‘He’s the kind of Catholic I want to be’: Chicagoan reflects on class with Wilton Gregory, who will become first Black US cardinal

When he was 12, Tim Tuten remembers arguing about the relevance of Bible stories and the existence of God with a young first-year pastor guiding his confirmation class.

In 1973 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glenview, that pastor was Wilton Gregory. On Sunday, Gregory was among 13 new cardinals named by Pope Francis, and he will become the first Black U.S. prelate.

“I may question the existence of God, but I have complete faith in someone like Father Gregory,” Tuten, now 59, said Monday. "He’s able to explain faith to a 12-year-old bratty kid, and he’s able to talk to a pope.

Tuten, who is a co-owner of The Hideout, credits Gregory with making him “rethink what being a Catholic was.”

Tuten said he first met with Gregory after saying he didn’t know whether he believed in God in a confirmation class.

“At first I thought he was like every other priest at our church,” he said. “It is like you are told to be quiet, you are to follow the rules, do as you are told to. But he was the opposite of that. He was a listener and engaged in conversations with our class.”

Washington, D.C., Archbishop Wilton Gregory, left, greets parishioners following Mass at St. Augustine Church in Washington on June 2, 2019.

Washington, D.C., Archbishop Wilton Gregory, left, greets parishioners following Mass at St. Augustine Church in Washington on June 2, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Tuten summed up the conversation in a Facebook post: “He asked me if I believed in helping others. I told him yes. He told me that Confirmation doesn’t mean you have all the answers. We’re only humans. But it meant that we promise to help other people. To love our neighbor. He said that he himself can’t prove anything to me. But I’ll just have to see it for myself. And I’ll see it in the love of others.”

Gregory, 72, was born in Chicago and spent much of his early career in Chicago and its suburbs. He was ordained a priest in 1973. He was also a professor at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein and a master of ceremonies to Cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin before being ordained an auxiliary bishop in Chicago in 1983.

In 1993, Gregory became the bishop of Belleville, Illinois, and went on to become archbishop of Atlanta in 2005. He has been bishop of Washington, D.C., since 2019.

“He is well-regarded by the bishops in our country and has proven himself as an individual who can bring people together in a wonderful form of leadership,” Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, said in an interview with the Tribune.

As Gregory rose through the ranks of the church, his impact remained with Tuten.

“When I think of what kind of Catholic I am, I think of Father Gregory because he’s the kind of Catholic I want to be,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed.

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