For Debra Burley, a longtime parishioner at St. Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood, the morning of July 21 brought her an unexpected rush of great joy — and a sense of hope for the future — when she heard the big news: Pope Francis had named Father Robert Barron, Msgr. Joseph V. Brennan and Msgr. David G. O’Connell as auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
“We all woke up and went, ‘Yay!’ There was a collective cheer,” recounted Burley, speaking with The Tidings following her usual Sunday morning Mass at St. Charles five days later, her enthusiasm still evident in her beaming smile.
“It’s definitely an exciting time for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” she continued. “I’m just so anxious to see what’s going to happen next.”
“My Facebook just exploded,” said an exuberant Wynsdey Adams, a fellow parishioner at St. Charles and a Lady of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
“It’s wonderful,” added her husband, Deacon Ryan Adams, who serves at St. Charles. “The Holy Father has seen the needs that we have here, and we now have three amazing men [who] are going to do amazing things for our archdiocese in our regions. … The L.A. Archdiocese is blessed in so many ways right now.”
‘Sacerdote de la Calle’
Bishop-elect O’Connell, who was ordained to the priesthood in 1979, has served as both associate pastor and pastor at parishes across the archdiocese, most recently at St. Michael, Los Angeles.
According to Sister Luz Dari Villera, HA (Hermanitas de la Anunciacion), director of religious education at St. Michael’s, Bishop-elect O’Connell is widely admired for supporting education, for his extensive work in inner-city parishes, and for much more, she told The Tidings.
Although the July 21 announcement was a surprise, Sister Villera said she was far from shocked that he was selected as an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese.
“As a priest he is … very giving, very spiritual, very humble and so dedicated to working for social justice and for those who are less fortunate,” — in other words, he is “un sacerdote de la calle” (a socially-minded community priest), explained Sister Villera, who worked with Bishop-elect O’Connell for more than four years.
“For all of us here at the parish it’s a great joy,” she said. Of course, she noted, losing him as their parish priest has been a very difficult transition. “We have cried, because he truly brought us all closer to God, through his work and example.”
A ‘true shepherd’
Ordained to the priesthood in 1980, Bishop-elect Brennan worked as a parish priest at several churches, including the Cathedral of St. Vibiana, before becoming moderator of the curia and vicar general for the archdiocese in 2012.
At Holy Trinity Church in San Pedro, which was his last parish assignment, he was “truly a wonderful pastor,” according to Linda Wiley, principal of Holy Trinity School.
“It was a great loss when [Bishop-elect Brennan] left our parish three years ago, and I know [the people at] his former parish, St. Linus, felt the same way when he left their parish to come here,” said Wiley, who worked closely with him for 10 years. One of his greatest gifts is his ease in working with people, she explained.
“He belongs working with people; he is wonderful with them, and people love him,” she said. “He is a true shepherd, and I think being an auxiliary bishop is going to be a wonderful opportunity for him, and especially for the people he’ll be able to shepherd. He will still be able to do the pastoral work he enjoys, which is such a talent for him.”
A ‘progressive’ evangelizer
Bishop-elect Barron, the current rector/president of Mundelein Seminary University of St. Mary of the Lake in the Archdiocese of Chicago, is the only newly-announced bishop who is from out of town. But as founder of Word on Fire, a leading New Evangelization media ministry, and a regular speaker at the annual Religious Education Congress, he is already widely known and highly regarded locally.
“We use a lot of his works in our parish,” said Debra Burley, who serves as co-coordinator of the RCIA program at St. Charles Borromeo. “Whenever we use one of his programs it’s always so well received, and our New Evangelization program is a direct result of his many works.”
Burley, who has met Bishop-elect Barron and has attended many of his Congress workshops, said she believes his arrival will “bring a lot of growth to our local archdiocese,” especially because so many people enjoy and embrace his “progressive” work.
“It’s going to be a really lovely thing having him as an auxiliary bishop,” she said. “Our arms can’t be any more open to welcome him and the other new bishops.”
The ‘blessing’ of Bishop Wilkerson
On July 21 the pope also announced that he had accepted the resignation of Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, longtime auxiliary bishop for the San Fernando Pastoral Region, who reached the official retirement age of 75 last fall. Bishop Wilkerson “has fulfilled his ministry with zeal and dedication” during his 50 years of service to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said Archbishop José H. Gomez.
Deacon Ryan Adams at St. Charles Borromeo couldn’t agree more.
“It’s such a blessing that we have had Bishop Wilkerson for so long; he is so close to my heart,” said Deacon Adams, who was ordained to the diaconate in 2014 and credits Bishop Wilkerson for his encouragement along that journey. “I have so much respect for him. I have gained so much just from knowing him.”
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is comprised of three counties — Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara — which are divided into five pastoral regions (Our Lady of the Angels, San Fernando, San Gabriel, Santa Barbara, and San Pedro). More than 5 million Catholics reside in the archdiocese, which has 287 parishes.