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Religious sisters played a large role in Cardinal Gregory’s life and continue to support him

Cardinal Gregory processes toward the altar for the Feb. 27 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception honoring men and women in consecrated life marking jubilees this year. At left are members of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

From a young age, religious sisters have played a large role in the life of Cardinal Wilton Gregory. At the age of 11, he began the sixth grade at St. Carthage School in Chicago, where he met the Adrian Dominican sisters. Influenced by their kindness and example, as well as that of the parish priests there, within six weeks of attending Catholic school, young Wilton Gregory, who was not yet Catholic, had announced that he wanted to be a Catholic priest. He converted to Catholicism shortly after.

On Cardinal Gregory’s journey of faith, he was later ordained as a priest and an auxiliary bishop in his native Chicago, then served as the bishop of Belleville, Illinois, and later as the archbishop of Atlanta before becoming the archbishop of Washington in 2019.

Upon Pope Francis’ announcement of Cardinal Gregory’s appointment to the College of Cardinals in the fall of 2020, the Adrian Dominican Sisters released a statement noting the longtime friendship between the cardinal and the Adrian Dominican teachers he first met at St. Carthage School.

“(Then-)Archbishop Gregory’s appointment is a blessing beyond measure for the entire Church,” the statement read. “As the first African American to be elevated to the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Gregory will bring the unique gifts and perspectives of Black Americans and Black Catholicism to the global Church’s highest ecclesiastical body. As a prelate deeply committed to social and racial justice, Cardinal Gregory will bring courageous voice of integrity to the pope’s inner circle, speaking words of compassion and inclusivity.”

Sister Gilmary Kay, a Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, saw firsthand when Cardinal Gregory arrived in Washington his devotion to women and men in religious orders. As the delegate for consecrated life for the Archdiocese of Washington, Sister Gilmary works with religious orders throughout the archdiocese. She said that when Cardinal Gregory first arrived in Washington, he held gatherings, inviting groups, including members of religious communities, to speak with him.

“He listens, he’s a good listener,” Sister Gilmary said. “And he respects religious… he has deep respect for their prayer.”

Sister Gilmary added that Cardinal Gregory In his new position will have the opportunity to give a “unique perspective to the Holy Father about American Catholicism.” She added that he was chosen for the special role of cardinal because “he’s a good pastor and a good priest and a good archbishop.”

Sister Mary Bourdon, a member of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, met Cardinal Gregory at one of the gatherings of women religious within the archdiocese. She said in an email that she was “very impressed by his respect for the work of women religious and his promise of support for ongoing collaboration.”

Sister Bourdon serves on her order’s leadership team of the United States-Haiti Province, and helped found the Washington School for Girls, an all-scholarship, independent Catholic school in Washington, D.C., where she said she would be happy to escort Cardinal Gregory for a visit in the future once the pandemic has passed.

“The naming of Archbishop Gregory as a cardinal unites us in a special way to the universal Church,” Sister Bourdon said. “Washington, D.C., as the nation’s capital, is so often associated with issues of politics and power. This appointment of our own local leader as a leader in the Roman Catholic Church will present new opportunities for us to join our hearts and minds with our brothers and sisters around the world in issues of faith and conscience.”

Members of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin Matera pray during the Feb. 27 Jubilee Mass for Religious celebrated by Cardinal Wilton Gregory at the National Shrine in Washington.  (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)  

Sister Sharon Euart, a Sister of Mercy, serves as executive director of the Resource Center for Religious Institutes, which provides assistance to religious orders across the country. Formerly with the Canon Law Society of America, Sister Euart also worked at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1988 to 2001, in a time frame when Cardinal Gregory, then the bishop of Belleville, Illinois, was elected in 2001 as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. During then-Bishop Gregory’s service as USCCB president, the crisis of sex abuse by Catholic clergy escalated, and under his leadership, the bishops implemented the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

“It was an opportunity for his leadership to really shine,” Sister Euart said, noting that she remembered the influence that the late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin had on Cardinal Gregory, who served as Cardinal Bernardin’s auxiliary bishop from 1983 to 1993.

“My hope for him is that as a cardinal, he’ll be able to build on his broad experience, that he will continue to surround himself with people who know him and support his vision for the Church, his ecclesiology, his goals,” Sister Euart said. “One of the things the Archdiocese of Washington is doing is they are sharing him with the Universal Church in order to serve the Holy Father. It is a gift from Washington.”