Indian American Rev. Earl Fernandes Named 13th Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus, Ohio
- The 49-year-old becomes the first person of color in that role and the Catholic Church's first bishop of Indian origin in the United States.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, has named Rev. Earl Fernandes as its 13th bishop. He becomes the first person of color in that role and the Catholic Church’s first Indian American bishop.
The 49-year-old Ohio native, described by The Columbus Dispatch as “a young and happy priest,” will be ordained a bishop and installed as leader of the Columbus Diocese on May 31. He succeeds Bishop Robert J. Brennan, who now leads the Diocese of Brooklyn.
The son of Indian immigrants who came to the United States in 1970 with his two oldest brothers, Fernandes was born in Toledo and was raised in a devout Catholic family on the city’s south side, a working-class neighborhood located near an oil refinery.
He was ordained to the priesthood on May 18, 2002. Most recently he has been serving as pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Cincinnati since 2019. He has served the people of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in many leadership roles throughout the last 20 years. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus.
Before serving as pastor at St. Ignatius, Fernandes served from 2016 to 2019 on the staff of the Apostolic Nunciature, the offices of the Pope’s representative to the United States, in Washington. While living in Washington, the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one dead and 35 injured, was an eye-opening experience for Fernandes. “I see myself as a man, a human man, made in the image of God, and every person I see as a brother and sister,” he said. “We don’t have to use violence to achieve peace.”
Before becoming a pastor, Fernandes attended the University of Toledo, where he got a bachelor’s degree in biology, before joining the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. But he left his medical studies to become a priest.
He eventually entered Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary of the West in Cincinnati in 1997 and was ordained a priest in 2002. He subsequently studied at the Alphonsianum Academy in Rome, where he was awarded a doctorate in moral theology.
He is the published author of one book and numerous articles and essays and has given presentations, talks, and retreats around the country, and has been a regular contributor to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s magazine “The Catholic Telegraph.”
Fernandes comes from a family of doctors. When he was growing up in Toledo, his mother used to pray that he’d become “a good boy, a tall boy, and a doctor like my dad,” he told a press conference on April 2 after his appointment. He spoke about the example of his immigrant parents, and the experiences he has had being the victim of racial discrimination.
He spoke about his late father, a physician and his mother, a school teacher in India who later earned master’s degrees in education and social work and worked at a university, and their devotion to their Catholic faith and their sons’ education. “They urged their five sons to “work hard, pray hard, and study hard,” Fernandes said. “Having accepted the appointment to the Diocese of Columbus, I have to admit, that after Almighty God and the Holy Church, the people to whom I owe the greatest debt of gratitude are my parents, without whom I would be absolutely nothing,” he said.
He recalled how his mother made sure he and his brothers started their day with a morning offering and carried rosaries wherever they went. When the boys would go visit their father at the hospital where he worked, he recalled, they invariably would find him either reading in the library or praying in the chapel. “I think maybe I learned more about life and faith from my parents when I was 5 years old, watching them pray, and praying the rosary every day,” he said, “than I ever did in all my seminary (studies and) doing my doctoral work.”
He also mentioned instances when he has experienced racial discrimination himself. “And you kind of get this — I don’t know how to describe it, exactly — kind of this warm feeling between embarrassment and rage, and it takes a lot of spiritual and emotional energy to get over that,” Fernandes said. “It’s not always as easy as saying, you know, ‘Pick yourself up by the bootstraps.”
In a 2013 video about his vocation, Fernades describes a life-changing experience he had as a student traveling through Europe when he visited the tomb of St. Peter beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. “I was just completely overcome and overwhelmed, and I dropped to my knees and at that moment I knew God was calling me to be a priest,” he says.
After an assignment to Holy Angels parish in rural Ohio, he became dean and assistant professor of moral theology at Mount St. Mary’s seminary, and administrator of Sacred Heart parish in Cincinnati. In 2016 he began a three-year stint on the staff of the apostolic nunciature to the United States in Washington, D.C.
(Top photo, screenshot from Diocese of Columbus live stream).