Martina Hart Photo
Bishop Mark E. Brennan offers his homily at the school Mass for St. Francis of Assisi School in St. Albans at St. Francis of Assisi Church Sept. 3.
By Colleen Rowan and Martina Hart
Clients of the Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center in Wheeling who came in for breakfast on the morning of Aug. 21 saw a new volunteer behind the counter. It was none other than Bishop Mark E. Brennan, who would be installed as the new bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston the next day. Here he was, donning as green apron and happily offering biscuits to those in line. It was a welcome sight. Bishop Brennan was joined by Catholic Charities West Virginia (CCWVa) Chief Executive Officer Beth Zarate and other officials from the organization for a tour of the center.
The visit was part of the new bishop’s commitment to getting to know the people and places of his new diocese. And following his installation as bishop Aug. 22, he has been doing just that. He began by celebrating Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling. Each morning of that week Bishop Brennan visited all of the diocese’s Catholic schools in Wheeling welcoming students and then touring the buildings. Joining him on the visits was Mary Ann Deschaine, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the diocese. On Aug. 26, he visited Our Lady of Peace School and then St. Vincent de Paul Parish School the next day. The following day, Bishop Brennan was at Central Catholic High School at 7 a.m. greeting students while sporting a Central Catholic baseball hat. Later that morning he celebrated the school Mass for St. Michael Parish School at St. Michael Church and then toured the school. He finished the morning with a visit to Wheeling University and a tour of the campus. His last school stop that week, was the next morning at Corpus Christi School.
“It was wonderful having Bishop Brennan visit,” said Dick Taylor, principal. “The students and staff were honored to meet him. He toured the building, and his warmth and kind nature were felt by all.”
His first week as bishop of the diocese also included a visit to Wheeling Hospital, where he blessed the new operating rooms; Good Shepherd Nursing Home, where he toured the facility and met residents and staff; and Serenity Hills treatment center for women suffering opioid addiction.
The bishop then traveled to the south, celebrating Mass at the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston Sept. 1. “Today’s readings focus on humility, an important virtue for us Christians,” Bishop Brennan said in his homily. Self-knowledge, he added, is the key to understanding humility, to know one’s strengths and weaknesses, one’s core values and the recognition of belonging to bigger and smaller communities. “What do you really care about?” he used to ask as director of vocations. “What will you stand up for when you’re challenged? Can you give of yourself to a cause greater than yourself?” “The humble person is not weak but is strong in self-knowledge,” he explained. “He or she goes about business without fuss or fanfare, just wanting to make a contribution to the common effort.”
He gave the example of George Washington who had to be persuaded to accept a second term as president when he did not seek honor, but “the honor sought him.”
He drew on experiences of growing up, and later serving as a priest, in the Washington area where his father worked as a painter in the White House. He recalled Cal Ripken who is not only revered for his accomplishments as a baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles but also for his decency as a human being, treating his fans with attention and respect, especially during a time of scandals in the baseball world. Likewise, former First Lady Pat Nixon enjoyed respect and affection of the White House staff because she was considerate and respectful toward them.
“A humble person grasps that he or she is not the center of the universe and treats other people as he or she would like to be treated,” he pointed out. In reference to the Gospel reading, Bishop Brennan invited the congregation to help the least fortunate members of society without expecting anything in return.
“Invite others to the banquet of your love,” he suggested. “The kid in school that no one is friends with, the person in your work place that can be troublesome but needs a friend, or the neighbor that no one visits.” He encouraged them to use daily prayer and liturgical prayer of the Mass and the sacraments as a “lifeline to God … because in prayer we stand before God who knows us to the very core of our being.” A magnificent example of humility, Bishop Brennan said, is Jesus Christ who emptied himself and became obedient to death on the cross and who now sits at the right hand of the father interceding for us. “So shall it be for us too if we learn the lesson of humility in an era of self-promotion and disdain for ordinary people. We have to work hard to know ourselves well and to be truly humble.”
Basilica parishioners who attended the Mass were happy to meet their new bishop and liked what they saw.
“He appears to be a really strong person, and he’s going to be able to handle getting us back together again,” said Mary Merolle. “He’s got good leadership qualities. I like him. And I liked his homily; he puts it together with the readings and it’s important that we understand what’s going on.”
I think he’s going to be great. I’m pleased with how down to earth he seems,” said Jeannie Tyler. “I think he’s going to be wonderful, a wonderful change.” The bishop also visited Blessed Sacrament Parish in South Charleston that evening, celebrated Mass at Holy Trinity Parish in Nitro the next morning and then enjoyed the triparish picnic with Holy Trinity, Christ the King Parish in Dunbar and St. Patrick Mission in Bancroft. It was then off to St. Albans the next day to celebrate the school Mass for St. Francis of Assisi School at St. Francis of Assisi Church. Later that evening, the bishop went to Huntington for a visit to the Newman Center at Marshall University. The next day, he visited Sacred Heart Parish in Williamson, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Logan and St. Mary Queen of Heaven Parish in Madison; and was to celebrate Masses at St. Joseph Parish in Martinsburg Sept. 8.
Bishop Brennan’s sojourn to the southern part of the state was to continue with a pastoral visit to the diocese’s Catholic churches in McDowell County Sept. 11 with visits to Christ the King Church in War and Our Lady of Victory Church in Gary and ending with his celebration of Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Powhatan. The next day, he will have pastoral visits to Sacred Heart Church in Rainelle, St. Charles Borromeo Parish in White Sulphur Springs, and St. Lewis King of France Church in Lewisburg. He will celebrate Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Ronceverte. The bishop will then head to Beckley Sept. 13 to celebrate a school Mass for St. Francis de Sales School at St. Francis de Sales Church. Later that day, he will visit St. Patrick Parish in Hinton.