Baltimore archbishop named to head Knights of Holy Sepulcher

By Nancy Frazier O’Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI has named Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore as pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem in Rome.

The appointment was announced in Washington Aug. 29 by Msgr. Jean-Francois Lantheaume, charge d’affairs of the Vatican Embassy to the United States.

Archbishop O’Brien, 72, succeeds Cardinal John P. Foley, 75, a former editor of The Catholic Standard & Times in Philadelphia and former director of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications at the Vatican, who retired in February after being diagnosed with leukemia and anemia.

Also known as the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, the order is a fraternal organization dedicated to supporting the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and responding to the needs of Catholics in the Holy Land.

The order is usually headed by a cardinal, and past Vatican protocol would call for Archbishop O’Brien’s title to become grand master once he is named to the College of Cardinals.

Born in New York, the archbishop has served as an auxiliary bishop of New York, 1996-97; coadjutor archbishop and then archbishop of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, 1997-2007; and archbishop of Baltimore since 2007.

In Baltimore, Archbishop O’Brien has been outspoken against efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland and to place restrictions on crisis pregnancy centers. He recently sent a private letter to Maryland Gov. Martin J. O’Malley, urging the Catholic governor to refrain from promoting a redefinition of marriage in the state.

On the national level, he is chairman-elect of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace and would have become chairman in November.

A former seminary rector in Rome and New York, he also coordinated the Vatican-ordered visitation of U.S. seminaries, which concluded in a 2009 report that U.S. Catholic seminaries and houses of priestly formation were generally healthy, but recommended a stronger focus on moral theology, increased oversight of seminarians and greater involvement of diocesan bishops in the formation process.

Born April 8, 1939, in New York, Edwin Frederick O’Brien describes himself as a typical “Bronx Irish Catholic” whose schooling, sports and social activities centered on Our Lady of Solace Parish there. He attended St. Joseph’s Seminary outside New York, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1961, a master’s of divinity in 1964 and a master’s of arts in 1965.

“There wasn’t a day in my life that I didn’t want to be a priest, and not a day in my life that I’ve regretted it,” he said at a news conference after his appointment in Baltimore. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York on May 29, 1965.

For his first five years as a priest, he was a civilian chaplain at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., as associate pastor of the academy’s Catholic Chapel of the Most Holy Trinity. He became an Army chaplain in 1970 and over the next three years served in Fort Bragg, N.C.; Vietnam; and Fort Gordon, Ga.

From 1973 to 1976, he studied at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, earning a doctorate in theology. On his return to New York he was named archdiocesan vice chancellor and assistant pastor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Appointed archdiocesan director of communications in 1981, he helped launch Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper. Two years later, he was named secretary to New York Cardinal Terence Cooke, who was succeeded in 1984 by Archbishop John J. O’Connor, who was made a cardinal in 1985.

Then-Msgr. O’Brien was made rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, N.Y., in 1985 and rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome in 1989. On his return to New York in 1994, he was again made rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary.

He was named an auxiliary bishop of New York on Feb. 6, 1996, and ordained a bishop March 25. He was named coadjutor archbishop of the military archdiocese in April 1997. He took up the post in May and became head of the archdiocese in August when Archbishop Joseph T. Dimino resigned for health reasons.

As head of the military archdiocese, he directed a worldwide archdiocese that includes 1.5 million Catholics serving in military installations around the world or at Veterans Affairs hospitals in the United States, as well as the approximately 300 Catholic military chaplains who minister to them.

He was named to the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education in 2007.

A member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and the Canon Law Society of America, Archbishop O’Brien also has chaired the board of trustees of the Pontifical North American College and served on the boards of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

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