COLUMBUS — The Rev. Earl K. Fernandes, a priest whose first assignment following ordination was as chaplain of Lehman Catholic High School and parochial vicar of Holy Angels Church in Sidney, was installed as the 13th Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus Tuesday, May 31. Guests for the ceremony included a number of area residents, including former Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst and his wife.
Fernandes nearly completed medical school before discerning his call to the priesthood. He was appointed bishop by Pope Francis on April 2. The youngest bishop in Ohio and one of the youngest bishops in the United States, Fernandes was the fourth of five sons born to Indian immigrants. He is the first Indian-American Catholic bishop.
Following his assignment in Sidney, Fernandes journeyed to Rome to study at the Alphonsian Academy, where he received a doctorate in moral theology summa cum laude in 2007. He returned to the United States to teach at the Ahenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary Seminary of the West. He was appointed Dean and was later appointed a member of the staff of the Apostolic Nunciature (Vatican Embassy) in Washington, D.C.
He returned to Ohio in 2019 and was appointed pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Cincinnati. He served in that capacity until his most recent assignment.
Fernandes’ appointment followed that of Bishop Robert Brennan, the 12th Bishop of Columbus, who was assigned to serve as Bishop of Brooklyn. Brennan returned to Columbus for the consecration ceremony, and was one of three former Columbus bishops to attend the ceremony.
“Being a high school chaplain keeps you in touch with young people. They are not only the future of the church, but they are the church now,” Fernandes stated recently referring to his time at Lehman Catholic. “Just as you keep them connected to the church, they help keep you connected to them not only in the classroom, but by attending their football and basketball games. It means the world to them that you are interested in their lives.”
A number of his former high school students attended Solemn Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours on Monday evening at St. Andrew Church in Columbus. During the reception following, they could be seen congratulating their former teacher, posing for photos, and wishing him well.
Other former students joined the more than 1,500 who attended the Ordination and Installation Mass on May 31, and similarly posed for photos and offered their congratulations to Fernandes following the more than three-hour long ceremony. The ordination and installation Mass was held at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Westerville.
Hymns coupled with applause and laughter filled the church throughout the Mass. Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre read the letter of appointment from Pope Francis. The original parchment was written in Latin, and Pierre read an English translation, but not before giving Fernandes some good-natured ribbing.
“You will have no shortage of counselors in your new role,” Pierre stated to sustained laughter after introducing the three previous bishops of Columbus. He also drew laughter just before he began reading the document when he stated, “This is the papal bull!”
Before the Mass concluded, the newly-minted bishop addressed the large crowd. “I promise you I will be close to you,” he told his brother priests. “I am so happy to be your shepherd and your brother. I look forward to listening to you and working with you in the Lord’s vineyard. I want to work for you so that you may exercise your ministry with joy.”
He encouraged those in the audience to pray for vocations. “It is the sad truth that in the Diocese of Columbus you will have more bishops ordained this year than priests,” he started.
He spoke lovingly of his parents, who immigrated to Toledo from India in 1970 and faced discrimination. “I would be nothing without them,” he said.
Fernandes’ brothers Ashley, Eustace, Karl and Trevor and their families were in attendance. He expressed gratitude to his nieces and nephews “for the hope they provide for the future of the Church.”
To sustained laughter he also expressed his belief that his brother’s wives were “surely going straight to heaven.”
In another lighter moment, he acknowledged the presence of Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Michigan. “For years he has referred to me as the ‘other Earl’,” Fernandes stated. “As it turns out, we are the only two bishops in the world whose names are Earl. He is from the diocese that includes Ann Arbor and the team up north and from the state of a name that shall not be spoken of in a holy place.”
“He told me I was already talking trash and I plead guilty,” Fermandes stated to sustained laughter. “Last November there was no Catholic bishop of Columbus at the time of ‘the game’,” he continued. “This year I think he and I will have a friendly wager, which talking even more trash, he will lose!”.
Before concluding his remarks, he acknowledged the many priests and religious who had traveled great distances to attend his ordination. He specifically mentioned two religious sisters, who had received permission to leave their cloistered convent to attend the Ordination and Installation Mass.
He also mentioned the government leaders who attended. “I wish to acknowledge the government officials here including Gov. DeWine and his wife, Representative Wenstrup and his wife Monica, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, who was my high school classmate, the former mayor of Sidney Mike Barhorst and his wife Jenny who have been close friends for many years, and Danny O’Connor, a former student who is here representing the mayor of Columbus.”.
“Jenny and I were surprised to be mentioned by name,” Barhorst stated. “We were both deeply touched by his acknowledgement. I was serving as principal when he was first assigned to teach at Lehman, and from those earliest days, we developed a close bond.”
“Jenny and I traveled to Rome when he was studying there, and spent ten wonderful days with him as our tour guide,” Barhorst continued. “We visited with him when he was teaching at the seminary, and when he was assigned to the Apostolic Nunciature. It is a friendship that includes wonderful stories and shared, painful moments.”
“There is no question in my mind that he will be successful,” Barhorst said. “He is faithful and faith-filled. He is highly intelligent and hard-working. He has a perpetual smile that literally lights up any room. He will continue to make a profound difference in lives of those he touches and selfishly for me, he will be close. He could have been assigned a bishop anywhere. Those who know and love him can rejoice that he is nearby.”