Father Brian Nunes was sitting in his office working on his homily when he received the call.
It was the feast day of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of Macau, a small territory near Hong Kong that was near and dear to Nunes’ heart.
As he pondered the Gospel — “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” — the phone rang.
He picked it up.
It was Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, who typically gets the honor of telling priests that the pope has nominated them to become bishops. This time it was Nunes’ turn.
“It was kind of a blur,” said Nunes, 58, who is currently the vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “I don’t remember what he said, but I remember what I said, which was saying over and over to him, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’
“And eventually he said, ‘Thank you … yes?’ So to get my acceptance, I said yes.”
If it hadn’t been for Nunes’ reluctance to start his career in some small town, he might be a radio newscaster or a DJ instead.
Born in Inglewood to two parents who emigrated from Hong Kong and Macau, his family later moved to Yorba Linda, where he lived with his brother and two sisters. He attended St. Joseph School in Placentia and later Servite High in Anaheim.
He always loved radio and wanted to be a DJ before believing his personality was better suited for something more news oriented. “I have a face for radio,” he joked.
He decided to attend Loyola Marymount University largely for its on-campus radio station, where he spent his college life doing anything and everything: running the sound board, reading news reports, a classical music interview show, movie reviews, and more.
But when it came time for graduation and figuring out his career path, it dawned on him: To embark seriously on this career, he’d have to leave his family and friends in Southern California.
“To really work in radio, you’ve got to start in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, and then you work your way back to LA,” Nunes said. “Nobody starts in LA, right?”
So he put his skills to work in other ways. Working for the French record label, Harmonia Mundi. Writing for a biomedical journal. Being a copy editor for Business Wire.
He was working, but he was frustrated. Lost. Looking for some direction. Should he go back to school? What else should he be doing with his life?
But after church one day, he spotted a vocations brochure. Is God calling me to become a priest? Almost embarrassed, he stuffed it into his church bulletin, wary of anyone who might even think of asking him whether he was considering priesthood.
“I wrestled with it for quite a while,” Nunes said. “It was like a tug of war between me and God. No God, let somebody else who's holier and smarter and younger and this and that, but didn’t go away. And finally, I called the vocations office one day and I said, ‘I think God wants me to become a priest.’ ”
The only problem? He hadn’t really done anything in the Church.
“They said maybe you should volunteer and see whether that’s something you want to do with the rest of your life every day all day long,” Nunes said.
At that time, Nunes was attending St. Augustine Church in Culver City and began volunteering there, especially with the youth ministry. When a newly ordained priest arrived, Father Tony Gomez, he provided guidance and mentorship that let Nunes know that he was on the right path.
He entered St. John’s Seminary in 2002 at the age of 37 and was ordained in 2008.
“Every time I thought there was no way I was going to do this, for one reason or another, the doors would open and I’d be like, OK, I guess this is the path forward.”
As an auxiliary bishop, Nunes would love to bring a more unified dimension to the Church in an age of growing division. Nunes likened it to a large family — which he has plenty of experience with — where the Church can have some complications, but at its core foundation there is love.
“Despite all that, it’s still where we belong,” Nunes said. “So I think I would keep that in the back of my mind as I try to invite people back.”
“He loves his Church, he loves his people and I think his love for us was reflected in everything that he did, every decision he made,” said Rita Dever, principal of Mary Star of the Sea High School, where Nunes was the parish’s associate pastor and administrator. “His faith never wavers, so I know that he’s going to be really successful.”
For a brief period, Nunes was the vicar for ethnic ministry, and in an archdiocese as diverse as Los Angeles, he said there is beauty in those different languages, cultures, and communities.
“That helped me to shine that spotlight on our different ethnic and cultural groups here in LA, which I really think are one of our jewels, and I really hope to be able to come with my presence as bishop to continue to highlight some of those communities,” Nunes said.
“It’s easy for each little community to kind of focus on itself, but we need to remember we’re part of something bigger and not to let language and culture divide us, but rather to see those things as part of the beautiful diversity that we share.”