Proclaiming his successor as “exactly the man our Church needs,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput introduced Bishop Nelson J. 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 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.
Archbishop Perez, 58, is currently the bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland and a former auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
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. He also is the first native son to be archbishop of Philadelphia since Archbishop (later Cardinal) Dennis Dougherty in the early 20th century.
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.
Archbishop Perez was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1989.
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.
After studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia 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 Centre in 2012.
In 2017, he was named bishop of Cleveland and at the Philadelphia news conference he praised the people of that diocese.
He was named a monsignor by St. John Paul II in 1998 and a prelate of honor by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.
Archbishop Perez also praised Archbishop Chaput, whom he called a friend and mentor.
Acknowledging the challenges of the past eight years in Philadelphia ranging from parish and school closures to financial crises to a wounded morale for both clergy and laity due to the sexual abuse crisis, Archbishop Chaput confronted them “with great courage and steadfastness,” Archbishop Perez said.
“I watched it from afar (and) learned from him…”
Even in the midst of criticism, “I saw him make tough decisions, many times like a father. He made calls that today have placed the archdiocese in a way better place.”
In his remarks Archbishop Perez offered a special greeting in Spanish to the Hispanic Catholics of the archdiocese.
He had previously served in diocesan-wide ministry to Latino Catholics in the archdiocese, including as assistant director of the archdiocesan Office for Hispanic Catholics and founding director of the Catholic Institute for Evangelization. As pastor he led two archdiocesan parishes with significant Hispanic populations.
As a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Perez is chairman of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church and formerly chaired the Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs. He also served as the lead bishop for the V Encuentro process for the USCCB and is a former member of the Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
He serves as a member of the Administrative Committee and the religious liberty committee for the USCCB. In November 2018, he began a three-year term as the bishop liaison for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.
Acknowledging the challenges of the present and the future that he may face in Philadelphia, Archbishop Perez said he was not afraid to “do what needs to be done for the good of the family.”