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Pope names Bishop McElroy to head San Diego diocese

March 6, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

Pope Francis has appointed San Francisco Auxiliary Bishop Robert W. McElroy, 61, to head the Diocese of San Diego, filling a see left unexpectedly vacant with the death of its ordinary in September.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone congratulated his auxiliary on the appointment as the sixth bishop of San Diego, which was announced in Washington by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

“San Diego’s unique position as a major metropolis separated by an international border from another major metropolis, Tijuana, presents distinctive challenges and opportunities,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “Bishop McElroy’s proven track record of outreach to the poor and marginalized, along with his ability to understand and articulate the complexities involved, will serve him well in responding to Catholics of the Diocese of San Diego, as he builds upon the many graces they have received from God and helps Catholics confront their needs with hope and confidence in the Lord.”

Bishop McElroy is to be installed April 15 in the diocese of about 1 million Catholics.

A pastor for 14 years before his appointment as auxiliary, Bishop McElroy is a scholar of history and politics and a strong public advocate for Pope Francis’ goal of eradicating the structural causes of poverty that the pontiff expressed in the apostolic exhortation “Joy of the Gospel.”

“The cry of the poor captured in ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ is a challenge to the ‘individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality’ so prevalent in the cultures of the world; it is a call to confront the evil of economic exclusion and begin a process of structural reform that will lead to inclusion rather than marginalization,” Bishop McElroy wrote in the Oct. 23, 2014, issue of the Jesuit magazine America.

The San Diego diocese stretches across the southern border of California with Mexico, with about 1 million Catholics and a total population of 3.1 million people in San Diego and Imperial counties. The diocese includes 98 parishes, 14 missions, 46 Catholic elementary schools and six high schools.

Bishop McElroy will fill the see that became vacant when San Diego Bishop Cirilo Flores died in September of cancer, just a year after his installation. His predecessor Bishop Emeritus Robert Brom retired in 2013 after serving as ordinary from 1990. San Diego is Archbishop Cordileone’s hometown, and is also where he was ordained a priest, and ordained as San Diego auxiliary bishop, serving there from 2002-2009.

Born Feb. 5, 1954, in San Francisco as one of four children, Bishop McElroy was ordained as auxiliary bishop of San Francisco by then-Archbishop George Niederauer Sept. 7, 2010. His family resided in Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Daly City and Our Lady of Angels Parish in Burlingame.

He entered the minor seminary at age 14 and was ordained to the priesthood April 12, 1980, in the Archdiocese of San Francisco under Archbishop John R. Quinn, serving as Archbishop Quinn’s secretary from 1982-85. He was pastor of St. Gregory Parish in San Mateo 1996-2011 and also had stints as parochial vicar in the parishes of St. Cecilia in San Francisco and St. Pius in Redwood City.

As assistant bishop to Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone and prior to that Archbishop Niederauer, Bishop McElroy has tackled a number of public policy areas and continued writing on issues of national and international concern. He was elected in December 2013 as vice president of the California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops. He also serves on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

In San Francisco, he was lead archdiocesan advocate for the archdiocesan Catholic schools in the face of the city’s new seismic retrofit reporting requirement – a role that Archbishop Cordileone called “invaluable” in remarks after the appointment was announced March 3. Bishop McElroy acted as interim director of the archdiocesan Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns, helped guide a report on marriage within the archdiocese, as well as a report on young adults which led to the hiring of a director of young adult ministry under Archbishop Cordileone.

He holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard. He earned a licentiate in sacred theology from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. He was awarded a master of divinity degree from St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park in 1979.

He is author of “The Search for an American Public Theology: The Contribution of John Courtney Murray,” Paulist Press, 1989; and “Morality and American Foreign Policy: The Role of Ethics in International Affairs,” Princeton University Press, 1992.

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