New Archbishop Brings Joy, Hope to the Capital
If an applause meter measured hope, its arrow would have surpassed maximum when Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory was installed in May as the new shepherd of the Archdiocese of Washington (DC). As the new archbishop—known as a joyous priest—entered the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, booming applause erupted in North America’s largest Catholic church.
An additional explosion of clapping and cheering then greeted the formal announcement by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, who read the pope’s proclamation to appoint Gregory to the top Church position in the nation’s capital. Another ovation followed Gregory’s brief, deeply theological homily. Finally, during the recessional, the estimated 3,000 congregants cheered so loudly that their rapturous voices echoed in the vast domes.
Gregory, seventy-two years of age, is an enormously popular choice to replace Donald Cardinal Wuerl, who resigned because of complaints about his handling of sex-abuse claims. Gregory came East after serving as the archbishop in Atlanta since 2005, where he experienced many successes, a record that is in keeping with his life in the Church.
An early calling
The priesthood has captivated Gregory since he was quite young. In the sixth grade, he told an Adrian Dominican nun that he wanted to be a priest. She explained to the Protestant pupil that he would first have to become a Catholic. Gregory remembers he never felt pressured but freely made the choice to join the universal church as a boy. “The environment exuded the pride and joy the teachers had in their Catholic faith, a faith that was touched on and reflected in each subject,” he said.
At an Easter vigil in 1959, eleven-year-old Wilton was baptized and received his first Communion. He was inspirational even then, for his mother eventually would follow her son and join the Church.
His commitment to God and the Church was rewarded over the years. In 1983, just a decade after his ordination to the priesthood, Gregory was named a bishop by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who was then the archbishop of Chicago. At that time, at thirty-six, he was the youngest bishop in the nation.
Throughout his service in the Church, Gregory often impressed upon seminarians how important it was for their own life of service to be joyous—a fitting response to Jesus’ selfless and infinite love.
After serving a term as auxiliary bishop of Chicago, Gregory was installed as the seventh bishop of the diocese of Belleville, IL, arriving during the time in the 1990s when parishioners began learning of sexual abuses by priests. He had no template on how to help his shocked and angry flock, but he took to heart Bernardin’s idea that the Church was meant to serve those who were hurting.
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