A rainy Washington morning greeted the new archbishop of Washington on April 5 as he began to get to know his Washington home. The day after being named as the seventh archbishop of Washington by Pope Francis, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta began visiting the many sites and meeting the many faces of the Archdiocese of Washington, which includes the nation’s capital and the five surrounding Maryland counties. 

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington was the first stop of many that day for Archbishop Gregory and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who preceded him as archbishop of Washington, serving in that role from 2006 until this past fall. They were greeted by Msgr. John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, and by Joan Fowler Brown, chief of staff, and other staff members, sharing stories and connections. Catholic Charities offers 57 programs for the poor and vulnerable in various locations throughout the archdiocese, and it’s the largest non-governmental social services agency in the metropolitan area, providing outreach to more than 143,000 people each year.

The group saw the St. Martin de Porres Chapel at Catholic Charities, which Pope Francis toured and blessed during the papal visit in 2015. They also saw a bike, one of many which will compose the Bike Brigade of the St. Maria’s Meals program, which provides warm and nutritious meals to the hungry. 

“We’re trying to reach as many as we can,” Fowler Brown said. 

Archbishop Gregory, who will be installed as the archbishop of Washington on May 21, also met with clients of Catholic Charities and met staff during a budget meeting. 

The next stop was St. Anthony Catholic School in Washington, where the archbishop was greeted by the pastor, Father Fred Close; by the principal Michael Thomasian; by St. Anthony’s students; and by members of the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office. 

St. Anthony Catholic School has 228 students, with 94 attending through the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school voucher program for children from low-income families in the nation’s capital. It is also one of the four schools in the Consortium of Catholic Academies, which provides academic, administrative and financial support to Catholic schools in those Washington neighborhoods. 

Visiting each class, Archbishop Gregory greeted students, shaking their hands, asking and being asked questions, and speaking Spanish and English. In sixth grade, he met the class pet, King Louis, a bearded dragon. The second graders were thrilled when they heard what their new archbishop’s favorite movie is. 

“It’s still is my favorite movie. I have a copy of it on DVD,” the archbishop said. “It is The Wizard of Oz. I love The Wizard of Oz!” 

He also shared his favorite part of school was history class, particularly learning about the artists of history who “beautified our world.” 

Though he is overjoyed to be in Washington, he will miss his community in Atlanta, the archbishop told the second graders.  

“It’s something that is going to cost me some tears to leave the Archdiocese of Atlanta, where I lived for 14 years and made many, many wonderful friends, including little friends,” he said. “It’s going to be hard for me to say goodbye to them. But, as soon as I get off the plane and I’m in D.C., I’m going to feel right at home.” 

Archbishop Gregory also met a fifth-grade student who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood. 

“I was in fifth grade when I began thinking about being a priest,” Archbishop Gregory said. “That’s exactly right.” 

In the afternoon, the archbishop and cardinal visited the Little Sisters of the Poor at their Jeanne Jugan Residence for the elderly poor in Washington. The gray-habited sisters crowded around as the archbishop entered, again sharing stories of his days growing up and becoming a priest in Chicago, and addressing the sisters by name. The 11 sisters who live in the residence were joined by members of their community who traveled from Baltimore and from Delaware; Newark, New Jersey; and Richmond, Virginia. This year, the Little Sisters of the Poor are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the community’s arrival in the United States. 

Archbishop Gregory met and spoke with the elderly residents and the sisters of the home. 

Archbishop Gregory greets an elderly resident at the Jeanne Jugan Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor. He visited the home on April 5, one day after Pope Francis named him as the new archbishop of Washington. (Archdiocese of Washington photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

“I got a chance to see the wonderful work that you do there [in Chicago],” the archbishop told the sisters. “Now I’m glad to be able to see the wonderful work that you do here, and to have a chance to visit with you on this first trip to my new home in the Washington Archdiocese. But I assure you, it won’t be my last visit to you.”

He also asked for their prayers. 

“I heard Cardinal Wuerl tell one of the Little Sisters, or remind one of the Little Sisters, that she had promised to pray for him,” he said. “So I want to ask all of the other Little Sisters – I won't move in on his special prayer partner – but all of the other Little Sisters to please pray for me.” 

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor, assured the archbishop of the prayers of all gathered. 

“Our residents and sisters, especially our residents, are great pray-ers,” she said. “I really feel like this is a powerhouse of prayer.” 

Cardinal Wuerl also thanked the Little Sisters for their “witness, public witness, to the importance of our senior citizens, to our senior members of the Church, and to the care of them.” 

The sisters gifted the archbishop with flowers and a basket of gifts from their community. 

Despite the time constraint, Mother Mary Michael Nickles, superior of the Washington community, encouraged the archbishop and cardinal to see the chapel that Pope Francis visited.

“As I learned to say as a grammar kid in Chicago, ‘Yes, Sister!’” Archbishop Gregory said. 

Later that afternoon, Archbishop Gregory visited and celebrated Mass at the archdiocese's Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington, and joined the seminarians and priests there for dinner. That evening, he visited a fish fry at Nativity Parish in Washington.

With his busy first full day as the archbishop-designate of Washington, Archbishop Gregory stayed true to a pledge he made at the press conference after his appointment was announced: “The best time for any bishop is the time they spend with their people. I want to be in the midst of our people, listening to them, praying with them, dining with them... I want to be in the pews with the people.”