GREEN TOWNSHIP — The new Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Columbus is coming from southwest Ohio, after leading a Green Township parish through a painful period. He'll also make history in his new role.
Pope Francis appointed Earl Fernandes, a Toledo native, to lead the Columbus Diocese last weekend. He'll be installed on May 31st.
Fernandes will be the first person of color in that role and the first Indian-American bishop in the United States. He got the call while he was in his office.
"I'm excited, yet terrified," he said. "There was kind of a moment of silence, then I swiveled my chair around and I looked up at a picture of my parents that they had taken after I had a Mass at Thanksgiving when I was ordained 20 years ago. And then I swiveled a little more and looked at the crucifix and told them 'I accept.'"
His parents came to the United States from India in 1970. He has four brothers. Fernandes went to the University of Toledo for pre-med and biology before coming to the University of Cincinnati for med school in 1994. But he couldn't shake a call to be a priest. He entered seminary in Cincinnati in 1997.
Fernandes began as pastor at St. Ignatius of Loyola in November 2019, following the removal of Father Geoff Drew. Drew was pastor of the parish at the time until he was placed on leave amid investigations into his behavior, and ultimately a rape investigation and guilty plea.
"When I arrived, the parish was in turmoil, there was a lot of hurt and I began to meet with people and began to understand their pain," he said. "People wanted to be heard."
As he worked to restore trust and faith in the parish, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and closed the church and its attached parochial school.
Fernandes said he spent time during those dark, confusing days moving his ministry to Facebook and ministering to the sick and dying in the neighboring Mercy West Hospital, given his medical background.
His Palm Sunday Mass was full. His lenten message, he said, strikes similarly to his current situation.
"As lent concludes, when we go into holy week, we're going to talk about the death and resurrection of Jesus and the new life that he offers," he said. "Maybe my plans for how my time at St. Ignatius now have to die, but there's so new things could come to life. And that's the message of Holy Week and Easter, death and resurrection and new life that God offers."