UPDATED: Pope elevates Archbishop O’Brien to rank of Cardinal, ceremony in Rome Feb 18
Pope Benedict XVI today elevated Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, apostolic administrator of Baltimore and pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher, to the College of Cardinals.
The announcement was made by the pope from the window of the papal apartment at his angelus blessing in St. Peter’s Square at noontime in Rome Jan. 6 on the feast of the Epiphany.
As a cardinal, Cardinal-designate O’Brien will be eligible to vote in a conclave for a new pope, and will have other duties as one of the primary consultors to the pope.
He will receive the “red hat” in the formal elevation into the College of Cardinals, called a consistory, at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in ceremonies Feb. 18 and 19.
The cardinal-designate served as the 15th archbishop of Baltimore from October 2007 until August 2011 when Pope Benedict appointed him pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. At that time, he became archbishop emeritus of Baltimore and continues to serve as apostolic administrator of the nation’s oldest Catholic diocese until his eventual successor is named and installed.
Cardinal-designate O’Brien was one of 22 bishops to be elevated to the rank of cardinal on the feast of the Epiphany. The only other American included in the group is Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York.
In Rome for the ordination of a new bishop at the time of today’s announcement, Cardinal-designate O’Brien said in a statement, “This is an honor I humbly accept and proudly share with the priests and people of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. While this honor may be a reflection of my new position, I believe it is also the result of the great collaboration and zealous faith that I have so consistently experienced in the Church in Baltimore.
“I am grateful to our Holy Father for his confidence in me and pledge my continued support and fraternal love as I continue to serve this historic archdiocese and the Church in the Holy Land,” he added.
In a telephone interview from Rome, the cardinal-designate said he learned of the appointment a few days earlier while he was at the airport preparing to kleave for Rome for the ordination of a friend, Archbishop Charles J. Brown, a New York priest and the new nuncio to Ireland who was ordained an archbishop Jan. 6.
“Cardinal (Tarcisio) Bertone (Vatican secretary of state) called and he said, “The Holy Father is appointing you to the College of Cardinals.’ I didn’t know what to say at the time; I still don’t know what to say,” Cardinal-designate O’Brien told The Catholic Review.
Though he acknowledged that the honor came largely from his new position as head of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, he said he was happy that it came while he was still attached to the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
“I was just pleased that Baltimore is associated with this. The church is the center of our life in Baltimore and this is a reflection of that.”
He said the work that has been done in the last four years and – what he has often referred to – the collaboration, both in the church and with the wider non-Catholic community, has attracted the attention of Rome and the pope.
It is rare for an apostolic administrator of a diocese to be named a cardinal, and Cardinal-designate O’Brien is the first apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Baltimore to receive the honor. Three previous archbishops were named to the college of cardinals since the archdiocese was founded in 1789: Cardinal James Gibbons (1886), Cardinal Lawrence J. Shehan (1965) and Cardinal William H. Keeler (1994), now archbishop emeritus.
Archbishop O’Brien was appointed July 12, 2007, by Pope Benedict as the 15th Archbishop of Baltimore to succeed Cardinal Keeler, who had served as archbishop of the nation’s oldest diocese from 1989 to 2007. Archbishop O’Brien took on the mantle of leading the archdiocese when he was installed Oct. 1, 2007.
For the 10 years prior to his Baltimore appointment, he was archbishop for the Military Services USA, which serves 1.5 million Catholics, including all U.S. Armed Forces and their families, as well as 170 Veterans Administration hospitals and U.S. government employees overseas.
The Order of the Holy Sepulcher, which Cardinal-designate O’Brien will oversee full-time once his successor is installed in Baltimore, is a fraternal organization dedicated to promoting and defending Christianity in the Holy Land, supporting the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and responding to the needs of Catholics in the region. It plays an important role in the preservation of the Holy Land and the practice of Christianity there.
Cardinal-designate O’Brien said his new role is “going to be a world of change – literally.
“I’ll be seeing much more of the universe” by traveling to visit lieutenancies of the Holy Sepulcher throughout the world. He will also be paying more attention to the needs of the Holy Land, encouraging pilgrimages and other support for those in the region.
“We need to pay special attention to the needs of Christians in the Holy Land. They’re really being squeezed out,” he said.
Cardinal-designate O’Brien said it was clear that Pope Benedict wanted a successor to Cardinal John P. Foley as head of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher who could travel around the world and bring attention to the cause. He said he will be able to do that because of his extensive travel experience as archbishop for the military archdiocese, which served troops and other government workers around the world.
There are currently 192 cardinals in the Catholic Church, 108 of whom are under age 80, and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave; by the time of the consistory, one more voting-age cardinal will reach the age limit. Traditionally the number of cardinal-electors is capped at 120.
With the appointment of 22 new cardinals, 18 of whom will be under the age of 80, and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave, the number of cardinal electors will stand at 125, at least for a short time. American Cardinals Edward M. Egan, retired archbishop of New York and Cardinal James Stafford, major penitentiary emeritus of the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome, are among 11 cardinals who will have their 80th birthdays between the consistory and the end of 2012. Of those, only one was named a cardinal by Pope Benedict.
Before the consistory, Pope John Paul II had appointed the majority of the voting-age cardinals, 63 of the 109, nearly 58 percent. With the new appointments, Pope Benedict is able to put his stamp more firmly on the next conclave, because he will have appointed more than half of the cardinals electors.
Later this month, Cardinal-designate O’Brien and his Auxiliary Bishops, Mitchell T. Rozanski and Denis J. Madden, will join the other Catholic bishops of the Mid-Atlantic region for their “ad limina” visit (“to the threshold” of the apostles Peter and Paul) with Pope Benedict.
Bishops in each diocese of the world are scheduled to meet with the pope approximately every five years to update him on the health and future of the Catholic Church in his diocese, although U.S. bishops last met with the pontiff, Pope John Paul II at the time, in 2004.
Cardinal-designate O’Brien will return to Baltimore from Rome Jan. 25 prior to heading to Haiti the next day for the dedication of the James Stine College, a new secondary school located in the archdiocese’s sister diocese of Gonaives which was built with funds donated by Catholics from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Cardinal-designate O’Brien is known for his theology and knowledge of church history. His dedication to evangelization permeates many of the programs in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and respect for life and vocations are also high on his agenda. His episcopal motto, “Pastores Dabo Vobis” (“I will give you pastors”), from the book of Jeremiah, reflects the time he has spent in seminary education and his desire to encourage vocations. Fostering a culture of respect for the dignity of every person and improving the quality of life in Baltimore City have been high priorities during his tenure.
“We have accomplished much in my four years and I look forward to continuing to serve the people of God of this archdiocese, especially in the coming months as we work to affirm marriage and family, to advocate for assistance for taxpaying families seeking a better education for their children, and for all in our society who turn to the Catholic Church to see the face of God,” Cardinal-designate O’Brien said.
Edwin Frederick O’Brien was born April 8, 1939, in the Bronx, N.Y., son of Edwin Frederick O’Brien Sr. and Mary Winifred O’Brien. He was one of three children, including brothers Ken and Tom (both now deceased). He attended St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, N.Y., where he received his bachelor of arts degree, a master of divinity and a master of arts. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York on May 29, 1965, by Cardinal Francis Spellman.
His first assignment was as a civilian chaplain at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He would later be commissioned as a military chaplain and in 1970, he officially became an army chaplain with the rank of captain, serving with the 82nd Airborne Division. From 1971 to 1972, he served a tour of duty in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and then 1st Cavalry Brigade. From a base of operations in the middle of a jungle, he and a Protestant minister flew by helicopter to defensive outposts where they would provide for the spiritual needs of soldiers.
In 1973, he left the military and earned a doctorate in sacred theology from Rome’s Angelicum University. While preparing for his doctorate in sacred theology, Father O’Brien was a graduate student at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he would later return as rector, 1990-94.
He was director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York in the early 1980s and was instrumental in the establishment of the archdiocesan newspaper, Catholic New York. He was named a monsignor (prelate of honor) by Pope John Paul II in 1986, and served two stints as rector of the seminary at Dunwoodie, 1985-89 and 1994-97.
In 1996, he was named an auxiliary bishop for New York. In April 1997, he was named co-adjutor archbishop for the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA, succeeding as archbishop in August of that year.
At an August 2011 news conference announcing his appointment as pro-grand master of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, the cardinal-designate had praised the people of Maryland and their welcoming nature. He said that among the high points of his tenure were getting to know the community here. “When I said it’s been a welcoming home, it really has been. I couldn’t have asked for a better reception. … Even during the difficult moments, people have been nice and understanding, and I’ve gotten great cooperation.”
He called the prospect of moving out of Baltimore “painful,” and acknowledged that moving to Rome will be nice, though he doesn’t expect to be there often, with his expected travel schedule.
For now, the cardinal-designate will participate in the coming weeks in the ad limina trips, visit Haiti and return to Rome for the consistory, spending a few days in Maryland in that time, but the archdiocese remains well cared for.
“The church in Baltimore is in very good hands with our bishops, the vicar general and chancellor. We have the best working staff in the country,” he said. “I keep in touch every day, wherever I am.”
For Cardinal-designate O’Brien’s columns and biography visit tinyurl.com/cr-obrien-column and tinyurl.com/cr-obrien-bio.
For more on the impact of Cardinal-designate O’Brien’s ministry in Baltimore and beyond, visit tinyurl.com/cr-EOB-impact.