The pope has appointed the head of the U.S. military archdiocese to succeed retiring Cardinal William Keeler as archbishop of Baltimore, the Vatican said Thursday.
Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien will be taking over the nation’s oldest Roman Catholic diocese, which includes the first two Catholic seminaries and the first cathedral in the country. Keeler turned 76 in March, a year past the normal retirement age for bishops.
O’Brien, 68, a New York native, has extensive experience training priests. He served as head of his alma mater — St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. — and as rector of the Pontifical North American College — the prestigious Rome seminary considered West Point for U.S. clergy.
O’Brien worked as an auxiliary bishop in New York before taking over the Archdiocese for the Military Services in Washington in 1997.
“I just loved the military,” he said. “The service has taught me so much.”
The archbishop also coordinated a major evaluation of U.S. seminaries in 2005-06, ordered by the Vatican in response to the clergy sex abuse scandal.
In a 2005 Associated Press interview, O’Brien said that most gay candidates for the priesthood struggle to remain celibate and the church must “stay on the safe side” by restricting their enrollment, in keeping with church policy.
Keeler, a native of San Antonio, was appointed archbishop in Baltimore in 1989, and became a national leader in improving Catholic-Jewish relations. Pope John Paul II visited the archdiocese in 1994, followed two years later by Mother Theresa.
The cardinal marked his 50th anniversary in the priesthood in 2005, and oversaw the recently completed $32 million restoration of the Basilica of the Assumption in downtown Baltimore.
Keeler submitted his resignation when he turned 75, as required by the church.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore serves 510,000 Catholics in Baltimore and nine counties in central and western Maryland, according to the archdiocese Web site.
The Archdiocese for the Military Services serves about 1.5 million Catholics, including all in the military and their families.