Pope Elevates Archbishop O’Brien to College of Cardinals

Pope Benedict XVI today named Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, 72, to the College of Cardinals. As Cardinal, Cardinal-designate O’Brien will serve as an advisor to the Pope and be eligible to vote in a Papal election until his 80th birthday. A consistory to formally elevate the new Cardinals will be held at the Vatican on February 18, 2012.

Cardinal-designate O’Brien and New York Archbishop and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Timothy Dolan, are among 22 new Cardinals announced by Pope Benedict.

Cardinal-designate O’Brien served as the 15th Archbishop of Baltimore from October 2007 until August 2011 when the Pope appointed him Pro Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. He has served as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Baltimore since his appointment in August and will continue to lead the nation’s oldest Catholic diocese until his eventual successor is installed.

In Rome for the ordination of a new bishop at the time of today’s announcement, Cardinal-designate O’Brien said, “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.”

Cardinal-designate O’Brien is the first Apostolic Administrator in the history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore to receive this honor. Three other Archbishops of Baltimore were elevated to the College of Cardinals since the Archdiocese was founded in 1789: Cardinal James Gibbons (1886), Cardinal Lawrence Shehan (1965) and Cardinal William Keeler (1994).

Currently, there are 192 total members of the College of Cardinals 109 of whom are voting Cardinals. Seventeen Cardinals are from the United States.

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 region for their ad limina visit with Pope Benedict. Bishops in each diocese 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. Cardinal-designate O’Brien will return to Baltimore on January 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 and built with funds donated by Catholics from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Cardinal-designate O’Brien was installed as the 15th Archbishop of Baltimore on October 1, 2007, and has focused the Church’s ministry in several key areas, including the promotion of vocations, fostering a culture of respect for the dignity of every person, improving the quality of life in Baltimore City, and encouraging Catholics in the Archdiocese—young, old, and those who may have left the Church—to renew and strengthen the bonds of their faith.

During his tenure as the 15th Archbishop of Baltimore:

  • Cardinal-designate O’Brien has ordained seven new priests for the Archdiocese and over 120 men have entered the program for priestly formation.
  • The Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, a comprehensive fundraising program designed to aid the parishes, schools and charitable programs within the Archdiocese, has generated more than $23 million in pledged donations and is projected to surpass the $30 million mark this year.
  • The Archdiocese has raised and distributed more than $7.5 million in tuition assistance for children in inner city Catholic schools.
  • More than 3,100 new Catholics entered the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese.

While many areas of Church life have experienced growth in recent years, Catholic school enrollment continued to decline at the start of Cardinal-designate O’Brien’s tenure.

To reverse this disturbing trend—one that was accelerated by the unprecedented economic downturn that began in the fall of 2008–and to head-off the dire consequences that the financial crisis posed for Catholic schools, Cardinal-designate O’Brien called for the consolidation of 13 Catholic schools and created a Blue Ribbon Committee to initiate an unprecedented review and strategic planning process for the entire Catholic school system.

Following its 16-month review, the Committee issued a Strategic Plan for Catholic Schools, which the Cardinal-designate immediately began implementing. As well, he called for the creation of several new educational initiatives to help Catholic schools remain competitive, including dual language, Montessori and STEM programs.

This year, with its smallest enrollment decline in four years–a 50% improvement from last year–Baltimore’s Catholic school system appears to be responding favorably to Cardinal-designate O’Brien’s initiative to secure the future of Archdiocesan Catholic schools and the children they serve.

“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,” the Cardinal-designate said.

Edwin Frederick O’Brien was born April 8, 1939 in the Bronx, New York, son of Mary Winifred and Edwin Frederick O’Brien, Sr. He was one of three children, including brothers Ken and Tom (now both deceased). He attended St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1961, a Master of Divinity in 1964, and a Master of Arts degree in 1965. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York on May 29, 1965 by Francis Cardinal Spellman.

His first assignment was as a civilian chaplain at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He would later be commissioned to become 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 the 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 the soldiers.

In 1973, he left the military and began his doctoral studies at Rome’s Angelicum University. While preparing for his doctorate in sacred theology, Archbishop O’Brien was a graduate student at the Pontifical North American College. He studied moral theology and completed his doctoral dissertation, entitled The Origin and Development of Moral Principles in the Writings of Paul Ramsey, in 1976.

He returned to continue his service to the Archdiocese of New York, serving as vice-chancellor for the Archdiocese and associate pastor at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In 1979 he coordinated Pope John Paul II’s visit to New York and for two years served as communications director for the Archdiocese. In 1986, he was elevated to Monsignor and served two terms as rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary from 1985-1989 and 1994-1997. From 1990-1994, he served as rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

On February 6, 1996, he was named Auxiliary Bishop of New York and bishop of the titular see of Tizica. He was consecrated by Cardinal John O’Connor at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on March 25, 1996. On April 7 of the following year, he was named co-adjutor Archbishop for the Archdiocese for the Military Services and on August 12, 1997, he succeeded as archbishop. The Archdiocese for the Military Services 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.

From September 2005 to June 2006, he served as the Holy See’s coordinator for the Papal Visitation of Seminaries and Houses of Priestly Formation and in 2007 was appointed a member of the Congregation for Catholic Education and Seminaries.

On July 12, 2007, his appointment as Archbishop of Baltimore by Pope Benedict XVI was announced. He succeeded Cardinal William H. Keeler, who had served as the 14th Archbishop of the nation’s oldest diocese from 1989 to 2007.

On August 29, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop O’Brien Pro Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

Sean Caine

Sean Caine is Vice Chancellor and Executive Director of Communications