SAN BERNARDINO—Bishop Alberto Rojas became the Third Ordinary Bishop of the Diocese of San Bernardino on Dec. 28 when the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Bishop Gerald Barnes, signaling his retirement.
The announcement came 25 years to the day after Bishop Barnes had been named the second Bishop of San Bernardino.
An Ordinary Bishop assumes full responsibility for the teaching, sanctifying, and governing of a diocese, and reports only to the Holy Father. Bishop Rojas was announced as the Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese on December 2, 2019. A Coadjutor Bishop works alongside the Ordinary Bishop for a period of time before succeeding him upon his retirement.
“In God’s name and forever grateful, I begin my ministry in the Diocese of San Bernardino as Ordinary Bishop,” Bishop Rojas said in a recorded message to the faithful released Dec. 28. “While continuing to listen and learn more about our large and diverse Diocese, I would like to build on the momentum that is clearly present here.”
Bishop Rojas takes the reins of the Diocese after a tumultuous year caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. The 93 parishes of the Diocese have been unable since March of 2020 to hold Mass in their churches at full capacity. This has interrupted the traditional flow of income to the parishes and the Diocese – the weekly collections taken at Mass. As a result, some parishes and Catholic schools have had to lay off employees and the Diocese has instituted a weekly furlough program to cut costs.
In his message, Bishop Rojas acknowledged the difficulties facing the Diocese as he begins his time as Ordinary Bishop. He said the dynamism of the people of the Diocese and his own experience of faith will help carry the Diocese.
“In my years of ministry, from the seminary days to serving as priest and then as a bishop in Chicago, I have encountered many new challenges,” he said. “I have always trusted in God’s plan for me to serve His Church, and that He will give me all that I need to do his work. When I reflect on this, I have great joy and hope for our future together sisters and brothers!”
Father Erik Esparza, Pastor of The Holy Name of Jesus parish and Director of Priest Personnel for the Diocese, said the priests of the Diocese received the news of Bishop Rojas’ becoming the third Bishop of San Bernardino with hope.
“Bishop Rojas has a passion for ministry, loves to learn, and as a musician and artist, he brings a creative approach to ministry,” said Fr. Esparza, who is also the chairman of the Presbyteral Council. “Above all, he is a faithful servant of God. I pray our diocesan community gives full support to [him] as he shepherds us at this time.”
Bishop Rojas stated that all those who serve on advisory bodies to the Bishop, including the Presbyteral Council, Diocesan Curia, Vicars Forane and Bishop’s Office personnel, will remain in those positions as he begins his Episcopacy. “Do not look for any big changes right away,” he said.
Per Church law, Bishop Barnes submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Francis last June 22, his 75th birthday. He had been informed by the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, that his time as Ordinary Bishop of San Bernardino would be extended up to a year beyond his retirement age.
Bishop Barnes released a statement Dec. 28 on his retirement, expressing gratitude for his years leading and working with the local Catholic community. He now holds the title Bishop Emeritus of San Bernardino.
“Thank you for all you have shared with me,” he said. “Thank you for your prayers, your support, the sharing of your gifts and for your constructive criticism.
“I move on now to retirement and with you I greet our new leader, Bishop Alberto Rojas. May he experience the joy, the faith and the hope that our Diocese has to offer, and may we all continue to impact family, neighborhood and society with the Gospel so that people’s lives are filled with hope.”
At the time of his retirement, Bishop Barnes was the longest serving bishop in a single diocese in the United States. Under his leadership, the Diocese became nationally recognized for its development of adult faith formation and education programs, the integration of diverse cultures into the life and leadership of the local Church, and for the implementation of comprehensive policies and actions to address and prevent the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and lay church employees. Bishop Barnes also has played a prominent role in the U.S. Catholic Church’s advocacy for comprehensive reform of federal immigration law. He served as Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee of Migration and Refugee Service from 2004-2007.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered praise and prayers for both bishops on the day of the announcement.
“I want to personally thank Bishop Barnes for his ministry, and I wish him many happy years of prayer and service as he continues his priestly ministry in his retirement,” Archbishop Gomez said in a statement. “As he begins his new ministry, I entrust Bishop Rojas to the tender heart of Our Lady Guadalupe. May she watch over him and help him in his mission to share the love of God and his mercy.”
An Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago for eight years prior to coming to San Bernardino, Bishop Rojas began his ministry in the Diocese in February 2020. Despite the emergence of the pandemic just a month later, Bishop Rojas established a leadership presence in the Diocese throughout 2020, traveling to parishes to celebrate weekend Masses, confirming thousands of young Catholics during the summer months, ordaining permanent deacons and, recently, Transitional Deacon Ian Hollick.
Bishop Rojas also established a strong digital presence in his first year in the Diocese. Along with Bishop Barnes, he offered a weekly livestreamed Mass from the diocesan seminary during the months that local churches were completely closed; he led a livestream of the Re-Consecration of the Diocese to the Blessed Virgin Mary; released video recordings of himself praying the Rosary, offered video messages of encouragement (along with Bishop Barnes) regarding the pandemic; and released weekly multi-media reflections during the Season of Advent.