Bishop Robert W. McElroy to lead San Diego Diocese
By Denis Grasska
SAN DIEGO — Bishop Robert W. McElroy, currently an auxiliary bishop of San Francisco, has been appointed as the sixth bishop of San Diego.
The appointment was announced at a press conference held March 3 at the diocesan Pastoral Center.
“It’s great to be a San Diegan,” Bishop McElroy, a San Francisco native, declared as he took the podium at the press conference.
“It is with great joy that I come to this place [that is] so filled with richness and blessings,” he said. “I will, to the best of my abilities, try ... to be a servant to you, to be someone who listens, someone who comes to understand and to love, ever more fully, this beautiful diocese.”
The bishop thanked Msgr. Steven Callahan for his service as diocesan administrator “in the very difficult time” following the death of Bishop Cirilo Flores, and he expressed gratitude to retired Bishop Robert H. Brom for laying such “a wonderful foundation” for the diocese’s present and future. He also acknowledged his immediate predecessor, saying, “I know Bishop Cirilo is with us in prayer this day.”
In his remarks, Bishop McElroy reflected on the blessings of his new diocese and the people who reside within it.
“The beauty of God, the gift of God, lies all around us every day here,” he said, referring to the many natural wonders of San Diego, “and that is a source of constant joy and thanksgiving for this Local Church.”
He pointed to Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first church founded in California, as a continuing reminder of the sacrifices that early Catholic missionaries made as they brought the Gospel to the New World. He said it also reminds us of the need to support local Native American communities and to guard against the marginalization of any group of people.
Reflecting on the proximity of the U.S./Mexican border, Bishop McElroy spoke of the need for comprehensive immigration reform and praised the contributions that immigrants have made to the United States.
“We are a people of immigrants and have always been,” he said. “Immigration is the vitality of our nation. It’s the source of its strength and diversity, and all of the richness of beauty that make us a people.”
Bishop McElroy also mentioned the military personnel who make their home in San Diego, praising their service and their role in the effort “to make the cause of freedom possible.” He lauded universities, particularly those located within the diocesan boundaries, as “a great sign of hope for the future.”
Turning his gaze toward the Imperial Valley, which represents the easternmost part of the diocese, the bishop described it as a “great, rich place of agriculture which teaches us of our historic role in California to feed the world ... in the sustainable way which honors the environment and the creation God has given to us.”
During the question-and-answer session that followed his remarks, Bishop McElroy was asked about his goals as bishop of San Diego. First among them, he said, is “to know what I don’t know.” In the seminary, he said, he was taught that a new pastor should “do nothing for a year,” but rather use those first 12 months as a time to “learn about your parish and your people, and come to love them and understand them as best you can.”
“Only then am I going to have any priorities,” he said.
Bishop McElroy referenced a recent speech by Pope Francis in which the pope said there exists in the Church “a tension between caring about losing the saved and saving the lost.” The bishop said, “Saving the lost must be the first priority,” and identified the parable of the Good Shepherd as “one of the most beautiful passages in the Gospel.”
Of the sometimes acrimonious partisanship in American politics, Bishop McElroy stressed that Catholic social teaching includes some elements that would be described as conservative, as well as others that would be described as liberal. He said “no political party and very few public officials ... agree with the broad social teaching of the Church.”
Addressing the clergy sex abuse crisis, which he described as “the great tragedy of the Church in the last 50 years” and “a grave wound in the life of the Church,” he said that “tremendous steps” have been taken to protect children, but that “we can never think we have done enough” and “cannot relax in those efforts.”
After the press conference, Bishop McElroy toured the Pastoral Center and visited the various diocesan offices to meet his new staff. The following day, his schedule took him to Nazareth House, a residential care facility for the aged, and Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum, where he prayed at the graves of three former bishops of San Diego: Bishop Charles F. Buddy, Bishop Leo T. Maher and Bishop Flores.
A California Native
Bishop McElroy was born in San Francisco on Feb. 5, 1954, to Walter and Roberta McElroy, who now reside in Santa Rosa, Calif. A fifth-generation San Franciscan, he lived until he was 10 years old in Daly City, attending Our Lady of Mercy Elementary School. His family then moved to Burlingame, where he and his three sisters and brother attended and graduated from Our Lady of Angels School.
During these years, Bishop McElroy felt called to the Catholic priesthood and, after eighth grade, he entered St. Joseph High School in Mountain View, which was the high school seminary of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Upon graduation from St. Joseph, Bishop McElroy decided to pursue his priestly vocation in a college outside the seminary system. In 1972, he entered Harvard College and graduated three years later with a degree in American history. He then attended graduate school at Stanford and in 1976 received a master’s degree in American history.
Reentering the seminary in the fall of 1976, Bishop McElroy attended St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif., and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco on April 12, 1980.
His first assignment was St. Cecilia Parish, the parish in which both of his parents had grown up and attended grammar school and the church where they were married.
In 1982, Bishop McElroy became the secretary to San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn, who himself had been the first auxiliary bishop of San Diego. Archbishop Quinn asked Father McElroy to undertake graduate studies in the field of Catholic social teaching, and thus Bishop McElroy obtained a licentiate in theology from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, a doctorate in moral theology from the Gregorian University in Rome and a doctorate in political science from Stanford.
Bishop McElroy returned to parish work, which has always been his first love, in 1989 serving as a parochial vicar at St. Pius Parish in Redwood City. In 1995, Archbishop Quinn appointed Bishop McElroy vicar general of the archdiocese, a post he continued to hold under Cardinal William Levada, who succeeded Archbishop Quinn.
In 1996, Bishop McElroy was made a prelate of honor by St. John Paul II and appointed pastor of St. Gregory Parish in San Mateo by Cardinal Levada. Bishop McElroy ministered at the parish for more than 15 years.
Appointed auxiliary bishop of San Francisco by Pope Benedict XVI on July 6, 2010, he was ordained by Archbishop George Niederauer at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Sept. 7, 2010. He became the archdiocesan vicar for parish life and development and served in that role until his appointment as bishop of San Diego.
Bishop McElroy is the author of two books — The Search for an American Public Theology and Morality and American Foreign Policy — and has written a series of articles in America magazine on the subject of Catholic social teaching.
Bishop McElroy is the vice president of the California Catholic Conference and serves at the national conference of bishops on the administrative committee, the ecumenical committee, the committee on domestic justice and the committee on international affairs.
“When I was growing up, my family would come to San Diego for our summer vacation and I was captivated by the beauty and vitality of this graced region,” Bishop McElroy said, after learning of his appointment. “During my years as a priest and bishop, I have continually been struck by this same beauty and vitality in the life of the Local Church — proclaiming the Gospel, embracing the poor and the marginalized, strengthening family life, forging unity in faith and solidarity amidst great cultural diversity.
“Now I have the privilege of becoming a member and a leader in this magnificent Catholic community and the society which surrounds it,” he continued. “There are not words to describe the tremendous joy and gratitude to God which I feel at this moment.”
The Southern Cross