As they did when Pope Francis arrived to visit the Archdiocese of Washington’s Saint John Paul II Seminary in 2015, the seminarians and priests there stood on the steps at the seminary’s front entrance and applauded as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory arrived for his first visit on April 5, one day after Pope Francis had named him as the new archbishop of Washington.

Archbishop Gregory was joined by his predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who served as Washington’s archbishop from 2006 until 2018, and since last fall has served as the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator. In 2011, Cardinal Wuerl founded then-Blessed John Paul II Seminary, the first seminary in the United States named for that pope. Its name changed to Saint John Paul II Seminary when that pontiff was canonized in 2014.

Seminarians of the Archdiocese of Washington greet Archbishop Gregory as he arrives at the Saint John Paul II Seminary for a visit on April 5. At left is Msgr. Robert Panke, the seminary's rector, and at right is Cardinal Wuerl, the seminary's founder. (Archdiocese of Washington photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Moments later, the archbishop-designate of Washington processed into the seminary’s Mary, Mother of the Church Chapel to celebrate a Mass for the archdiocese’s seminarians, joined by Cardinal Wuerl and eight priest concelebrants who serve as seminary faculty members, including Msgr. Robert Panke, the seminary’s rector. About 60 seminarians attended the Mass, including those in residence at the seminary, and archdiocesan seminarians studying at nearby Theological College at The Catholic University of America, and at the archdiocese’s Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Hyattsville, Maryland.

Offering a welcome to Archbishop Gregory at the beginning of Mass, Msgr. Panke said, “We have been praying for you since before you were asked” to become archbishop. He said they are praying for him now and will continue to do so as he prepares to lead the archdiocese.

Then Cardinal Wuerl welcomed his successor to the seminary, saying, “This is a very special moment. It’s a great joy.” The cardinal told the seminarians that Archbishop Gregory “will become now the father of this house and the spiritual father of all of you.”

Then the cardinal led the seminarians in offering applause to Archbishop Gregory, who will become the seventh archbishop of Washington when he is installed on May 21.

Archbishop Gregory began the opening prayer at the Mass by addressing the seminarians as “my dear young brothers.” Later he opened his homily by saying, “My young brothers in Christ, these two days have been packed” with meetings and program briefings, but he added, “I asked to visit the seminary. In a special way, I want to demonstrate my closeness to you as your new archbishop and as someone who was in the seminary and taught in a seminary.”

Washington’s newly-named archbishop – who served as the archbishop of Atlanta since 2005 – had participated in an opening press conference on April 4 just hours after the Vatican announced his new appointment, then celebrated Mass at the Archdiocese of Washington’s Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, Maryland, for employees there and had lunch with them, before attending meetings and briefings with staff there.

Before visiting the seminary late in the afternoon of April 5, Archbishop Gregory earlier that day had visited the headquarters of the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities in downtown Washington, D.C., visited St. Anthony Catholic School – part of the Consortium of Catholic Academies in Washington – and also stopped by the Jeanne Jugan Residence for the elderly poor operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, located a short walk from the seminary. 

Archbishop Gregory addresses seminarians during his homily at an April 5 Mass at Saint John Paul II Seminary of the Archdiocese of Washington. (Archdiocese of Washington photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Addressing the seminarians during his homily at the Mass in their chapel, Archbishop Gregory said, “Today I feel very close to this community, even though this is my first time to visit and pray with you.”

He said that as someone who studied and taught in a seminary, he knows the importance of seminaries for “the future life of the Church.”

Stressing the importance of seeking holiness, Archbishop Gregory said, “One thing I must do is find a spiritual director in the Archdiocese of Washington.”

He noted, “Since becoming a bishop, I have buried three spiritual directors,” and then added jokingly, “I don’t think it was because of the journey of my soul or my sinfulness.”

Washington’s new archbishop said he selected veteran priests whom he loved and respected to serve as his spiritual directors.

“We all need a spiritual guide on our life journey, someone who will walk with us, and help us pursue holiness and justice,” he said. “…We need someone in our life to walk with us, guide us, correct us (and) challenge us as we continue to seek the Lord Jesus.”

Archbishop Gregory added, “I have to find a guide. Like you, I’m on a journey to Christ.”

The Archdiocese of Washington has nearly 90 seminarians. The Saint John Paul II Seminary is a residence for 50 seminarians, about two-thirds of whom are studying for the Archdiocese of Washington, attending classes at nearby Catholic University. The other seminarians living at Saint John Paul II Seminary are from several U.S. dioceses.

Archbishop Gregory sang some of the prayers at the Mass, which he celebrated along with Cardinal Wuerl and the concelebrating priests at the seminary’s altar that was used by Pope Benedict XVI at that pontiff’s 2008 Mass at Nationals Park in Washington.

After Mass, Archbishop Gregory joined the seminarians and priests for dinner at the seminary, before concluding his day by visiting a fish fry at Nativity Parish in Washington.