It’s been over 100 years since a Dominican has served as a bishop in California. But that all changed on June 5, 2018, when the Most Rev. Robert Francis Christian, O.P., was ordained as the Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco.
In a beautiful liturgy at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, the Most Rev. Robert was consecrated by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, and Bishop Michael Barber, S.J., of Oakland. Over 25 bishops, along with members of the Dominican family from around the world, and the faithful of the Archdiocese joined in the celebration.
The process all began on March 24, 2018, when then Fr. Robert received a call from the Most Rev. Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America, who informed him that Pope Francis was appointing him as the Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco.
“I have trepidation because it’s a whole new field of work,” he said in a recent interview, “and it’s a vaster scale then I’m used to, with 421,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese, but I’ve been supported by a lot of people.”
Despite his hesitation, the Most Rev. Robert is happy to be coming home to San Francisco, where he was born and raised. Growing up in the neighborhood of Pacific Heights, he attended Catholic parochial schools, receiving his elementary education from Dominican Sisters. While in college at Santa Clara University, he went on a year abroad program and studied in Italy, where he began discerning religious life with the Order of Preachers.
After professing vows in 1971, he was ordained to the presbyterate five years later, and has now faithfully served the Church as a Dominican priest for over 40 years, with one of his longest assignments at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, also known as the Angelicum. In his ministry as a professor there, he taught students from various countries, helping them to see the place of their local communities in the universal Church.
“It’s hoped that I will build bridges in the Archdiocese, and there’s a lot of need for that…not just bridges between people, but bridges between Jesus Christ and the people he died for.”
This same hope for reconciliation and unity between Christ and his flock is what inspired the Most Rev. Joseph Sadoc Alemany, O.P., the first Archbishop of San Francisco in 1853. Along with Fr. Francis Sadoc Vilarrasa, O.P., he brought Dominicans to the West Coast and established the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
The Most Rev. Robert’s life as a Dominican featured prominently in the Mass of Episcopal Ordination. Archbishop Cordileone made reference to it in his homily, pointing out that the community had just celebrated the feast of Saint Peter of Verona, O.P., the first Dominican martyr, the day before. One could easily see the parallels between Peter, who died with the Creed upon his lips, and the duties of a bishop to always preach the Word of God and to lay down his life for the Lord. This election to service by God, and commitment by the Most Rev. Robert, was especially evident when he lay prostrate on the ground during the Litany of Supplication.
To watch the entire liturgy, including the Archbishop’s homily, along with more of the Most Rev. Robert’s comments, click here.