By ANDREW NELSON and SAMANTHA SMITH | Published April 4, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory has been named as the new spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of Washington.
He will become the seventh archbishop of the nation’s capital and the first African-American in that position.
The appointment by Pope Francis was made official on Thursday, April 4. Archbishop Gregory was in Washington, D.C. to be introduced to the Catholic community there. He is to be installed as archbishop on Tuesday, May 21.
Arrived in Atlanta in 2005
Archbishop Gregory became Atlanta’s archbishop in January 2005 to lead a flock that has grown to approximately 1.2 million Catholics in central and north Georgia.
[From 2005: Archbishop Welcomed In Splendid, Colorful Event]
“The Archdiocese of Atlanta has been a great blessing for me. You are a faithful, generous, and spiritually rich community,” said Archbishop Gregory in a statement. “I will treasure my time in North Georgia and hold dear the many friendships that I have made in your midst. I take with me your kindness and abundant care for those that Christ calls the least of his sisters and brothers. Your future is bright with promise, especially in your young people. I ask that you remember me and the Archdiocese of Washington in your prayers. Your image of goodness and joy will continue to inspire me in the months and years ahead.”
During Archbishop Gregory’s service in Atlanta, he ordained 64 priests and 152 permanent deacons.
A growing Catholic population in Atlanta meant the archbishop spent time dedicating new church buildings and parishes. Nine additional parishes and six missions have been established in the 69 counties of the archdiocese during his tenure. As of 2019, there are 103 parishes and missions.
He will succeed Cardinal Donald Wuerl as archbishop. Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation in October 2018.
Introduction to D.C Catholics
At his Washington press conference, Archbishop Gregory said the community is reeling from the sexual abuse crisis. “It’s difficult to come into a situation where there is unrest and anger,” he said.
Two previous leaders of the archdiocese have been tarnished by the crisis, with Cardinal Wuerl for his handling of the crisis and former Archbishop Theodore McCarrick being defrocked for abuse in 2019.
“I believe that the only way I can serve this local archdiocese is by telling you the truth,” he told the media and archdiocesan staff. “I want to offer you hope. I will rebuild your trust.”
He said he wants to serve as a pastor, to priests and the lay faithful, and promote Gospel values.
“We’ve certainly given our faithful lots of reasons to leave the church; I want to provide a few reasons to stay. I want to assure the people that I will be honest with them, that I will govern with sensitivity, that I will be approachable, available…”
His first priority will be to visit people in the parishes, not sitting behind a desk, he said. “I want to come to know you – to hear your stories, to listen to the emotions, experiences, and expectations that have shaped your precious Catholic faith, for better or for worse.”
The future will acknowledge the past on a path to rebuilding trust and healing, he said. “I cannot undo the past. But I sincerely believe that together we will not merely address the moments where we’ve fallen short or failed outright. But we will model for all the life and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we will reclaim the future for our families, for those who will follow us – that is my greatest, indeed it is my only aspiration.”
Legacy in Atlanta
Father Mark Starr is pastor of St. Clare of Assisi Church, Acworth. He also leads the Council of Priests, a consultative body to the archbishop. In his five years on the council, Father Starr said he’s seen the archbishop listen to all viewpoints and take them into consideration when making decisions.
He treasures a moment he shared with the archbishop on the day Father Starr was ordained. Walking to the Cathedral of Christ the King, Father Starr recalled how Archbishop Gregory took him aside and made him promise to call him at any time for any need.
“He really meant it. It has been a privilege to serve under him,” he said. Priests in the archdiocese have great respect for him, he said. “He is a man of incredible dedication to the church, a man of integrity, and a wonderful collaborator,” he said.
Pat Chivers worked as the communications director for the Atlanta Archdiocese. After working at the Florida Catholic Conference, she served here for more than eight years. In the job interview, she recalled him telling her the church communications department always has to “tell the truth.”
He takes into his new position a great skill at listening to a diversity of voices, she said. “He has strong leadership balanced with listening,” she said.
“He sincerely wants to hear from the people. He sincerely wants to meet the people,” said Chivers, who now volunteers with Ablaze Radio, a Catholic radio station affiliated with St. Monica Church, Duluth.
She recalled how when lobbying at the Georgia Legislature a letter from the archbishop would carry weight because he rarely was involved in the legislative process. When he served as a statehouse chaplain for the day, lawmakers of different religious backgrounds were drawn to him, she said. He was “so very well respected,” Chivers said.
Chivers said his legacy during his time in Atlanta will be growing the Catholic community with new buildings and new believers with “arms being open wide.”
Deacon Bill Garrett, president of Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, said the appointment was a loss for Atlanta, but right for Washington. “It’s a wise choice. It’ll be great for the universal church and the Washington, D.C., area,” he said. “They are getting a real gem.”
He remembered a time the archbishop visited the school to greet students. “What was great (was) he was spending time with the students, not so much the adults,” said Deacon Garrett, who also serves at All Saints Church, Dunwoody.
The archbishop was key in getting Cristo Rey off the ground. He agreed to lease the former Midtown archdiocesan office at a reduced rate, which was vital to attract the initial students and gave the school $3 million in grants, said Deacon Garrett.
On his legacy, Deacon Garrett said the archbishop helped grow the church, in particular with the Hispanic community, building new worship space where needed, fostering outreach to the ecumenical community, and building up Catholic education.
At the 10 year mark
In 2015, Archbishop Gregory marked a decade of serving in Atlanta. The Chicago native spoke highly of living in Georgia and the diverse community of Catholics.
“I had never lived or worked in the Deep South. I’m a child of the North, but I have come, not only to respect, but to deeply love the heritage, the culture, the ethos, the tempo—the weather,” he said. “It has become home and a very warm and welcoming and loving home.”
At the time, he spoke about his goals to be accomplished, including reaching out to “the un-churched, to the disaffected, our young people,”
He said in the interview, “There’s still much to be done in the evangelization of those who for whatever reason have disassociated themselves from the practice of their faith.”