Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore as the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Archbishop O’Brien will move to the headquarters of the Order in Rome, where he will be elevated to the rank of cardinal.
“It has been a singular privilege to serve as Archbishop of Baltimore,” said Archbishop O’Brien at a media conference in Baltimore August 29. “It is with a heavy heart that I will be departing …I pray that I will carry out the will of God and that of (the Pope) in preserving the faith in the Holy Land.”
Archbishop O’Brien’s new post means that he will leave for Rome immediately, after a four-year tenure as head of the Baltimore archdiocese.
In accepting the new position, Archbishop O’Brien assumes responsibility for the ancient lay Catholic Order whose goal is to promote and defend Christianity in the Holy Land.
The organization currently provides 75 percent of the annual income for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which cares for the church in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. The Order also funds 40 schools, hospitals and institutes of higher education in the region, such as the University of Bethlehem. At present, there are 18,000 members of the order worldwide.
“We very much welcome the appointment of Archbishop O’Brien,” said Patrick Powers, the Vice-Governor General of the Order who is based in California, to CNA.
“At 72-years-old he’s relatively young and will have the opportunity to serve the order for a long time and will definitely have a chance to make his mark.”
Archbishop O’Brien has already served as Grand Prior of the Order’s Mid-Atlantic Lieutenancy of the United States, based in Washington, D.C., since 2010. He is taking over leadership of the Order from his fellow American, Cardinal John Patrick Foley. Cardinal Foley resigned in February because of health problems.
“I would like to thank Cardinal Foley for his excellent service as Grand Master,” said Archbishop O’Brien at the Aug 29 press conference.
“He brought great joy and enthusiasm to the position and accomplished much in his effective leadership of the Order. I would also like to gratefully acknowledge the cardinal's personal words of congratulations and support. Since learning of my appointment I have spent some time with Cardinal Foley and I am sure I will be turning to him from time to time for his continued good counsel.”
In response, Cardinal Foley issued a statement today citing Archbishop O’Brien’s “experience and splendid dedication as priest and archbishop.” He said the archbishop will be “an outstanding leader” of the Order, and that he “could not be happier that he is my successor.”
Archbishop O’Brien said he was unsure how long it will be before his successor in Baltimore is named, but assured those present at today’s media conference that the Vatican is well aware of the importance of naming a new archbishop as soon as possible, given the many critical programs underway in the archdiocese. Until his successor is named, Archbishop O’Brien said he will serve as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.
As Grand Master of the Knights of Jerusalem, Archbishop O’Brien will reside in Vatican City and make visits to the Holy Land and to the Order’s lieutenancies, which are located throughout the world. He is also likely to be appointed to one or more senior posts within the Roman curia, the governing departments of the Vatican.
During his tenure as the 15th archbishop of the nation’s oldest Catholic diocese, Archbishop O’Brien has focused the Church’s ministry in several key areas, including the promotion of priestly vocations and care for the most vulnerable.
Since his appointment to Baltimore in 2007, Archbishop O’Brien has ordained seven new priests for the archdiocese while over 120 men have entered the seminary. He has also received over 3,000 new Catholics into the Church.
Meanwhile, his Archbishop’s Annual Appeal has generated more than $23 million for parishes, schools and charitable programs, with another $7.5 million being spent on tuition assistance for children in inner city Catholic schools.
“While the thought of leaving Baltimore - which I have come to think of as a permanent and welcoming home - saddens me, the news underscores the fact that the Church is built and ordered on Christ, alone,” said Archbishop O’Brien.