Robert Barron of 'Word on Fire,' two others, named LA auxiliary bishops

Pope Francis has named three auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, including Father Robert Barron, a popular commentator on the Catholic faith, and accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Gerald E. Wilkerson, 75.

The changes were announced on July 21 in Washington by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

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Father Barron is from Chicago, and the two other priests appointed by Pope Francis to be auxiliary bishops are from Los Angeles.

Father Barron, 55, has served as rector of Mundelein and president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, also in Mundelein, Illinois, since 2012. He is the founder of the global Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and has long been involved in media ministry. He was the host of the PBS documentary series "Catholicism."

Msgr. Joseph V. Brennan, 61, vicar general and moderator of the curia in Los Angeles since 2013, is a native of Van Nuys, California. His studies and assignments have all been in the Southern California archdiocese.

Msgr. David G. O'Connell, 61, is a native of County Cork, Ireland. He studied at All Hallows College in Dublin before being ordained a priest of the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1979, and he has been pastor of St. Michael's Parish in Los Angeles since 2003.

“I think it is clear that in appointing these new auxiliary bishops, Pope Francis really understands what the Church needs—not just here in Los Angeles, but also in the United States and across the Americas,” said Archbishop Gomez.  “I believe each of these new auxiliary bishops will help us in our mission here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles—the beautiful mission we have of sharing the love of God and the message of Jesus Christ and promoting human dignity and mercy and justice in our society.” 

In a statement posted at the Word on Fire website, Father Barron expressed his "enormous surprise" at the news of the appointment. He added, "The late Francis Cardinal George—the spiritual grandfather of Word on Fire—was a mentor and friend to me. The mission closest to his heart was the evangelization of the culture, bringing Christ to the arenas of media, politics, law, education, the arts, etc. I can’t think of a more exciting field for this sort of work than Los Angeles, which is certainly one of the great cultural centers of our time." Father Barron, an often sought after speaker and television commentator, told the Los Angeles archdiocesan paper The Tidings that his main responsibility will be to serve Los Angeles as auxiliary bishop.

“I have to be present to the people of the archdiocese,” he said. In the website statement, however, Father Barron pledged that the media mission of Word on Fire would continue under new leadership. 

The other two new auxiliary bishops told The Tidings they intended to continue their mission as pastors to the people of Los Angeles. Msgr. O’Connell has long worked in communities that have suffered through gang violence and drugs.

“I do believe what’s really important is for us to be out in the neighborhoods, to be out with the people,” he said, suggesting that he would continue the same as auxiliary bishop.

Los Angeles is the largest archdiocese in the country by population, with about 4.3 million Catholics. It has four other active auxiliary bishops and two others who are retired. Bishop Wilkerson turned 75 last October. Canon law requires bishops to offer their resignations at that age. A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Bishop Wilkerson was ordained for the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1965. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop Jan. 21, 1998.

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