Meet the first African American cardinal: Wilton Daniel Gregory

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James Coleman on Unsplash

Corbin Hubert, Trojan Matters Editor

On October 25, Pope Francis announced his intention to raise the status of Wilton Daniel Gregory to cardinal.

This move makes Gregory the first African American to be named a cardinal in the history of the Catholic church. He will officially be named a cardinal on November 28, 2020. “Pope Francis elevating Archbishop Wilton Gregory to a cardinal is exciting in so many ways,” said BCHS principal Mr. Joe Hansen.

Gregory was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1947 to Ethel and Wilton Gregory. In 1958, while attending St. Carthage School, Gregory decided he wanted to be a priest when he was old enough, even though he wasn’t Catholic at the time.

That would change in 1959, when he was baptized, received his First Communion, and was confirmed.

After he graduated St. Carthage, Gregory attended the Quigley Preparatory Seminary and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary and traveled to Rome where he received a doctorate in liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute.

In 1973, he was ordained into the priesthood by John Cardinal Cody. Not long after he returned to Rome to earn the Doctor of Sacred Liberty degree. When he returned, Father Gregory was appointed as the minister for Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Mary, Seat of Wisdom, both in Illinois.

On Halloween in 1983, Bishop Gregory was appointed as the Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and Titular Bishop of Olivia. Both auxiliary and titular bishops are appointed to provide assistance to the bishop of a diocese. 

In 1993, Pope John Paul II named Bishop Gregory as the Bishop of Belville for the Diocese of Belville, in southern Illinois. Twelve years later, in 2005, Bishop Gregory was asked to be the Archbishop of Atlanta as one of Pope John Paul II’s last appointments before his death. 

Pope Francis would appoint Archbishop Gregory as the Archbishop of Washington in May 2019. Archbishop Gregory will continue to hold that position until he is made a cardinal in just a few weeks.

Archbishop Gregory wasted no time in protesting the events surrounding racial injustice over the summer. According to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Archbishop Gregory was one of eight bishops from Atlanta to speak out on the “sins and injustices” of racism. In a statement made by the Church leaders, they said, “Prayer and words are not enough. We must act to bring true change.”

Mr. Hansen said, “He has spoken out against racial injustice and the sexual abuse crisis in the church.” Archbishop Gregory will be making history later this month, so it is important to know the process it took for him to get to this point in his life, and how much work it takes to get to the level of cardinal in the Catholic church. “And I love the fact that he is from the Midwest and is a life-long supporter of Catholic schools. I applaud this decision by Pope Francis and send my congratulations to Archbishop Gregory,” said Mr. Hansen.