catholic Scholars, presented Bishop Brennan with a special St. John’s Men’s Basketball jersey with the number 8, signifying his status as the eighth Bishop of Brooklyn.
Margaret knew Bishop Brennan from his time in Rockville Centre and noted he is close to her father. “It’s really meaningful for me to be here because of his connection to my family. It’s so exciting for him to come home.”
Joseph Wisidagama, a Legal Studies major and President of the St. John’s chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, also a junior, called the Bishop’s visit a historic moment for St. John’s. “It’s inspiring for me to know his story. When you put in the work, you receive blessings.”
Not content to be a mere spectator at the game that saw St. John’s defeat Fordham 83–69, Bishop Brennan walked around the arena offering both blessings and fist bumps to St. John’s fans, and even visited the RedZone student section to help cheer the team to victory.