The Spiritual Shepherds of the Church of Washington

Standing left to right are Cardinal Hickey, Cardinal Baum and Cardinal O'Boyle (Photo taken around 1980)

Standing left to right are Cardinal Hickey, Cardinal Baum and Cardinal O’Boyle  (Photo taken around 1980)

This year we celebrate 75 years since the establishment of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1939, as well as the 225th anniversary of the appointment of John Carroll as the first bishop in the United States in 1789.  Bishop Carroll had a difficult task in organizing the Church given the substantial obstacles to practicing the faith that existed in many places before the nation’s birth.  Thanks to his tireless efforts, however, the tiny mustard seed that was planted in this land has grown into the largest of plants, with many coming to dwell in its branches.

Our local Church has been blessed with spiritual shepherds who have formed a large and vibrant flock.  Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, my immediate predecessor, from 2000 until he retired in 2006, had long placed an emphasis on human rights, vocations to the priesthood and meeting the needs of migrant peoples.  His ministry of engaging in the wider community so that the voice of the Gospel is always a part of the discussion has served the Church in an important way.  Even in his retirement Cardinal McCarrick continues to travel in order to participate in a wide range of interfaith gatherings in various parts of the world.

Cardinal James Hickey was archbishop from 1980 to 2000.  A minister to migrant workers, a seminary rector, as well as Bishop of Cleveland, Ohio before coming to Washington, Cardinal Hickey undertook an expansion of Catholic education here and oversaw significant growth in social services for the disadvantaged. He established such initiatives as the Archdiocesan Legal Network, the Archdiocesan Health Network, Victory Housing, and the Birthing and Care Program, which is now called Sanctuaries for Life under Catholic Charities.  These are but a few examples of the way in which his love of Christ helped form his legacy.

May is a month of multiple anniversaries for Cardinal William Baum, including his 1973 installation as Washington’s third archbishop, his priestly ordination in 1951 and his creation as a cardinal in 1976.  What shines through in his lifetime of service is his dedication to the vision of the priesthood as Christ at work in his Church.  In addition to invaluable service toward Christian unity Cardinal Baum, after his appointment to head the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, helped prepare the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Saint John Paul II’s apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae.  He also oversaw the first apostolic visitation of the seminaries in the United States.

The longest serving archbishop of Washington was Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle.  Arriving here in 1948 after serving as director of Catholic Charities in New York, he was a champion of social justice and civil rights throughout his priestly ministry.  Years before the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, Archbishop O’Boyle worked tenaciously for desegregation and equal opportunity in housing, jobs and education, including founding the Spanish Catholic Center in 1967.  During his tenure, many of our parishes and Catholic schools were built to accommodate the growing number of Catholic faithful.

Today also marks the death of the first shepherd of this local Church, Archbishop Michael Curley, in 1947.  Archbishop Curley was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore in 1921.  Pope Pius XII in 1939 appointed him to serve as Archbishop of Washington while continuing to hold the office of Archbishop of Baltimore and reside in that historic Maryland city.  An outspoken defender of the Church and advocate for Catholic schools, Archbishop Curley also had a profound love for the poor.  At his installation as Archbishop of Washington, rather than have a grand celebration afterward, he hosted a dinner for the residents of the Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor, saying he wanted “something simple and maybe something that may edify.”

The archbishops who have served this Church brought their own particular gifts, but they each shared the same apostolic mission which finds its origin and definition in Jesus’ love for his flock.  During this 75th jubilee year, we give thanks to God for the blessings they have been to this community of faith.