Chicago native Wilton Gregory named first Black cardinal in US

Jessica Villagomez, Chicago Tribune

Pope Francis named 13 new cardinals Sunday, including Chicago native Wilton Gregory, who will become the first Black U.S. prelate to earn the coveted red hat.

“He is well-regarded by the bishops in our country and has proven himself as an individual who can bring people together in a wonderful form of leadership,” Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, said in an interview with the Tribune. “We are really proud that a native of our own archdiocese has been appointed to the College of Cardinals.”

Gregory first came to the Catholic faith as a student in an archdiocesan grammar school, Cupich added.

Gregory, 72, spent much of his early career in Chicago and its suburbs. He was born in Chicago and ordained a priest in 1973. He was an associate pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glenview, a professor at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein and as a master of ceremonies to Cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin before being ordained an auxiliary bishop in Chicago in 1983.

In 1993, he became the bishop of Belleville, Illinois, and went on to become archbishop of Atlanta in 2005. He has been bishop of Washington, D.C., since 2019.

Gregory has also served three times as the head of the U.S. Conference of Bishops.

“With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ’s Church,” Gregory said in a statement issued by the archdiocese.

Cupich said that in Gregory’s years as president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, he has been at the forefront of moving the church forward in repairing the damage of child sexual abuse and racism.

Amid this summer’s nationwide protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Gregory made headlines for issuing a statement critical of President Donald Trump’s visit to the St. John Paul II National Shrine. That visit came one day after demonstrators were forcefully cleared out for Trump’s visit to an Episcopal church in Washington. Gregory responded that he considered “it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated.”

“There are other Black cardinals from other countries and he will be the first African American to be named to the college of cardinals," Cupich said. "His appointment is about his own talents and it is a great honor for African American Catholics that respect him for his many accomplishments.”

No details were immediately given by the Vatican about the consistory, as the formal ceremony to make the churchmen cardinals is known, in light of travel restrictions involving many countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Associated Press contributed.

Twitter @JessicaVillag

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