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Toledo-born priest will make history as 13th Bishop of the Diocese of Columbus

Born and raised in Toledo, Father Earl Fernandes, of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, will become the first Indian-American to head a U.S. Roman Catholic diocese.

OHIO, USA — A Toledoan is making history. Father Earl Fernandes of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati will become the first Indian-American to head a U.S. Roman Catholic diocese. 

Fernandes grew up in northwest Ohio, attending high school at St. Francis de Sales and living in east Toledo and Oregon. His new job isn't taking him too far from home. Pope Francis has called Fernandes to become the 13th Bishop of the Diocese of Columbus.

"I feel excited, yet terrified. It's an overwhelming responsibility, yet it also fills me with joy," Fernandes said. "I hope that I can be the type of shepherd that the church needs today."

Fernandes is the child of Indian immigrants. While he grew up in a Catholic household, it's likely most of his parishioners may not look like him. But that's something Fernandes and his four brothers dealt with growing up in the church.

Credit: Karl Fernandes

"I hope to be just a bishop for the people," Fernandes said. "Not just one group, but for all the people."

His oldest brother, Karl Fernandes, said his little brother doesn't let discrimination or racism stop him. None of them ever did. Karl Fernandes said Earl Fernandes was always a good kid who was very smart, a salutatorian of his graduating class and on track to become a doctor.

"We say this jokingly that you're supposed to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer, right? So I think Earl even mentioned it in his speech that my mom used to say, 'our night prayers would be 'Please be a good boy, a strong boy and a doctor,'" Karl Fernandes said. "That's how she always was. But once he went into the seminary, of course, he was favorite child number one."

Credit: Karl Fernandes

Though Earl Fernandes is the second youngest of five boys, Karl Fernandes said he was the smartest. Former St. Francis high school principal, Father Ronald Olszewski, remembers Earl Fernandes as a very active student who took part in speech and debate, the school newspaper and yearbook.

"What I remember most about him, he always seemed very happy. and I think that's still the case," Olszewski said. 

That happiness continues into his work today. 

Credit: Karl Fernandes

"When he's at the pulpit he always smiles. To the point, as a big brother, I was like 'Earl! You're always smiling. Quit smiling.' and he goes, 'Because I just love what I'm doing,'" Karl Fernandes said. "I think that just, that really means a lot."

That means a lot to his family, his congregation, and to Earl Fernandes himself.

Credit: Karl Fernandes

"I'm a young priest. I'm a happy priest and part of that is just the joy of being loved by Jesus Christ, the joy of being a priest and being a priest with the people," Earl Fernandes said. "It's a great gift, this vocation. It's not that priests are all tired, old and sad. A lot of us have energy and enthusiasm."

Credit: Karl Fernandes

Bishop-elect Fernandes' ordination and installation will be Tuesday, May 31.


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