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Bishop Braxton


Diocese gets new leader

Like Gregory, new leader was born in Chicago

BY PATRICK J. POWERS Belleville News Democrat

(see also: Diocese of Belleville)


BELLEVILLE — Former St. Louis Auxiliary Bishop Edward K. Braxton, currently serving as bishop of Lake Charles, La., will be the eighth leader of the Belleville Diocese; the Vatican announced Tuesday.

"Now I am called to embrace the local church of Belleville," Braxton said. "I have no doubt that the face and heart of Christ will be revealed to me in new and different ways as I pray and work and serve with the dedicated priests, deacons, religious and Christian faithful of this diocese".

BRAXTON, 60, has yet to set a date for his installation as Belleville's next bishop, but said he expects it to be in early June. Braxton will replace Bishop Wilton Gregory, who was in-stalled Jan. 17 as the sixth arch-bishop of Atlanta.

"He comes to this appointment with an impressive heritage of scholarship, pastoral experience and zeal for the gospel of Jesus Christ," Gregory said. "May Bishop Braxton find all the graces he needs to fulfill his new assignment with success, personal satisfaction and great peace of heart."

Braxton, like Gregory, was born in Chicago and attended St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein. Gregory was two years behind Braxton at the school and was a server for Braxton's first Mass in 1970 at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.

Braxton and Gregory are among only-14 black bishops out of the 418 active and retired bishops in the United States.

During a news conference Tuesday, Braxton stressed his need to learn more about the specifics needs of the Belleville Diocese and reiterated his commitment to the youth of the Catholic Church. Braxton annually visited every classroom of Lake Charles' eight Catholic elementary schools.

Braxton also expressed his de-sire to reach out to members of other Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities in the area. Ecumenical and interfaith collaboration always have been a hall-mark of Braxton's ministry, he said.

Braxton spent the rest of Tuesday lunching with priests and meeting with other diocesan officials.

The relatively short period between Gregory's departure and Braxton's appointment came as a surprise to some - but a pleas-ant one to those who knew of him before Monday.
"We're pleased to have him," said Robert Gilligan, executive di-rector of the Catholic Conference of Illinois. "He'll be an excellent fit."

Said Monsignor James Margason, vicar general for the Belleville Diocese: "Bishop Braxton brings a wealth of experience to his new role as shepherd of the church of Southern Illinois both from the field of academia as well as pastoral experience as the bishop of Lake Charles, Louisiana."

Bishop George Lucas of the Springfield Diocese that includes Madison County offered Braxton his best wishes. "I will pray for him, as well as for the priests and people of the diocese, as they be-gin together their new chapter of life in the Lord." he said.

As a young priest Braxton at-tended the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium from 1973 to 1974, taught at Harvard University Divinity School from 1976 to 1977 and became chancellor for theological affairs for the Cleve-land Diocese in 1978.

Cleveland's Bishop James Hickey, later a cardinal, brought Braxton with him when he was
appointed to Washington, D.C., in 1980. In 1983, Braxton became the scholar in residence at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, and in 1986 he worked as a theological consult-ant for a New York publisher.

Pope John Paul appointed Braxton as auxiliary bishop of St. Louis on March 28, 1995, and bishop of Lake Charles, La., on Dec. 12, 2000. The Lake Charles Diocese includes about 72,000 Catholics in 42 parishes. Lake Charles is about 31/2 hours west of New Orleans.
The Belleville Diocese has

about 104,000 Catholics and covers St. Clair, Clinton and Monroe counties and the southernmost part of Illinois.

"I, like many others, thought that considering his education and experience he might leave us one day," said the Rev. Aubrey Guilbeau, vicar general for the Lake Charles Diocese. "I am a little disappointed at his departure because of the exceptional leadership he is giving our diocese."

Gregory was installed in January as the archbishop of Atlanta after leading the Belleville diocese and its 124 parishes for nearly 11 years. He also served as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for three years during the height of the clergy molestation crisis.



New bishop has wide ranqe of interests


BraxtonNew Belleville Bishop Edward K. Braxton has traveled around the world to speak to Catholics of various ethnic backgrounds, enjoys whitewater rafting and spends many evenings reading, studying and writing in the quiet company of his four-footed friend.

"His library is clearly the most important room here," said the Rev. Charles McMillin , the secretary for clergy and executive assistant to Braxton in Lake Charles, La. "I see h m spending hours read g, studying, writing and praying at his desk in his Harvard University chair surrounded by his special friends, his very large collection of books. Often, quiet classical music is playing in the back-ground and his golden retriever, Erika, is at his feet."

Braxton, 60, was born in Chicago on June 28, 1944, to Evelyn and Cullen Braxton of Oak Park. He is the third of five children.

His father died on May 23, 1995, and his brother, Cullen L. Braxton Jr., 54, died of cancer eight years ago, only 1% years after he lost his father. He published a two-part essay, "Grief Observed: A Lenten Reflection," in 1998 as his personal, pastoral and theological reflection about the losses of his father and brother. He said his brother was his dearest friend.

His mother still lives in Oak Park and continues to attend St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Oak Park, the same parish in which Braxton grew up and served as pastor for five years before being appointed to St. Louis. He has three sisters: Gwendolyn L. Braxton, Patricia Braxton-Wells and Adrienne C. Braxton.

"My parents, the dearest of the dear in my life, have always been my best teachers in the school of faith and in the school of life," Braxton said. "My mother, who I have always called Mother Dear, is the light of my life. She was happy to
have lived to see the day of my installation in Lake Charles. She celebrated her 85th birth-day Friday.



Braxton at service at cathedral

Braxton at service at cathedral



BELLEVILLE — Bishop Edward Braxton's booming voice bounced from the walls Wednesday morning in the quiet chapel tucked away in St. Peter's Cathedral in Belleville.
"I did not want to leave this community of faith without celebrating one Mass with you," Braxton told about 60 people gathered there. On Tuesday, Pope John Paul II appointed 60-year-old Braxton to become the eighth bishop of Belleville.

The last-minute guest celebrant caught some of the St. Peter Cathedral regulars by surprise.

"I thought it was terrific and very uplifting," said John L. Behrman, a parishioner at St. Mary Catholic Church in Belleville who periodically at-tends daily Mass at St. Peter Cathedral. "It was a surprise. It nearly knocked the shoes off my feet."

Parishioner Jane Stock, of Millstadt, said she was surprised the Vatican appointed Braxton so soon after the departure of Wilton Gregory, who in January left to become the archbishop of Atlanta. It was a welcome surprise to be present at Braxton's first Mass since the announcement, she said.

"From what I've seen, I've gotten pretty excited about it," Stock said. "I'm glad it was so quick."

Braxton's first Mass as Belleville's next bishop mainly focused on the church's Lenten preparations for Holy Week. The 40-day Lenten season is the traditional time for soul-searching and repentance in the Catholic Church.

BISHOP Very thoughtful

"Year after year, we go through the cycle — Advent Christmas, ordinary time, Lent, Holy Week and Easter time — and sometimes it be-comes a rut," Braxton said. "But it's supposed to be a life-giving spiral, not a rut."

Brian O'Neill, a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Church in Smithton, said he was impressed with Braxton's message. "He seems to be very thoughtful," he said. "I think it will work out perfect for the diocese."

"You don't know me, I don't know you," Braxton said. "But we have been listening to the same word of God year after year. While we are strangers ... we have been intimately united by the mystery of our baptism, our confirmation and the mystery of the Eucharist.
"Pray for me in the weeks and months ahead until I return for my installation probably in early June. I will pray for you as well."




The Diocese of Bellevile's bishops





Wilton D. Gregory

Born: Dec. 7, 1947
Ordained: May 9, 1973
Ordained auxiliary bishop of
Chicago: Dec. 13, 1983
Installed bishop of Belleville:
Feb. 10, 1994
Installed as archbishop of Atlanta: Jan. 17, 2005


Edward K. Braxton

Born: June 28, 1944
Ordained: May 13, 1970
Ordained auxiliary bishop of St. Louis: May 17, 1995
Installed as bishop of Lake Charles, La.: Feb. 22, 2001
To be installed bishop of Belleville in early June 2005.

James P. Keleher

Born: July 31, 1931
Ordained: April 12, 1958
Ordained bishop of Belleville: Dec. 11, 1984
Installed archbishop of Kansas City, Kan:
Sept. 8, 1993.
Expected to retire in 2006.

John N. Wurm

Born: Dec. 6, 1927
Ordained: April 3, 1954
Ordained auxiliary bishop of St. Louis: Aug. 17, 1976
Installed bishop of Belleville:
Nov. 4, 1981
Died: April 27, 1984




William M. Cosgrove    

Born: Nov. 26, 1916
Ordained: Dec. 18, 1943
Ordained auxiliary bishop of Cleveland:
Sept. 3, 1968
Installed bishop of Belleville:
Oct. 28, 1976
Died: Dec. 11, 1992

Albert R. Zuroweste

Born: April 26, 1901
Ordained: June 8, 1924
Ordained bishop of Belleville:
Jan. 29, 1948
Died: March 28, 1987

Henry J. Althoff

Born: Aug. 28, 1873
Ordained: July 26, 1902
Ordained bishop of Belleville:
Feb. 24, 1914
Died: July 3, 1947

John Janssen

Born: March 3, 1835
Ordained: Nov. 19, 1858
Ordained bishop of
Belleville: April 25, 1888
Died: July 2, 1913

23 Mar 2005
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