Diocese gets new leader
Like Gregory, new leader was born in Chicago
BY PATRICK J. POWERS Belleville News Democrat
(see also: Diocese of Belleville)
BELLEVILLE — Former St. Louis Auxiliary Bishop Edward K. Braxton, currently serving as bishop of Lake Charles, La., will be the eighth leader of the Belleville Diocese; the Vatican announced Tuesday.
„Now I am called to embrace the local church of Belleville,“ Braxton said. „I have no doubt that the face and heart of Christ will be revealed to me in new and different ways as I pray and work and serve with the dedicated priests, deacons, religious and Christian faithful of this diocese“.
BRAXTON, 60, has yet to set a date for his installation as Belleville’s next bishop, but said he expects it to be in early June. Braxton will replace Bishop Wilton Gregory, who was in-stalled Jan. 17 as the sixth arch-bishop of Atlanta.
„He comes to this appointment with an impressive heritage of scholarship, pastoral experience and zeal for the gospel of Jesus Christ,“ Gregory said. „May Bishop Braxton find all the graces he needs to fulfill his new assignment with success, personal satisfaction and great peace of heart.“
Braxton, like Gregory, was born in Chicago and attended St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein. Gregory was two years behind Braxton at the school and was a server for Braxton’s first Mass in 1970 at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.
Braxton and Gregory are among only-14 black bishops out of the 418 active and retired bishops in the United States.
During a news conference Tuesday, Braxton stressed his need to learn more about the specifics needs of the Belleville Diocese and reiterated his commitment to the youth of the Catholic Church. Braxton annually visited every classroom of Lake Charles‘ eight Catholic elementary schools.
Braxton also expressed his de-sire to reach out to members of other Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities in the area. Ecumenical and interfaith collaboration always have been a hall-mark of Braxton’s ministry, he said.
Braxton spent the rest of Tuesday lunching with priests and meeting with other diocesan officials.
The relatively short period between Gregory’s departure and Braxton’s appointment came as a surprise to some – but a pleas-ant one to those who knew of him before Monday.
„We’re pleased to have him,“ said Robert Gilligan, executive di-rector of the Catholic Conference of Illinois. „He’ll be an excellent fit.“
Said Monsignor James Margason, vicar general for the Belleville Diocese: „Bishop Braxton brings a wealth of experience to his new role as shepherd of the church of Southern Illinois both from the field of academia as well as pastoral experience as the bishop of Lake Charles, Louisiana.“
Bishop George Lucas of the Springfield Diocese that includes Madison County offered Braxton his best wishes. „I will pray for him, as well as for the priests and people of the diocese, as they be-gin together their new chapter of life in the Lord.“ he said.
As a young priest Braxton at-tended the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium from 1973 to 1974, taught at Harvard University Divinity School from 1976 to 1977 and became chancellor for theological affairs for the Cleve-land Diocese in 1978.
Cleveland’s Bishop James Hickey, later a cardinal, brought Braxton with him when he was
appointed to Washington, D.C., in 1980. In 1983, Braxton became the scholar in residence at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, and in 1986 he worked as a theological consult-ant for a New York publisher.
Pope John Paul appointed Braxton as auxiliary bishop of St. Louis on March 28, 1995, and bishop of Lake Charles, La., on Dec. 12, 2000. The Lake Charles Diocese includes about 72,000 Catholics in 42 parishes. Lake Charles is about 31/2 hours west of New Orleans.
The Belleville Diocese has
about 104,000 Catholics and covers St. Clair, Clinton and Monroe counties and the southernmost part of Illinois.
„I, like many others, thought that considering his education and experience he might leave us one day,“ said the Rev. Aubrey Guilbeau, vicar general for the Lake Charles Diocese. „I am a little disappointed at his departure because of the exceptional leadership he is giving our diocese.“
Gregory was installed in January as the archbishop of Atlanta after leading the Belleville diocese and its 124 parishes for nearly 11 years. He also served as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for three years during the height of the clergy molestation crisis.