The U.S. bishops, meeting this week in Baltimore, have elected Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky to serve as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), replacing outgoing president Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.
According to a USCCB press release, Archbishop Kurtz has been serving as vice president of the USCCB since 2010. As he moves into the president’s position, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston will replace him as vice president.
Archbishop Kurtz was elected president on the first ballot with 125 votes. Cardinal DiNardo was elected vice president on the third ballot by 147-87 in a runoff vote against Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., of Philadelphia.
Archbishop Kurtz was born August 18, 1946, and ordained a priest of Allentown, Pennsylvania on March 18, 1972. He previously served as bishop of Knoxville, Tennessee from 1999-2007 before being appointed to Louisville.
According to Catholic World Report (CWR), Kurtz was the son of a coal miner and the youngest of five children. He had three older sisters who married and moved out of the home when he was still quite young, which meant his closest sibling companion was his brother George, who had Down Syndrome.
The first sign of his vocation came while he was praying one day in a chapel. Also around this time, his sister gave him a book about St. Dominic and the Rosary which described the saint as an “athlete for Christ.” This life appealed to him and he decided he would enter the seminary.
To this day, he remains a staunch devotee of the Rosary and is known to be a very prayerful man.
In this 2011 interview with CWR, he discusses some of his prayer habits.
“I encourage people to follow the Lectio Divina [‘divine reading,’ praying with the Scriptures]. If you want to be renewed at Mass, you should come prepared. It doesn’t take long. You can purchase a book from a Catholic bookstore, or go online for the readings of the day. Read them in a reflective way. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, is promoting that in his book Jesus of Nazareth.”
He also likes to pray the rosary with a copy of the priest’s pictorial directory so that he can pray a Hail Mary for each priest. “Even if I say only one decade, I have a chance to pray for 10 priests,” he said.
“Anyone can do that with a family album or their parish pictorial directory, as I encourage our priests to do. Bring the pictures of real people with you when you pray. It’s amazing how Christ can speak to us about what we should be doing in our relationship with them, and how we should be grateful to them.”
In addition to devoting time to prayer every day, he takes a monthly trip to a nearby Trappist abbey in New Haven, Kentucky where he spends a day in prayer.
“People need to make time for a period of prayer and reflection. It could be a Holy Hour in a church or time at a retreat center. It’s a great way to open ourselves up to Christ and let him speak to us,” he said.
Archbishop Kurtz is also a well-known defender of life who is the author of “The Blessing of the Child in the Womb” which was later adopted by the Vatican. He created the blessing for the purpose of blessing the unborn children of expectant couples and to provide spiritual support for the baby.
Marriage is another issue he feels strongly about and has been an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage.
“Many people assume that marriage is a right that the state can simply create. That is a dangerous direction in which to go. The majority of voters cannot create whatever rights they want. Marriage is a gift given to us by God and defined by him. We, as Catholics, must not be afraid to say so publicly,” he said during the 2011 interview with CWR.
“We need to be able to speak forthrightly to our people on the importance of marriage, and make it clear that our respect for the individual should not be at the expense of marriage itself.”
When he speaks on marriage, it’s not to condemn same-sex marriage or to speak of the legal ramifications of allowing homosexual unions, it’s about the need for a renewal of sacrificial love in our culture, especially within family life, he said.
“In general, that’s the greatest need. Too many people place their emphasis on individual satisfaction, a turning in on oneself and one’s perceived needs. Sacrificial love, in contrast, tends to lead people to happy lives. We need more examples of marriages based on sacrificial love.”
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