“I am both surprised and humbled to have been appointed by Pope Francis as the new Bishop of Brentwood,” said Father Alan Williams. “There is indeed a God of surprises and in my life as a priest and religious I have learned to trust ever more in the grace of God for whatever task has been assigned to me.”
Father Williams comments followed the announcement Monday that Pope Francis had appointed him as bishop of Brentwood in the English county of Essex. His episcopal ordination as Brentwood’s seventh bishop will take place on July 1st at noon in the city’s cathedral.
The diocese has a population of 2,789,000 people, 225,700 of whom are Catholic. It is served by about 150 priests, about 10 permanent deacons, and about 300 religious.
According to the diocesan press release, the bishop-elect said his diocese “embraces many and diverse communities in city and rural locations.
“I look forward to getting to know the people and clergy of the Diocese,” he said. “I am aware that I will have a lot of learning and listening to do.”
Alan Williams was born in Blackburn, England, in 1951. In 1976, he took his solemn vows and in 1983 he was ordained a priest. Father Williams has latterly served as director of the national shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham following a period teaching at St. Mary’s College, Blackburn.
He has also served in various other roles, including chaplain at Sheffield Hallam University, priest of the parish of Sidcup in Southwark, and regional superior of the Marist Fathers.
He returned to the role of director of the national shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in 2008 and continues to serve in this role today.
In a press release issued Monday, Bishop-elect Williams said everyone, including those on the margins of the Church, can experience joy. “Emeritus Pope Benedict encouraged Shrine Directors to have a special regard for those on the margins of the Church, ‘of weak ecclesial affiliation’”, he said. “Great numbers of those on the margins make their way to England’s National Shrine at Walsingham. I believe that the pilgrim journey is an invitation to everyone; Pope Francis reminds us that those who accept the gospel are set free – ‘With Christ, joy is constantly born anew’.”
The new bishop succeeds Bishop Thomas McMahon who, having reached the age limit of 75, had his resignation accepted by the Holy Father. Bishop McMahon paid tribute to his predecessor “for his faithful and long service to the diocese.”
Outgoing Bishop McMahon said it had been a priviledge to have served the diocese for 34 years and added that he “very much” welcomed his successor.
“Those who have met him in his role at Walsingham – including many from our diocese – have always been deeply impressed by the outstanding hospitality, thoughtfulness and care for pilgrims that he has shown there,” Bishop McMahon said. “He now brings these pastoral gifts – so important in today’s Church and especially under the present pontificate – to a new and wider role as our next Bishop.”
“Part of his [Williams’] charism is that focus on mission which is particularly to do with the fields of evangelisation and education,” he added. “His skills are wide-ranging.”
Bishop McMahon said this will be especially helpful in a diocese consisting of some 100 schools. (D.C.L.)