“In the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, we are the 11th combination of brothers that are bishops.”
The Rev. Stephen Parkes had just returned from a 31-mile bike ride near Orlando when the Pope’s ambassador called to say that he had been appointed bishop of the Diocese of Savannah.
The mid-morning call from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio, or papal envoy, was completely unexpected.
“This is not something that we anticipate,” said Parkes, 55. “It’s not something that we ask for, that we apply for.”
The Vatican ambassador made another call that morning to St. Petersburg, to share the news with Bishop Gregory Parkes, head of Tampa Bay’s almost half-million Catholics, and older brother of Savannah’s next bishop.
“I was in my office at the pastoral center when the nuncio called me on my cell phone, and of course, whenever he calls you, you’re wondering why he is calling. The last couple of times was to move me. It’s always big news,” the bishop-elect’s brother said.
That July 2 morning, the head of the Diocese of St. Petersburg would become one of only a few people privy to the news that wouldn’t be made public for almost a week. The nuncio’s call was a thoughtful gesture, the bishop said, that opened the way for the two brothers to discuss the momentous, but still confidential, news.
“It allowed me to call him and to congratulate him and to offer him my support and my prayers,” the bishop said. “I just told him how proud I was of him. I told him he was a good priest and pastor and that he would be a good bishop for Savannah.”
The Parkes brothers are close in age. The St. Petersburg bishop is 56. The bishop-elect of Savannah is 55. Their older brother, Christopher, who retired from the Department of the Navy and was present for his brother’s installation as bishop in St. Petersburg in January 2017, died that August. He was 55.
Their late parents, Ronald and Joan Parkes, brought up their sons in a close-knit Long Island family that was steeped in their Catholic faith. The two brothers’ spiritual quests took similar paths. They both worked for banks before heeding the call to priesthood. Bishop-elect Stephen Parkes was ordained in 1998, Bishop Gregory Parkes, the following year.
“Vocations come from families. Priests come from families,” the bishop-elect said. “I am grateful for that, that my parents encouraged us.”