Eileen Quinn Knight  
Profiles in Catholicism

Interview with Bishop Herbert Brevard, Bishop of the Virgin Islands

by Dr. Eileen Quinn Knight


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thanksgiving Mass 2014

Bishop Bevard is shown with concelebrants (l-r) Father Juszczak, CSsR, Father Lynch, CSsR, Fr. Mark, and Fr. Louis Kemayou, just before the St. Croix Catholics Schools Thanksgiving Mass with the combined student bodies of St. Joseph High School, St. Mary's School, and St. Patrick's School. 

Bishop Herbert Brevard, presented and prayed the homilies at Holy Name Cathedral  on March 10th and 11th for every Mass.  This was done through the generosity of Rector Sakowicz our pastor. The purpose of the homilies was to help all of us become aware of the needs of the Bishop’s people in the Virgin Islands. The understanding of the global Church was made manifest to all present.  Two category 5 hurricanes, Maria and Irma, hit the islands of St. Thomas, St John and St. Croix earlier this academic year and wiped out much of the structure of the islands. One hotel remains open and most of the restaurants are closed. Since the livelihood of the people has been severely compromised, the people of the islands do not have a way to support themselves.  This Bishop, called the Pirate of the Caribbean, with kindness and respect, intercedes for his flock. He takes care of them as much as he can with the aide of the Catholic Extension Society, Catholic Charities and Catholic home missions.   If a person in his diocese doesn’t have a stove he will find one that is usable for the person.

As the people settled after the hurricane, Bishop Brevard, opened his school to all who wanted to come giving credence to the word ‘catholic’ so it didn’t make a difference if you were Baptist, Lutheran, (the Danish settled the islands) or some other denomination and taught the children as God’s blessings.

The back story here is just as compelling.  Father Brevard was a parish priest in Philadelphia for 36 years.  His last assignment was an inner city parish.   One day he received a phone call from the Papal Nuncio telling him that he is assigned to be the Bishop of the Virgin Islands.  To many it would sound like a plumb job but as in most instances, there are two sides to the story: the story of riches and luxury, cruise ships and the ultimate vacation and the story on the other side of the islands of abject poverty.  Each week Bishop Brevard went to the mountain on Croix and brought a bag of candy and a bag of fruit to give to the children. One time, a little boy came from the mountain and asked Father: “Do you have some food?” The priest told him he was all out and to ask his Mother.  The boy said, “I already asked my Mother and she said it was not my day to eat but his sister’s turn.”  The Bishop reminded our congregation that we usually eat every day but not this child.

In talking to Bishop Brevard in the sacristy, I mentioned that we were having the Scrutinies at the following Mass.  Once he knew that the group attending the Mass was from the RCIA, he told his own conversion story.  Herbert Brevard was 11 years old when he decided he wanted to become a Catholic. He went to the local parish and met the pastor.  The pastor talked to him about Catholicism and told him to come back on Wednesday to serve his Mass.  He said: “Wednesday?” and the pastor told him they have Mass every day.  He came back on Wednesday and served the Mass and told the pastor he wanted to do that too.  I want to be a priest. He devoutly and reverently studied for the priesthood.  He was ordained in 1972.  His own Mother became a Catholic and went with him on a pilgrimage to Rome. Several years later, his Father, who was diagnosed with cancer, asked Father Brevard to help him learn to be a Catholic. He did so and baptized, Confirmed and gave Communion to his Father before he died.

As I observed Bishop Brevard’s untiring energy on Saturday evening and all day Sunday, one could see his union with the will of Christ, I was moved by his humility and inclusiveness to all who came into the sacristy.  His hospitality to all was thoughtful, kind, joyful and filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit.  The people of the parish were generous but I would say he gave even more than he received.