By GREG HARDESTY     11/15/2023

A few days before he passed away on Oct. 15, Bishop Emeritus Tod David Brown spent some time in his hospital room with Fr. Christopher Smith, rector emeritus of Christ Cathedral.

“Christopher,” a very weak Bishop Brown told his longtime friend and colleague, “when I make it through this, you’ll have to come to dinner.”

It was classic Bishop Brown, displaying his hallmark hospitality and hope.

Stories like this helped comfort hundreds of mourners at Bishop Tod’s vigil on Oct. 29 at Holy Family in Orange and the next day at his funeral Mass at Christ Cathedral, where some 1,500 congregants paid their respects to the man who led the Diocese of Orange during a transformative 14-year period until his retirement in 2012.

“Bishop Brown was the kind of person I just figured would always be around,” Fr. Christopher said, recalling the “steady, confident presence” of Bishop Brown, who died at St. Joseph Hospital at age 86.

Bishop Brown’s achievements are well documented and celebrated. They include his decision to purchase the 34-acre former Crystal Cathedral property in Garden Grove and transform it into the county’s Catholic hub; taking unprecedented steps to help bring healing to those hurting from the sexual abuse crisis that unfolded in the early 2000s; hiring women to key diocesan leadership positions; and installing one of the nation’s first Hispanic bishops and the nation’s first Vietnamese bishop to better reflect the Diocese’s increasingly diverse Catholic population.

Bishop Brown, the third bishop of the Diocese of Orange, hired Sr. Katherine “Kit” Gray as chancellor of the Diocese when his tenure began in 1998.

“He lived life in the service of the Gospel,” Sr. Kit said at the vigil service.

She recalled his steadiness, groundedness and kindness.

Kevin Brown, the late bishop’s nephew, mourned the man he knew as Uncle Tod.

“While part of me is heartbroken to be here mourning his loss,” Brown said, “I also find inspiration and hope in celebrating the full but humble life that he lived, so rich with purpose, love and joy.”

Love of family was central to Bishop Brown, who famously brought See’s Candies to family gatherings.

But his family extended to the church and the community.

At Bishop Brown’s funeral Mass, which was preceded by recitations of the rosary in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, Bishop Vann recalled how the two met in the fall of 1981 when Bishop Vann was a newly ordained priest at the Casa Santa Maria in Rome studying Canon Law and Bishop Brown was on sabbatical.

“Your kindness has stayed with me to these very days,” Bishop Vann said, addressing his late friend as if in a letter to him.

One of Bishop Vann’s fondest memories is when he and Bishop Brown anointed the walls during the dedication of Christ Cathedral on July 17, 2019.

Fr. Christopher recalled that when Bishop Brown became a bishop, the motto he chose for his episcopal coat of arms was ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’

Said Fr. Christopher: “This motto gives us an insight into his perspective in living his life of faith…. The invocation ‘Come Lord Jesus’ is exactly about paying attention to the present while looking with hope to the future.”

Msgr. Wilbur Davis, now retired and a priest in residence at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Newport Beach, was a longtime friend of Bishop Brown.

“He gave so much of himself to us,” said Msgr. Davis, describing Bishop Brown as gentle, kind, thoughtful, clear minded, objective and strategic.

“Give thanks to God for the gift of Tod David Brown.”

Like other speakers at the vigil and funeral Mass, Msgr. Davis mentioned Bishop Brown’s love of travel.

“Bishop Brown never turned down a boarding pass,” said Msgr. Davis, noting that Bishop Brown had traveled to Vietnam 27 times.

Bishop Brown came to Orange in 1998 after serving as bishop of the Diocese of Boise. He was ordained a priest on May 1, 1963, for the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno.

His resignation as bishop of Orange was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI on Sept. 21, 2012, in accordance with Canon Law, which requires all bishops to offer their resignation to the pope upon reaching their 75th birthday.

His passing has “left an empty place,” Fr. Christopher said.

His life and stewardship of the Diocese of Orange, Fr. Christopher and others said, will never be forgotten.

“Bishop Tod’s ministry in Orange was full of courageous, difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions,” Fr. Christopher said, adding later: “Remembering him, what are some difficult decisions that it is time for us to make now in our lives, in our families, in our diocese, in our presbyterate in our parishes, in our communities?”

Bishop Brown will be laid to rest in the St. Callistus Chapel and Crypts, which are being constructed beneath Christ Cathedral and are scheduled to be completed in 2024.

Until then, he will lie in rest at the Cathedral Memorial Gardens on the grounds of Christ Cathedral.