ABOVE: Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory holds his Apostolic Mandate during his Installation mass (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
This past Saturday, November 28th, history was made in the Catholic Church, as Pope Francis and the Catholic Church appointed Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory to become the first African American to hold the rank of cardinal in the history of the Catholic Church.
Gregory, 72, was already the highest-ranking Black member of the Catholic Church in U.S. history before his elevation to cardinal having served as the Washington D.C. Archbishop
Cardinal Gregory has become a highly visible member of the Catholic Church after issuing a statement after the murder of George Floyd, calling out racism and publicly rebuking the Knights of Columbus for hosting President Donald Trump and allowing him to use the St. John Paul II Shrine in northern Washington D.C. for a campaign photo opportunity.
As part of the ceremony, Cardinal Gregory was presented with a ring, a four-cornered silk hat that is referred to as a biretta, a scroll and a skullcap referred to as a zucchetto.
According to his biography, Cardinal Gregory was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 7, 1947 to Wilton Sr. and Ethel Duncan Gregory. He attended St. Carthage Grammar School, where he converted to Catholicism. He went on to attend Quigley Preparatory Seminary South, Niles College (now St. Joseph’s College Seminary) of Loyola University and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago on May 9, 1973. Three years after his ordination, Cardinal Gregory began graduate studies at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute (Sant’ Anselmo) in Rome, where he earned his doctorate in sacred liturgy in 1980.
After having served as an associate pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Glenview, Illinois as a member of the faculty of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein and as a master of ceremonies to Cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin, Cardinal Gregory was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Chicago on December 13, 1983.
On February 10, 1994, Cardinal Gregory was installed as the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, where he served for the next eleven years. On December 9, 2004, Pope Saint John Paul II appointed Cardinal Gregory as the sixth archbishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and was installed on January 17, 2005. Pope Francis appointed him as the seventh Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. on April 4, 2019, where he was installed on May 21, 2019.
Cardinal Gregory has served in many leading roles in the U.S. church. In November 2001, he was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) following three years as vice president under Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston. During his tenure in office and under his leadership, the bishops implemented the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” to address the crisis surrounding the level of sex abuse cases by Catholic clergy that had escalated.
Cardinal Gregory has served on the USCCB’s Executive and Administrative Committees, the Administrative Board, the Committee on Doctrine and the U.S. Catholic Conference Committee on International Policy. He previously served as the chairman of the Bishops’ Committees on Personnel, Divine Worship and the Third Millennium/Jubilee Year 2000 from 1998-2001, and Liturgy from 1991-1993.
Cardinal Gregory has been awarded nine honorary doctoral degrees. He received the Great Preacher Award from Saint Louis University in 2002; Doctorate of Humanities from Lewis University in Romeoville, IL (2002-2003); Sword of Loyola from Loyola University of Chicago (2004); Doctorate of Humane Letters from Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL (2005); Doctorate of Humane Letters from Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH; Doctorate of Humane Letters from McKendree College in Lebanon, IL; Doctorate of Humanities from Fontbonne University in St. Louis, MO; Honorary Law Degree from Notre Dame University (2012); and the Chicago Catholic Theological Union Honorary Doctorate (2013).
In 2006, Cardinal Gregory joined an illustrious group of preachers with his induction into the Martin Luther King Board of Preachers at Morehouse College, Atlanta. At the National Pastoral Life Center in Washington, D.C., Cardinal Gregory was honored with the Cardinal Bernardin Award given by the Catholic Common Ground Initiative (2006).
Cardinal Gregory has written extensively on church issues, including pastoral statements on the death penalty, euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide and has published numerous articles on the subject of liturgy, particularly in the African American community.