Archbishop Wilton Gregory on management, Bernardin and leading a troubled church

Archbishop Wilton Gregory on management, Bernardin and leading a troubled church October 16, 2019

“My mentor for being a bishop was Joseph Bernardin. Anything I do well as a bishop I place at his feet. Anything I goof up I learned on my own.”

Archdiocese of Washington website / Andrew Biraj

The (relatively) new archbishop of Washington gave an interview to Washingtonian magazine recently and covered a wide range of topics.

Some highlights: 

Before we talk about your religious philosophy, I want to ask about your management philosophy. When you get a job like this, do they teach you that aspect of things? Are there classes for that?

When you get the call, you’re on your own. It’s like riding a bike: You have to learn how to ride, and eventually you have to take off the training wheels. When a man enters the seminary to study to become a priest, there are all kinds of preparatory classes. But after he’s ordained, that’s when he learns how to be a priest, because then he’s inserted into a parish and has to become a part of that parish. He has to learn the parish’s history and heritage and encounter the people. That’s similar to becoming a bishop. They give you new clothes and tell you, “Go find out how you can care for the people entrusted to you.” But there’s no class. It’s not like becoming an attorney, where you go to class and then you go to practicum. There is none.

Who were some of your greatest mentors? Who did you learn from along the way?

My mentor for being a bishop was Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. I was his auxiliary. Anything I do well as a bishop I place at his feet. Anything I goof up I learned on my own. He was a mentor and a friend and a father and a brother. Just watching him being a bishop taught me a lot—how he handled people, how he approached difficulties, how he sought to resolve issues and respond to needs.

How do you plan to act as a leader at a trying time like this when Catholics are looking for answers?

One of the things that I learned from Joe Bernardin and that I witnessed in Pope Francis is that their actions follow the engagement they have with their people. They don’t come in with a set program. The program and the procedures they follow build on what they have heard from their people. So that’s why I’m trying to get around to as many of the parishes [as possible], to have many opportunities to listen to the people, because it’s from what I hear that I can then respond in a positive way to the pastoral needs of the Church.

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