Earl Fernandes ordained as first Indian American catholic bishop

Pope Francis describes Fernandes as being “of strong faith and good character”

Earl K. Fernandes, the fourth of five sons born to Indian immigrants in Toledo, Ohio, has become the first Indian-American catholic bishop.

Fernandes, 49, a self-described “young and happy priest,” was ordained and installed Tuesday as the 13th bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus, Ohio with a ceremony at Westerville parish.

The almost three-hour ceremony at Saint Paul the Apostle Church in Westerville was in turn solemn, joyful and mirthful, with approximately 1,500 people in attendance for the ceremonial event, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Fernandes was named the next Columbus bishop on April 2 by Pope Francis. In a letter translated from Latin to English, the Pope described Fernandes as being “of strong faith and good character.”

Read: Earl Fernandes becomes the first Indian-American bishop (April 4, 2022)

After Archbishop Christophe Pierre, pope’s representative to the United States, read the letter, he and Fernandes shook hands and embraced.

Fernandes then walked the aisle of the large church, holding the Pope’s decree above his head to show those in the pews. They gave him a standing ovation — and a few “woo-hoos.”

Earlier, during the homily and remarks from Pierre, Fernandes was lightly teased, but also praised. The bishop-elect sat in a gold and maroon robe, a zucchetto (a skull cap won by bishops) already atop his head when he entered the sanctuary, the newspaper said.

Pierre noted Fernandes’ smile and said that, though it’s not all he’ll need for his new position, it’s “not at all a bad start.”

A choir sang many hymns and Fernandes himself distributed Holy Communion wafers to those in attendance toward the end of the service, his trademark smile on his face as he did so.

The leader of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, gave the homily and called Fernandes a friend.

Hartmayer praised Fernandes’ parents: his late father Sydney and his mother, Thelma, who was watching the livestream from Toledo as she was too frail to travel for the ceremony.

“These two wonderful people have had the strongest influence on Father Earl’s life, especially his spiritual life,” Hartmayer said. “They were his mentors … his first teachers in the way of faith.”

Fernandes — who spoke during the Mass only ceremonially, in prayer and verse — also has attributed his faith to his parents.

Fernandes told The Dispatch in a previous interview that his parents were devout and saw the church as their family, as they had left their blood relatives behind in India to seek a new life for their sons.

Hartmayer noted that Fernandes made history when he was ordained as a bishop, as he is the Catholic Church’s first Indian-American bishop. He thanked the fellow priest for his advice and friendship.

“Today, the Diocese of Columbus shouts and sings for joy as they receive their new shepherd,” Hartmayer said.

Read: Indian American Father Earl K. Fernandes Ordained as the 13th Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus, Ohio (May 31, 2022)

Among the invited attendees were Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and his wife Fran; Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, who was a classmate of Fernandes’ at St. Francis de Sales High School in Toledo; interfaith leaders; about 35 bishops and more than 200 priests.

St. Paul the Apostle in Westerville is the largest parish in the diocese, with about 4,200 families, and has the biggest church building, with about 1,500 seats, according to The Dispatch.

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