By Alexander Santana
Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton D. Gregory was officially announced on April 4th as Pope Francis’ choice to serve as the seventh Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington. Gregory, 71, will be installed on May 21st and succeeds Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, whose resignation was accepted by the Pope on October 12th of last year. As Archbishop of Washington Gregory will have a close relationship with Catholic University since he will, by virtue of holding the office of Archbishop of Washington, will serve as the University’s Chancellor and Chairman of the Board of Trustees’ Fellows. Gregory is already familiar with the university, as he has been a member of Catholic University’s Board of Trustees for over 14 years.
“I am deeply grateful to Pope Francis for this appointment to serve the Archdiocese of Washington and to work with all of the members of this faith community,” said Gregory. “I look forward to encountering and listening to the people of this local Church as we address the issues that face us and continue to grow in the Love of Christ that sustains us.”
Gregory will be the first African American to serve as Archbishop of Washington and could be named to the College of Cardinals, the first time for an African American in the history of the United States. A native of Chicago, Illinois, Gregory converted to Catholicism while attending Catholic grammar school in the late 1950s. After attending Quigley Preparatory Seminary South, Niles College Seminary of Loyola University, which is now known as St. Joseph’s College Seminary, and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, Gregory was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1973. Gregory later underwent graduate studies at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, Italy where he obtained a doctorate in sacred liturgy in 1980.
“I have known Archbishop Gregory for many years. In working with him on a range of pastoral initiatives and programs, I have come to recognize how generously he shares his talents and his love for the Church,” said Cardinal Wuerl according to a news release from the Archdiocese’s Office of Communications. Wuerl, a graduate of Catholic University, had served as Archbishop of the Archdiocese since 2006 until his resignation on October 12th and thereafter remained as the Archdiocese’s Apostolic Administrator. “As the Church of Washington opens a new chapter and looks to the future, we can all, with great confidence and enthusiasm, welcome our new shepherd.”
Gregory was installed as Atlanta’s Archbishop in 2005 by Pope John Paul II and previously served as Bishop of Belleville, Illinois from 1994 to 2004 and Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago from 1983 to 1994. A president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) from 2001 to 2004 Gregory persuaded his brother bishops to approve the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, also known as the Dallas Charter. The Charter came as a result of the clergy sexual abuse scandals in Boston, Massachusetts that came to light in the early 2000s. The Charter implemented a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse of minors.
“The Archbishop-elect brings many gifts and valuable experience to the nation’s capital, where he will serve as a shepherd to a Church in crisis,” said University President John Garvey in a statement made on the morning of the announcement. “I look forward to working in conjunction with the archbishop of Washington, and all the bishops, to carry out ‘an all-out battle against the abuse of minors’ both within the Church and in the world at large.”
The 80-year-old Archdiocese of Washington includes the District of Columbia and five surrounding Maryland counties of St. Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s and Montgomery. The Archdiocese includes over 655,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and missions, and 93 Catholic schools serving 26,000 students. Besides Catholic University, the Archdiocese includes major Catholic educational and religious institutions and attractions such as Georgetown University, Trinity Washington University, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, and the headquarters of the USCCB.
Rev. Msgr. Kevin W. Irwin, the former dean of Catholic University’s School of Theology and Religious Studies from 2005 to 2011, said in a statement to the Washington Post that Gregory “sees his immediate job as being a listener, a reconciler.” He added, “That will be his first priority for a very long time. This place is burning. . . . Priests want a bishop who is concerned about them and interested in them at this moment.”