By MARDESSA SMITH, Special to the Bulletin | Published May 30, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Atlanta guests came together to witness the Mass of Installation for their departing shepherd and leader Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory in Washington, D.C. May 21.
The day started with a luncheon at The Catholic University of America’s Pryzbyla Center for visiting cardinals, bishops, family and friends. Archbishop Gregory greeted everyone, recognizing his special guests from Chicago and Belleville, Illinois as well as Atlanta.
Atlanta’s former auxiliaries, Bishop Luis R. Zarama, of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Bishop David P. Talley, of the Diocese of Memphis, Tennessee, attended.
Following lunch, guests gathered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the liturgical procession and Mass of Installation.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, gave the greeting, with salutation by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington.
The Rite of Canonical Possession began with the reading of the apostolic mandate by the nuncio, with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory publicly giving his acceptance. Guests applauded as he was led to be seated on the cathedra (bishop’s throne) and presented with his crosier, the sign of his pastoral office as the seventh archbishop of Washington. He was welcomed by more than 100 representatives of the clergy, religious and laity of the archdiocese, and by religious leaders of other faith communities.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory shared special words for the dioceses that he served in the past with the final remarks for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
“And then there is the Church of Atlanta—the blessed community where I discovered Southern roots, traditions and love that have assisted in preparing me for this moment. I assure them all that there will never be a day when Georgia isn’t on my mind,” said the archbishop.
Mass was followed by a public reception at the basilica for visiting guests and family.
Atlantans and family members share memories
When Margaret Nelson, parishioner of Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Atlanta, watched Archbishop Gregory walk into the church, she shed a tear, thinking it would be the last time she and her family would see their friend again.
“The most memorable moment for me were the profound words in his homily—when I commit a sin and error, I will apologize when I do it, not when you find out about it. He will go out and meet any problem head on and make it right again,” she said.
Nelson feels he brings certain gifts to the young people in his new church home.
“He will be the ‘Pied Piper’ of the youth in Washington; they are the future of our church. He is so approachable, and a genuine human being,” she said.
Archbishop Gregory often played golf with Nelson’s husband, Rick. He married their daughters, confirmed their son and baptized their grandchildren.
Attorney Steve Forte, parishioner of the Cathedral of Christ the King, attended the Mass. Forte has worked with Archbishop Gregory and the Archdiocese of Atlanta for quite some time.
“The circumstances were something to behold; the message of hope and resiliency, and his homily really struck a chord with everyone there. I thought it was fantastic, and hopefully he feels like he achieved what he wanted to do,” he said. “He will bring a great sense of stability to a place that needs it.”
Kathy Cote, parishioner of Saint Jude the Apostle Church in Sandy Springs, was overwhelmed by the setting of the basilica overflowing with faithful, loving followers of Christ.
“The highlight of the installation Mass was the personal message Archbishop Gregory gave in his homily. With his classic, straightforward style, he was able to speak to the heart of every person there—thanking them, teaching them, challenging them and reassuring them that he is a leader committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Cote. “He brings the same gifts to Washington that we have so greatly benefitted from in Atlanta. He is an honest, clear communicator; he is a man of character and integrity committed to the Catholic Church; he treasures family, values education and selflessly reaches out to serve the people.”
A board member of Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, Cote said the archbishop brings wisdom and wit to every situation.
“He will be truly missed, and his legacy will be felt for generations,” she added.
Cote attended the Mass with her husband, Michael Cote, who serves on the Marist School Board of Trustees and previously served on the Strategic Planning Committee for the archdiocese.
In his homily, the archbishop also honored his late parents, late grandmother and sisters, Elaine Swenson and Claudia Ferguson, who were both in attendance.
Swenson, who resides in Vacaville, California, thought about how proud their mother, Ethel Duncan, would have been when her brother processed in.
“This is a monumental occasion—witnessing my brother accept his pastoral office, and the multi-cultural representation was a highlight for me,” said Swenson. “He brings to Washington fairness and honesty. He will listen, give support and stand for all communities.”
Ferguson, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, shared her memories of the day.
“My favorite moment was people applauding my brother when he came out. When he talked about Jesus on the boat, my first favorite became second,” said Ferguson. “Archbishop Gregory will bring to Washington transparency and accessibility. He doesn’t distinguish people—whoever you are, you are important.”
The text of Archbishop Gregory’s homily at the Mass of Installation may be read at Catholic Standard at www.cathstan.org.