Wilton D. Gregory is a Roman Catholic archbishop and scholar who as of November 2020, became the first African American Cardinal in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Gregory was born on December 7, 1947 in Chicago, Illinois as the oldest of the three children of Wilton D. Gregory Sr. and the former Etta Duncan who later divorced. His reverence for parish priests and teachers at St. Carthage Grammar School led him to baptism into the Catholic Church at age eleven. After graduating from Quigley Preparatory Seminary South, he entered Niles College (now known as Saint Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University Chicago). Upon completing his theological training at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, he was ordained a priest in the diocese on May 9, 1973. Afterwards, he served three years of service as Associate Pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glenview, Illinois. Gregory also taught at the seminary and worked closely with Cardinal John Cody before earning his doctorate at Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome, Italy in 1980.
Returning to Chicago, he resumed duties as seminary professor. In 1983, at age 36, he was ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and Titular Bishop of Oliva, making him the youngest Catholic bishop in the nation. The following year, Gregory, along with nine other black Catholic bishops, co-authored “What We Have Seen and Heard: A Pastoral Letter on Evangelism.” This three-page tract asserted that 1.5 million black Catholics in the United States had a unique history which required understanding and culturally sensitive strategies to achieve successful evangelism. While chair of the Bishop’s Subcommittee on Black Liturgy, he published a tract in 1987 titled, “The Spirit and Truth: Black Catholic Reflections on the Order of the Mass” that focused on liturgical accommodations.
In 1993, he was appointed Bishop of Belleville where he oversaw the southern Illinois cities of Belleville, East St. Louis, and Cairo. Gregory immediately faced issues relating to race relations and clerical sexual abuse. He partly addressed these and other issues in The Messenger, the newspaper of the diocese, and in the three-part video, Enduring Faith: A Story of African American Catholics in America. In 2000, he garnered considerable national attention when he was elected to serve as the first African American president of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). During his three-year term in office, the position forced him to confront growing concerns about priests’ sexual immorality and abuse of mostly young male parishioners. His response insisted that the Church should acknowledge the problem and encourage reconciliation.
On December 9, 2004, Pope John Paul elevated Gregory to Archbishop of Atlanta which comprised the northern counties of Georgia. A month after the 2016 election of President Donald J. Trump, he wrote a commentary on racism in America pledging to work with the new Administration to find a solution rooted in spiritual conversion. On Sunday, October 25, 2020, Pope Francis named Archbishop Gregory the first African American Cardinal for the Catholic Church. His installation ceremony was held on November 28, 2020.
Gregory currently is a trustee of The Catholic University. He has received nine honorary doctorates.