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Race, Identity & Faith

Former Belleville Bishop To Become First African American Cardinal

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, former bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, gives communion during a Mass of ordination and installation for new Bishop Michael G. McGovern at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville in July.
Derik Holtmann
/
Belleville News-Democrat
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, former bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, gives communion during a Mass of ordination and installation for new Bishop Michael G. McGovern at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville in July.

Pope Francis announced on Sunday that former Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory will become a cardinal later this year.

The pope named Gregory, who has been the archbishop of Washington, D.C., since 2019, as one of 13 new cardinals.

As a cardinal who is under the age of 80, Gregory, 72, could participate in the election whenever there’s a vacancy in the papacy. Nine of the cardinals the pope named can participate in a future conclave.

Gregory will be the first African American to become a cardinal, according to the New York Times.

Gregory was born in Chicago and spent a number of years working in and around the Chicago suburbs. Before coming to Belleville, Gregory served as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago from 1983 to 1994. He became bishop of Belleville in 1994 and served in that capacity for more than a decade.

Bishop Michael McGovern, the Belleville Diocese's current bishop, issued a statement early Sunday congratulating Gregory.

“On behalf of the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Belleville, I thank our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for the wonderful news of his appointment of Archbishop Wilton Daniel Gregory as a member of the College of Cardinals,” McGovern said. “His leadership, prayerfulness and commitment to the people of southern Illinois created a strong bond with the people of our diocese. While his subsequent appointment as Archbishop of Atlanta happened sixteen years ago, the priests and the people of Belleville continue expressing their affection for him because he is such a caring pastor."

Gregory served as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He gained national recognition for fighting sexual abuse within the church.

The ceremony to elevate Gregory will take place in late November.

The Belleville News-Democrat contributed to this report.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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