- The 49-year-old became the first person of color in that role and the Catholic Church’s first bishop of Indian origin.
St. Paul the Apostle Church in Westerville, Ohio today ordained and installed Father Earl K. Fernandes as the diocese’s 13th bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus. He became 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, ”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.
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 as bishop-elect. He spoke about the example of his immigrant parents, and the experiences he has had been the victim of racial discrimination.
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.
He 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.”
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.