Wednesday, February 05, 2020 - Updated: 2:21 pm
PHILADELPHIA — Proclaiming his successor as “exactly the man our church needs,” Archbishop Charles Chaput introduced Bishop Nelson Perez, whom Pope Francis named as the next archbishop of Philadelphia, at a Jan. 23 news conference in Philadelphia.
He will be installed as archbishop Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 2 p.m. in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
The pope had announced the appointment while accepting the resignation of Archbishop Chaput, who last September turned 75, the age at which canon law requires that bishops turn in their resignation to the pope.
Anticipation for his successor had been building intensely in the archdiocese since that time, and judging by the applause in the room filled with more than 100 archdiocesan staff, it was a warm welcome home for Archbishop Perez, 58, currently the bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland.
He described his appointment as a “surreal moment” for a former priest of the archdiocese to be named its new shepherd.
Archbishop Perez is the first archbishop of Philadelphia of Hispanic heritage; his parents emigrated from Cuba and he was born in Miami in 1961. He also is the first native son to be archbishop of Philadelphia since Archbishop (later Cardinal) Dennis Dougherty in the early 20th century.
And at 58, he is the youngest archbishop since Cardinal John Krol arrived in Philadelphia in 1961 at age 50.
Cleveland and Philadelphia also share a renewed bond in that the new archbishop led that diocese and Cardinal Krol was an auxiliary bishop there before being appointed to Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said that Bishop Perez’s appointment “is a blessing for Pennsylvania and the entire church. A servant-leader very much in the spirit of Pope Francis, Bishop Perez is the son of refugees whose concern for immigrants and marginalized people comes from his heart. His pastoral approach, particularly in outreach to younger Catholics, has been inspirational. I invite everyone to join me in praying that the Lord will continue to guide his ministry.”
Archbishop Perez was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1989 and one of his ordination classmates joined him at the news conference: Father Gary Pacitti, pastor of St. Basil the Great in Kimberton. Archbishop Perez referred to him not only as a friend but “like my brother.”
It was a sentiment that he extended to all his brother priests of the archdiocese and he would mention the strong priestly fellowship here several times during his remarks.
“You know, once a Philadelphia priest, always a Philadelphia priest,” he said. “So the part of me that has that identity inside of me cannot wrap its head around being the Archbishop of Philadelphia. It doesn’t compute. But it is what the Lord wants and what the Holy Father wants.”
He said it is “awesome” to return Philadelphia with people who are faith-filled, who love the Lord, love the church. So I’m grateful to the Holy Father for placing this huge trust in me that I really don’t deserve.”
After studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and his priestly ordination, then-Father Perez served at St. Ambrose Parish in Philadelphia, worked in ministry to Hispanic Catholics of the archdiocese and led two parishes, St. William in Philadelphia and St. Agnes in West Chester, before he was ordained an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Rockville Center, New York.
In 2017, he was named bishop of Cleveland and at the news conference he praised the people of that diocese, especially its Catholic young adults who “were a great source of joy” for him. He added that he “hoped to reach out to the young adults here” in Philadelphia.
After the installation Mass, Archbishop Chaput will begin his retirement.
Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.