Wilton Gregory Becomes the First Black American to Become Cardinal



The Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Wilton Gregory has become the first Black American Cardinal. This historic event took place on Nov.28, 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony had to be altered.  Two of the 13 new cardinals were unable to attend the ceremony held in Rome.

Gregory had been quarantining for the past 10 days at a Vatican resident building. During this time period, he had his meals and towels left outside of his door. Gregory’s quarantine was lifted after he tested negative for the virus for the third time.

During a videoconference, the new Cardinal stated that he hoped to be a “voice for the African American community in the pope’s ear.” He further stated that everyone who called him said that “It’s about time!”

Pope Francis named Gregory as a future Cardinal back in October. It was the first time a Black American to be named a future cardinal.

GregoryHis Life and Calling

Gregory was born on Dec. 7, 1947, in Chicago Illinois. His parents are Wilton Sr. and Ethel Duncan Gregory. He has two sisters named Claudia and Elaine.

The cardinal went to St. Carthage Grammar, where he converted to Catholicism. After which he attended the now St. Joseph’s College Seminary of Loyola University and St. Mary’s of the Lake Seminary.

On May 9, 1973, he was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Three years later he began graduate studies at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome. In 1980, he earned his doctorate in the sacred liturgy.

On Dec. 13, 1983, he was ordained as an auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. Furthering his calling he was installed as the seventh Bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, IL on Feb. 10, 1994. He served there for the next 11 years.

Pope Saint John Paul II appointed Gregory as the sixth Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta on Dec. 9, 2004. On April 4, 2019, he was appointed as the Archdiocese of Washington by Pope Francis. The cardinal served in many leading roles throughout his fruitful career.

The Historic Event at the Vatican

He was the only American appointed Cardinal during Saturday’s ceremony. According to the Vatican News, having two of the bishops miss the ceremony and the first Black American appointed Cardinal — were both a historic first for the Church.

At the age of 72, Gregory is already the highest-ranking Black American Catholic in U.S. history. He hopes “the African American community” sees that “the Catholic Church has a great reverence, respect, and esteem for the people, for my people of color.”

Saturday’s event was attended by both new and old cardinals. During the ceremony, Pope Francis recited the names of the incoming Cardinals as well as a homily. Most people chose to remove their masks when they knelt before the pope. However, Gregory chose to keep his on as he received his red hat.

The Pope chose to not wear his mask during the ceremony. Francis took all the new cardinals to visit the retired Pope Benedict XVI. The 93-year-old lives in a monastery inside the Vatican. According to the spokesman for the Vatican, Benedict was very happy about the visit. He gave the new Cardinals his blessing.

Some of the other new Cardinals are from Chile, Brunei, Rwanda, and the Philippines.

Written by Sheena Robertson


CNN: This archbishop has become the first African American cardinal in Catholic history by Daniel Burke and Delia Gallagher

The Washington Post: Wilton Gregory becomes first Black American cardinal — after three coronavirus tests and a quarantine by Chico Harlan

NPR: Archbishop Wilton Gregory Says ‘Carry On’ Work For Racial And Societal Justice

Archdiocese of Washington: Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory

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