In a year of upheaval on college campuses brought about by a worldwide pandemic and nationwide demonstrations for racial justice in the wake of the killings of unarmed men and women of color by police, leaders of three local Catholic universities joined the faithful of the archdiocese to celebrate Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory’s elevation to the College of Cardinals.

Immediately following Pope Francis’ announcement on Oct. 25, 2020 that he named then-Archbishop Gregory as one of 13 new cardinals from around the world, John Garvey, the president of The Catholic University of America, wrote a letter to the university community sharing joy and pride for the historic appointment. As archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Gregory serves as Catholic University’s chancellor. 

“It is with great joy that our chancellor, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, will become the first African American cardinal in the history of the Catholic Church,” Garvey wrote.

John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America (Photo courtesy of The Catholic University of America)

Highlighting the cardinal’s healing message for racial justice, Garvey added, “in the wake of the death of George Floyd this past summer, Archbishop Gregory encouraged us ‘to examine our own attitudes and actions in order to seek conversion from sin and turn our hearts toward Christ in order to end personal and structural racism.’”

After George Floyd, an African American man, died on May 25 as a result of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest, then-Archbishop Gregory issued a statement decrying the “virus” of racism that continued to afflict the United States as the nation was confronting the coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally Garvey praised Cardinal Gregory for his past leadership including serving as archbishop of Atlanta and as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001-2004. Then-Bishop Gregory, who at the time was the bishop of Belleville, Illinois, led the U.S. bishops as the USCCB president in 2002 when they adopted and implemented the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to address the clergy abuse crisis. 

Garvey promised continued prayers for the cardinal from the Catholic University community, writing, “We are proud of our chancellor; we pray for his safe travels to Rome and many years as a leader in the Church and our university.”

Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University (Photo courtesy of Trinity Washington University)

Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, joined her fellow university presidents in praising Cardinal Gregory’s appointment. 

“As one of the nation’s historic Catholic women’s colleges, now a diversified university with the designation of a predominantly Black institution reflecting a student body that is 95 percent Black and Latina, Trinity takes particular joy in noting that Cardinal Gregory is the first Black American in the College of Cardinals, a fact that is a source of inspiration and affirmation for students, faculty and staff in our campus community,” McGuire said. She added the achievement “recognizes his long and distinguished record of leadership to the Church in the United States.” 

President McGuire also acknowledged Cardinal Gregory’s leadership on racial justice, poverty and care for the environment. “A champion for social justice and all those afflicted by economic and social marginalization, Cardinal Gregory has been a powerful voice for the protection of children, relief of poverty and humanitarian policies for immigrants and refugees,” she said. “With Pope Francis and through the inspiration of Laudato Si, he has been an advocate for environmental justice. He has condemned racism in its many evil guises and has been fearless in confronting official behaviors that exclude, oppress and diminish human life and dignity.”

McGuire added, “Trinity looks forward to working with Cardinal Gregory in advancing the extensive work of the Archdiocese of Washington in ministry, education and social service.” 

 John J. DeGioia, the president of Georgetown University  (Photo courtesy of Georgetown University)

John J. DeGioia, the president of Georgetown University, also congratulated Cardinal Gregory, describing his appointment as “a historic milestone – and important recognition of his deep service and faith and his groundbreaking path as an African American leader in our Church.”

Cardinal Gregory “has brought to our archdiocese his devotion to pastoral ministry and his compassion and care for the most vulnerable,” DeGioia said. “We have been honored to welcome Cardinal Gregory to our campus for many gatherings to explore aspects of our identity as a Catholic and Jesuit university and engage his perspective on issues facing the Catholic Church and our world.” 

Georgetown University’s president also praised Cardinal Gregory as “a man of mercy, love, and understanding. This is a moment of great excitement for all of us in Washington, D.C. and in the Georgetown community.”