“I am grateful for the gift of life and faith that they imparted to my brothers and to me, and for the many hidden sacrifices they made for us boys.”
Fernandes said that, to his knowledge, he is the first Indian-American Roman Catholic bishop in the United States.
Bishop-elect Earl K. Fernandes addresses the media on April 2, 2022 following the announcement of his appointment by Pope Francis to lead the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. Screenshot from Diocese of Columbus live stream
Fernandes said his mother made sure he and brothers started their day with a morning offering and carried rosaries wherever they went. When the boys would go visit their father at the hospital where he worked, he recalled, they invariably would find him either reading in the library or praying in the chapel.
“I think maybe I learned more about life and faith from my parents when I was 5 years old, watching them pray, and praying the rosary every day,” he said, “than I ever did in all my seminary (studies and) doing my doctoral work.”
Life-changing experience in Rome
After earning an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Toledo, Fernandes initially pursued a career in medicine, enrolling at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine before discerning a call to the priesthood.
In a 2013 video about his vocation, Fernandes 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 recalls in the video.
Fernandes 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.
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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.
“Throughout my priesthood, people have always asked, ‘Father, what’s your career path?’” he said at the press conference. “I said, ‘That’s the wrong question to ask.’ If you asked me what I’d like to do, I have always said from the very beginning I’d just like to be the pastor of a large parish with a large school and a large youth group. That is enough for me.”
He got his wish in 2019 when he was named pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola parish in Cincinnati, which has some 3,000 families and more than 1,000 pupils in its elementary school. Fernandes also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus.
Experience with discrimination
In the 2013 video, Fernandes also speaks about his parents' experiences as immigrants.
“My parents encountered many of the challenges that many immigrants encounter, and a lot of prejudice, to be honest,” he says. “And so my mother and father taught us that we have no family in this country, but what we do have is our faith in God.”