Archbishop Justin F. Rigali of St. Louis will become the new head of the archdiocese of Philadelphia, succeeding Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the Vatican announced Tuesday.
Rigali, a Los Angeles native who was a classmate of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony when the two attended St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo in the 1960s, was named to the post by Pope John Paul II. He will assume his new post in October. If the Vatican follows tradition, the 68-year-old Rigali, as head of the Philadelphia archdiocese, will almost certainly be made a cardinal.
Bevilacqua, 80, is retiring.
Rigali’s appointment to head one of the nation’s largest and most historic Catholic dioceses is the latest turn in what one church observer called a “roller coaster” career.
Rigali served in the Vatican for nearly 30 years before he was sent to St. Louis in 1994. Initially, he rose quickly to positions of influence as a Vatican priest and bishop only to be given less prestigious assignments. During the last 10 years, Rigali was passed over twice when Pope John Paul II named new cardinals.
Now as the incoming archbishop of Philadelphia -- an archdiocese three times larger in population than the St. Louis archdiocese -- Rigali’s potential influence in the U.S. church could increase substantially. If he is made a cardinal, he will also have a vote on John Paul’s successor.
Bevilacqua will continue as a cardinal, but only those less than 80 years old may vote in papal elections.
Rigali, the son of Henry and Frances Rigali, was born in Los Angeles in 1935 and studied at Holy Cross School before entering the archdiocesan preparatory seminary in 1949, in Hancock Park.
He was ordained a priest by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre in 1961. Following brief service as a priest in Los Angeles and Downey, Rigali left for Rome, where he obtained a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1964.
His career included service as a Vatican diplomat in Madagascar and as the English-language translator for Pope Paul VI.
He traveled with Paul on a nine-nation visit to Asia and later accompanied Pope John Paul II there. He was present in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican the day the pope was shot and seriously wounded in 1981, according to Msgr. Francis J. Weber, a longtime friend.
Rigali was ordained an archbishop by John Paul in 1985 and served as president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Vatican’s diplomatic school. He also wassecretary to the Congregation for Bishops and to the College of Cardinals before going to St. Louis.
Like Bevilacqua, Rigali is viewed as conservative theologically and loyal to the pope.
Bevilacqua, who has been unflinching in upholding church teaching, praised those qualities in his successor, calling Rigali “a man of piety, prayer and deep faith, known for his loyalty to the Holy Father and for his unwavering fidelity to the teachings of the Church.”
“Philadelphia is a very strong and very traditional Catholic church and in some ways Rigali has a fairly conservative reputation, so he may be at home here,” said Father Thomas Rausch, a professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Father Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America, added that Rigali “is respected and trusted” in the Vatican.
They and others saw the appointment of a Los Angeles native to head a major eastern archdiocese as a milestone.
“There was an old complaint on the West Coast about the ‘wise men from the East’ who were always sent out to be bishops,” Reese said. “This is the first time someone from the West Coast has been made the archbishop of a major archdiocese east of the Mississippi.”
Mahony, who roundly praised Rigali when he was named archbishop of St. Louis in 1994, had no comment on Rigali’s latest appointment. Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Los Angeles archdiocese, said Mahony no longer comments on any such papal appointments.
On Tuesday, Rigali reached out during a Philadelphia news conference to the city, his new church, as well as Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.
“With all its ethnic richness, may the church of Philadelphia always be authentic in holiness and service,” Rigali said.
He also told seminarians, members of the laity, deacons, priests and bishops in Philadelphia that his new ministry would be “essentially linked” to theirs. “They mean everything to me,” he said.