Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
In my little corner of the internet, cheers went up with the news of Bishop Mark Brennan’s appointment as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. Auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore since 2016, he had served as the pastor for my parish from 2004 to 2016. He’d overseen at least three baptisms and six first Communions in my own family, and remained good friends with countless people of all walks of life in our community.
As with any appointment, there are those who feel concern about how things might be perceived. Bishop Brennan served during the years of Cardinal McCarrick and Cardinal Wuerl, and as such, had to weather the taint of the scandal of both the inappropriate behavior, and the institutional blindness to that reality until it could be ignored no longer. Perception in this day and age matters, and so I come today, as a former parishioner and a friend of Bishop Brennan, to assure you: This is a good priest. This is a good man. This is a good pastor.
Father Mark came to us when we as a parish were reeling from losing a principal, the pastor and an associate pastor, all of whom had become beloved in the community. I recall paying him a visit to talk about the big hole everyone had in their hearts. We needed to connect, somehow. Fr. Brennan listened to me and no doubt thought, “Who is this crazy woman with the double stroller?” But he listened and that weekend and gave us a sense of who he was — how he liked baseball, how his former parish was — and threw in a meaty bit of theology for us to chew on in the meantime.
He became a monsignor in 2005 and he became part of our hearts as much as the prior priests had been, shepherding 3,000 families for almost 12 years. He would visit the classrooms of the students preparing for confirmation and take question after question. He made it a point to go to School Board, to visit the various ministries in their evening meetings, to be at the school productions and in the hallways during CCD. He was always — first, last and always — present to a community that seemed to have 24/7 need.
From the beginning of his time at the parish, Fr. Mark grew and advanced many programs to serve the needs of the poor within the community. He spoke out in Baltimore and in Annapolis about the needs of the immigrant population, those facing a pregnancy, those needing support to support their families in education, and somehow found time with the other two priests of the parish to flesh out the eleven Masses (five English, five Spanish and one French) held every Saturday through Sunday. Mind you, this was in addition to Confession hour offered every Monday through Saturday after the 9 o’clock daily Mass, the soup kitchen Monday through Friday, and the pantry program on Monday.
Our parish reflected his zeal to pour out everything, to ensure that everyone was served. However, what I most know about Bishop Brennan is that he has the gift of listening to people — really listening, even when they’re upset or fearful or angry, and really reflecting before formulating a response. Anyone who came to Fr. Brennan knew that he would be fully present to them, and that he would listen to what they had to say. His twofold gift, of listening deeply and contemplating ideas like jewels to be examined from every angle, will serve his new diocese as it has all the places he’s worked before.
Bishop Mark Brennan is a humble man of God with a strong intellectual theological vein and deep faith. That’s what I've seen in the 11 years of being part of his flock. He knew his parish, and he loved and served his parishioners well. He will do so again for the people of West Virginia — of that I have no doubt. They are getting a good shepherd.