San Mateo pastor named Auxiliary Bishop
Pope Benedict XVI has named Msgr. Robert W. McElroy to be the 17th auxiliary bishop in the history of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The archdiocesan priest is a San Francisco native, a pastor in San Mateo, and a moral theologian with an impressive academic background.
The appointment was made public July 6 by Msgr. Jean-Francois Lantheaume, charge d’affaires at the apostolic nunciature in Washington.
Msgr. McElroy, 56, is pastor of St. Gregory Parish in San Mateo, where he has ministered since 1996.
Msgr. McElroy’s episcopal ordination Mass will be held Sept. 7 at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
“We in this Archdiocese are delighted that Monsignor McElroy’s gifts and zeal will be given even broader scope in serving the life of the Catholic Church and the community here,” San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer said.
“(Former) Archbishop John Quinn, (Auxiliary) Bishop William Justice and (retired) Bishop Ignatius Wang join me in congratulating Bishop-elect McElroy on his appointment,” Archbishop Niederauer said. “We ask the people of this Archdiocese and all of our brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church to join us in praying for him, and for the gifts and the graces he will need to carry out his apostolic office.
“Please include this intention in the general intercessions in your Masses, and ask the people of your parish to pray for Bishop-elect McElroy as well,” Archbishop Niederauer said.
Msgr. McElroy, a fifth-generation San Franciscan, was ordained April 12, 1980. He served as priest-secretary to then-San Francisco Archbishop John R. Quinn from 1982-85. He has also served as a parochial vicar at St. Cecilia Parish in San Francisco and St. Pius Parish in Redwood City. Before his appointment to St. Gregory, he served as the archdiocesan vicar for administration.
“For the past thirty years, I have had the incomparable joy of serving God and the Church in the priesthood,” Msgr. McElroy said in a statement. “Throughout those years, I have been constantly ennobled by the faith and courage of parishioners who labor amidst sometimes overwhelming obstacles to make the Gospel real in their lives and in our world. I have also experienced the constant support of bishops, priests, religious and deacons who have been my collaborators in the work of the Church and who have so often left me in awe of the depth of their discipleship and willingness to sacrifice.
“As I begin my new service as a bishop,” Msgr. McElroy continued, “I am grateful for all of these men and women who have enriched my life and priesthood, and I feel a special gratitude to my parents and all of my family, who have provided such a wonderful foundation for my life. I want to express my thanks to the three Archbishops who have guided my service in the Archdiocese of San Francisco with great pastoral solicitude – Archbishop John Quinn, Cardinal William Levada and Archbishop George Niederauer, whom I will now seek to assist with all of my energies in his kind, wise and faith-filled leadership of this Archdiocese.
“Most importantly, in faith and humility,” Msgr. McElroy concluded, “I wish to extend my profound thanks to the Holy Father for the confidence that he has placed in me; and I undertake my service as a bishop with the same combination of emotions that Peter displayed as he set out from the boat on the stormy sea to reach Jesus – eagerness, some fear and a recognition that I will succeed only if the Lord’s embrace assists me at many crucial moments in the years to come.”
Msgr. McElroy said he and Archbishop Niederauer have discussed the possibility of his serving in the newly created role of vicar for pastoral life in the Archdiocese. “The archbishop felt it might be good focusing on the life of the parishes and pastoral life,” Msgr. McElroy told Catholic San Francisco.
Carol James, who worked for 11 years as parish manager at St. Gregory and is currently parish council president, said Msgr. McElroy has leadership skills that will serve the Church well in a larger role.
“I think (Msgr. McElroy) has great gifts,” she said. “In addition to his extreme intelligence, I feel he reads situations well, whatever they are. He has always impressed me as being a wonderful negotiator. You get more than two people in a room and you’re going to get differences of opinion. There are times when things can get rather volatile. He was able to step in and handle those situations in a really calming way. I always felt that even if you walked out not getting what you wanted you didn’t feel as bad because he was able to present things in a way so you would more understand what was going on.”
James said Msgr. McElroy has energized St. Gregory with a string of initiatives, including reviving a men’s club and women’s club, enlisting members in the Point 7 Now campaign to end extreme global poverty and starting a capital campaign.
“He’s extremely funny and loves a good practical joke on someone,” James added. “I have been a recipient of those practical jokes. Nothing harmful, just funny.”
Barbara Drake, who recently retired as parish operations manager at St. Pius Parish in Redwood City and is a friend of the bishop-designate, said: “I think he’s got a brilliant intellect. He’s a kind, gentle, compassionate, thoughtful man. I can’t see anything but good things coming from his appointment.”
Msgr. McElroy, said Father John Ryan, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Burlingame, is “a brilliant man and carries it very lightly, and is really able to communicate the depths of the Gospel in a very clear way that people can understand. Really wonderful leader. It’s a great blessing for us.
“He is one of the most effective communicators that I’ve heard,” Father Ryan said.
A scholar and writer who holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard, the bishop-designate earned his doctorate in moral theology from the Pontifical North American College in Rome in 1986. He wrote his thesis on the Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray and later expanded it into a book, “The Search for an American Public Theology: The Contribution of John Courtney Murray.”
One of the most influential American Catholic theologians of the 20th century, Father Murray played a major role in the Second Vatican Council document “Dignitatis Humanae,” which concerned the right of individuals and communities to religious freedom in modern society.
One of Father Murray’s central concerns was that Roman Catholicism should be free to flourish within the U.S. constitutional system.
In a 2005 article in America magazine, Msgr. McElroy reflected on Father Murray’s proposition that pluralism in the United States is a source of moral strength and direction.
“Only if the foundational element of American democracy is a moral consensus shared broadly can politics produce anything more than ever-widening splits between red states and blue states,” Msgr. McElroy wrote.
“I think one of the issues in the debate in the current moment is what is the role that religion should have in public life?” Msgr. McElroy told Catholic San Francisco. Should religion be privatized, he asked, or should the nation follow the example of the founders – “which was that substantive religious expression and participation in the public life of the community are essential for the well-being of American society and government.”
Msgr. McElroy is “very intelligent – maybe one of the most intelligent men I know,” said Dominican Father Michael Sweeney, president of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley.
He said Msgr. McElroy has the ability to lead through the quality of prudence, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines as the virtue to see our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means to achieve it.
“I think his prudential judgment is really wonderful, and that to an unusual degree,” said Father Sweeney. “To navigate some of the things in front of the Church is no small thing, especially for a bishop right now.”
Father Sweeney worked with Msgr. McElroy on a project to train parish lay administrators to take on more responsibility in the Archdiocese.
“The way I would summarize Bob from briefly working with him is he’s certainly looking to the council (Vatican II) but always from the point of view of how will this be implemented? How will this look on the road? He’s someone who can really do that.”
In 1992, Msgr. McElroy published a second book, “Morality and American Foreign Policy: The Role of Ethics in International Affairs,” expanding his 1989 Stanford doctoral dissertation in political science. He sought to identify concrete ways in which moral norms can influence leaders in their foreign-policy decision making.
In a 2008 lecture at the University of San Francisco, where he was that year’s Lo Schiavo Chair in Catholic Studies and Social Thought, Msgr. McElroy re-examined the ethics of U.S. intervention in Iraq. He concluded that a just cause alone is not sufficient for a decision to wage war and that other moral tests must be satisfied as well, including right intention, last resort, approval by a competent authority and proportionality.
Bishop-elect McElroy graduated from St. Patrick Seminary in 1979 with a master’s degree in Divinity. He holds a bachelor’s degree in History from Harvard University (1975) and an MA in American History (1976) from Stanford University. He also holds post-graduate degrees (STL Theology 1985) from the Jesuit School of Theology (STL Theology 1985 in Berkeley); North American College in Rome (STD Theology 1987); and Stanford University (Ph.D. Political Science, 1989).
Msgr. McElroy’s parents, Walter J. McElroy and Roberta Shepherd McElroy, grew up in St. Cecilia Parish, where Msgr. McElroy was first assigned after his ordination.
Msgr. McElroy grew up in Our Lady of Mercy Parish and attended school there until he was 10. The family then moved to Our Lady of Angels Parish, where he completed grade school. He entered St. Joseph’s College at the age of 14.
The priests who were most influential in his early life were Msgr. Dick Powers, pastor at Our Lady of Mercy; Father Gerald Barron, OFM Cap., pastor at Our Lady of Angels; and Father John A. Ward, SS, at St. Joseph’s College in Mountain View.
Msgr. McElroy has three sisters – Mary McElroy of Santa Rosa; Kathy Schreiner (husband John) of Walnut Creek; and Patti Marriman of Chicago – and a brother, Walter Joseph McElroy III. He has four nephews and three nieces.
By Rick DelVecchio
From July 16, 2010 issue of Catholic San Francisco.