Idaho Bishop Appointed to Lead Orange Diocese


Tod D. Brown, a bishop who also speaks Spanish and preaches doctrinal firmness, has been appointed by Pope John Paul II to lead the 609,000 Catholics of the Diocese of Orange, sources in the church said Monday.

Brown, of Boise, Idaho, becomes just the third bishop in the history of the young Orange diocese, which spun off from the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1976 and has been transformed by growing numbers of Latino and Asian parishioners.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. July 1, 1998 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 1, 1998 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Orange County Focus Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Bishop--A story in Tuesday’s paper about the naming of a new bishop for the Diocese of Orange misidentified an Irvine church. The correct name of the church is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Catholicism is one of the largest single religious organizations in the county. Catholic Social Services and church-run hospitals help about 370,000 people a year, and 50,000 students attend Catholic schools in the county, according to the Catholic Directory.

Brown succeeds Bishop Norman F. McFarland, who, in accordance with church policy, submitted a letter of resignation to the Vatican in February 1997, when he turned 75. McFarland had led the diocese since 1986 through an era of financial stability, and as immigrant Latino and Asian Catholics flooded into the county.


He succeeded Bishop William R. Johnson, who founded the diocese a decade earlier.

The Diocese of Orange office was closed for the day when news came of Brown’s appointment. The diocese spokesman, Msgr. Lawrence J. Baird, would not comment.

Expecting the Bishop

Local church lay leaders and clergy said they were reluctant to comment on Brown’s appointment, in part because they know little about the new bishop.

“We’re glad to have a new bishop,” said Dwight Smith of Orange County’s Catholic Worker Community, though he added, “I have no idea who this guy is. Bishops are so far above what we do. I just hope the guy cares about the poor and that he can liberate some of the immense storehouse of treasures the Diocese of Orange holds and [produce] it for the poor people of Orange County.”

The Rev. John McAndrew, pastor of St. Angela Marici in Brea, said, “In some regards, in working with the poor and prisoners and people like that, the selection of a bishop means less to them than the presence of God from their local communities.

“For most Catholics, the bishop is the local leader, but very few of them have much opportunity to meet with him or interact with him. I think the priests of the diocese, whether they’re excited or not about the appointment, are looking forward to meeting and talking with the new bishop.”

There was some disappointment that the new bishop is from outside the diocese--the second time the Vatican has looked elsewhere to fill the position. McFarland served as bishop of the diocese of Reno-Las Vegas before his Diocese of Orange appointment.


“There’s a growing disappointment that locally we seem to have not much say in the appointment of bishops,” said one priest who asked not to be identified. “We’re getting people from all over the place when we have wonderful people in our own backyard.”

Several lay leaders said they hope the new bishop continues McFarland’s businesslike approach toward church finances while continuing to embrace the growing numbers of Latino and Asian parishioners.

“With a bishop you’re always looking for someone who will be courageous to take what may be unpopular stances and yet protect a 1,000-year-old tradition,” said Charlotte Prather, director of religious education at St. Elizabeth Ann Soto, a large Irvine Catholic church.

“We’re becoming increasingly a multicultural church, but that’s been the case for the whole time this diocese has existed. We need somebody who would continue the sensitivity to that, who would speak for the rights of people who don’t have a voice, who would encourage the Catholics in the Diocese to view each other as family, regardless of the ethnic diversity.”


If Brown’s history is an indicator, he is no stranger to the problems and challenges of leading an increasingly diverse flock.

Brown has been head of a diocese of 113,375 Catholics spread across Idaho. In recent years the Boise diocese has dealt with sharp increases in minority parishioners, mostly Latino and Asian.

A classmate of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony’s when they were seminarians at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, Brown was ordained to the priesthood in 1963. Initially, he served in the former diocese of Fresno and Monterey. When those two regions became separate dioceses, Brown served in Monterey.

In 1989, Brown was elevated to the episcopacy as bishop of Boise, a diocese with 115 priests and 74 parishes. By comparison, the Diocese of Orange has 609,000 Catholics, 252 priests and 53 parishes.


Brown built a reputation in Idaho as a business-oriented administrator, strong on organizational skills and with a dedication to multicultural issues, Colette Cowman, editor of the Idaho Catholic Register, said in an interview before the appointment.

Cowman said Brown has emphasized forging links with other faiths.

Follows the Papal Line

“He works hard to create good relations between different faiths,” she said. “He works closely with Mormon leaders, and has a real strong interest in the Greek Orthodox in Boise. he’s also a real strong supporter of Catholic education ministries.”


Like McFarland, Brown follows the papal line on theological issues, Cowman said.

Brown recently led a diocesan study of the decline in the numbers of men entering the priesthood that came up with prescriptions for dealing with the shortage.

“Some parishes are twinning with other parishes, and we’re encouraging lay involvement in the ministry,” Cowman said. “Each parish is looking at themselves and assessing how they’re doing, making sure they have adult education in place.

“It’s been a really good move. It’s made us look at what our richness was and what we need to do to maintain vitality.”


Brown has served on several committees of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, including the committees on Welfare Emergency Relief, and the administrative committee, and has chaired the Committee on the Laity. He has also served on three subcommittees: on the lay ministry, the millennium and youth.

Times religion writer Larry B. Stammer in Los Angeles contributed to this report.