Chicago Native Wilton Gregory Appointed First Black Cardinal in US

Gregory, a Chicago native, began his ministry in the city

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Pope Francis on Sunday named 13 new cardinals, including Washington D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who would become the first Black U.S. prelate to earn the coveted red hat.

In a surprise announcement from his studio window to faithful standing below in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said the churchmen would be elevated to a cardinal’s rank in a ceremony on Nov. 28.

Wilton, 73, was picked by Francis to lead the prestigious diocese in the U.S. capital last year. The prelate has his pulse on factions in the U.S. Catholic Church, which has both strong conservative and liberal veins since he served three times as the head of the U.S. Conference of Bishops.

Since Gregory was appointed Archbishop of Washington in 2019, many believed it was only a matter of time until he was elevated to cardinal.

"Well I was just thrilled," said Rev. Jerry Boland, the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glenview, where Gregory served his first assignment 40 years ago. "Friends of Wilton have been hoping and praying for this day for a long time."

Gregory was born in Chicago, living with his family on the city’s South Side in the early years of his life. He attended Niles College in Chicago, and attended seminary at St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein.

He served in a variety of functions for the church in the Chicago area, including serving as the Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago in the 1980’s.

"To be honest I think this should have happened a long time ago, but I think it's also beautiful in terms of the energy and excitement Pope Francis is bringing to the church," said Rev. Tom Hurley with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

Gregory notably led the U.S. Conference of Bishops in 2002 during the first priest sex abuse scandal.

"He was the one who really pushed the church to confront that head on," said Michael O'Loughlin, a journalist with America Magazine. "He pushed for an approach that would hold priests accountable for abuse. Someone who said the church should not have any tolerance when it comes to sexual abuse."

In a statement Sunday, Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, said "we are grateful to Pope Francis for his appointment today of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory as Cardinal of the Catholic Church."

“While we take particular pride in this recognition of a dedicated priest, whom we are proud to claim as our own we are also moved that Pope Francis chose this compassionate, thoughtful pastor when our nation and the world are in desperate need of healing and courageous leadership," he added.

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

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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