Pope gives Philadelphia three new auxiliary bishops known for humble, ‘zealous hearts’

PHILADELPHIA (OSV News) — The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is welcoming three new auxiliary bishops — all of whom, as Philadelphia priests, are already home.

The Vatican press office announced Dec. 8 that Pope Francis has appointed Father Keith J. Chylinski, Father Christopher R. Cooke and Father Efren V. Esmilla as auxiliary bishops of Philadelphia.

At a press conference with the three new auxiliary bishops-designate, Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez announced that the episcopal ordination of the three bishops-designate would take place March 7, 2024, at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

In an earlier message posted to his X (formerly Twitter) account, the archbishop said he was “overjoyed to share” news of the appointments on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

Speaking at the press conference, Archbishop Pérez told the auxiliary bishops-designate that it was “a great source of consolation … that none of you did anything to be sitting here this morning; but the church in her generosity, guided by the Spirit, chose you. So let that be a consolation and a source of strength in your heart.”

He added that upon receiving the news of the appointments from Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., he felt that “everything that I hoped for was being granted. … What an incredible joy.”

With the Archdiocese of Philadelphia counting some 1.5 million Catholics and 4 million total residents over 2,200 square miles, the archbishop said having a “full complement” of auxiliary bishops was “essential for a church of our size and magnitude.”

“My ministry as archbishop actually would be impossible without the dedicated service of our current and retired auxiliary bishops of Philadelphia,” he said.

The archbishop also commended the appointees as “men of great faith, of great humility, of deep pastoral and administrative experience,” adding they “have zealous hearts.”

Bishop-designate Chylinski currently serves as rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. Born in 1971 in Schenectady, New York and raised in Connecticut, he earned a bachelor’s in music from Temple University in Philadelphia and a master’s from the Institute for Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Virginia (now Divine Mercy University in Sterling, Virginia).

He was ordained to the priesthood in 2007, and has served at several parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In addition, he has directed counseling services at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and has served on the archdiocese’s racial healing commission since its formation in 2021. Since 2013, he has been a member of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association and was the organization’s national chaplain from 2018 to 2022.

At the press conference, Bishop-designate Chylinski — who spoke in both English and Spanish — joked that despite his upbringing elsewhere, he was a “fully converted (Philadelphia) Eagles and Phillies fan.”

He also expressed his “shock … honor … joy … (and) surprise” at his appointment, and said he would “pray for the strength and wisdom to do my small part as an instrument of Jesus Christ’s truth, beauty, joy and healing love for every member of the church in Philadelphia, especially to those who are most in need.”

“God is real and loves you all very much,” he added. “I hope and pray that the episcopal ministry can help you reflect this love.”

Bishop-designate Cooke is currently dean of men for the theology seminary at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, where he began his own priestly formation and from which he earned his master’s degrees in 2005 and 2006, having completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware. The 50-year-old native of Philadelphia’s Meadowbrook suburb was ordained a priest in 2006 and has served at several parishes in the archdiocese. From 2013 to 2021, he directed the spiritual year of formation at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Fluent in English and Spanish, he is a member of the archdiocesan council of priests.

At the press conference, Bishop-designate Cooke, who spoke in both English and Spanish, said he had “been so deeply blessed to encounter the person of Jesus in the people” that he had met.

“So many parishioners have taught me what is needed to be a good spiritual father,” he said. “I look forward to journeying together in faith that with the sacraments, we might be received by our Lord one day into heaven, which is our final hope. … May we grow together on our journey as missionary disciples for Christ.”

Bishop-designate Esmilla was born in 1962 in Nagcarlan, Laguna in the Philippines, and completed his undergraduate studies at San Beda College in San Miguel, Manila. He received his master’s in divinity from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in 1992 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1993. Among a range of pastoral assignments throughout the Philadelphia Archdiocese, he has served as chaplain of the Filipino apostolate since 2005, and as spiritual director of the Legion of Mary since 2001. He has served on the archdiocesan council of priests, college of consultors and priest personnel board, and was president of the presbyteral council in 2021. Since 2020, he has served as pastor of two parishes. He speaks English, Spanish, Tagalog, Latin and Portuguese.

At the press conference, Bishop-designate Esmilla began his remarks by referencing both Mary’s responses to the angel Gabriel’s annunciation and later Elizabeth’s greeting in Luke’s Gospel: “Fiat. ‘Let it be done.’ … On this great solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I find inspiration in our Blessed Mother and echo the words found in her Magnificat: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.’”

He admitted that upon learning from Cardinal Pierre of his appointment, he “felt nervous and had a little bit of fear in (his) heart.

“But deep within me, I kept saying, ‘Jesus, I trust in you,’” he said. “I have come to serve.”

Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, at @GinaJesseReina

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