Newly installed bishop shows willingness to meet public

WHEELING — Demonstrating his desire to meet West Virginians, the Most Rev. Mark E. Brennan took an unscripted walk to greet onlookers Thursday, minutes after being installed as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

When the installation Mass concluded at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, a smiling Brennan greeted audience members and gave a final blessing from an exterior balcony of the cathedral. Noticing people gathered on the sidewalk outside the Formosa Apartments, the bishop — still wearing his vestments and carrying his official crozier — walked across Eoff Street to chat with a surprised group of women.

One of the women, Yvette Smith of Wheeling, told the bishop that she might attend services at the cathedral now.

“I hope you do,” Brennan responded.

“Yes, I was shocked that he came over,” Smith said afterward. “We got excitement today. It was beautiful.

“It was my first time going over (to the cathedral). I got such a wonderful vibe from him (Brennan),” she added.

Zyanne Hamlin, also of Wheeling, was holding her cell phone as Brennan shook her other hand. Describing her reaction to the bishop’s spontaneous visit, she said, “I really was surprised. I was on my phone. It was such a shock to me.”

A third woman, Carrie Chambliss of Wheeling, said, “I was real excited to meet him. I’m still kind of shaking.”

Brennan returned to the cathedral sidewalk to greet more people and pose for photographs before going to a reception at WesBanco Arena. After a round of media interviews, the bishop shook hands with a long line of well-wishers and posed for more photos with them on the arena’s main floor.

Asked for his reaction to the day’s ceremony, Brennan quipped, “It was longer than I expected.”

He also said it was great to see family, friends and parishioners from his first parishes in the 1970s to his last parish. People from several states traveled to Wheeling for the festivities.

His task today is “to get to work,” he said, adding, “I’m very happy to be here.”

Regarding the work ahead, the bishop said, “I need to get around to know people and places where they live, and what they’re doing and what needs to be done … My first priority is to get to know people and the state of West Virginia.”

Several people who attended the Mass and the informal reception remarked that it was “a new day” for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. They also spoke favorably of Brennan’s humble nature and easy-going manner.

“I just feel such a renewed spirit,” said Lawrence Bandi, chair of Wheeling Hospital’s board and president of Wheeling Central Catholic High School. “I am excited to work with Bishop Brennan and assist him in any way I can.”

Ecumenical representatives also extended best wishes to Brennan and expressed confidence in his leadership.

“I am thrilled. I am looking forward to a new beginning,” said the Rt. Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia. “The relationships between the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia have a rich history. I want to see those roots nurtured and tended, so the Gospel can be proclaimed.”

The Rev. Joseph Hazar, dean of St. George Cathedral in Charleston, attended the service as a representative of the bishop of the Antiochian (Eastern Orthodox) Diocese of Charleston and the Mid-Atlantic.

“We pray that God grants him (Brennan) many years and wisdom in shepherding his flock,” Hazar said.

The Rev. Jeffrey Allen, executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches, added, “I think it’s an exciting time … Just in the few moments that I met with him (Brennan), I could tell he has a very kind and gentle and healing spirit about him, and that’s what the church universal needs.”


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