WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Auxiliary Bishop Nelson J.
Perez of Rockville Centre, New York, to head the Diocese of Cleveland.
The pope also has named Vincentian Father Andrew Bellisario,
currently serving in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, to head the
Diocese of Juneau, Alaska.
The appointments were announced in Washington July 11 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Bishop Perez, 56, succeeds Bishop Richard G. Lennon, who resigned in
December at age 70 citing health reasons. Bishop Perez has been an
auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre since 2012. He is vicar for the
diocese's Hispanic Apostolate.
Bishop-designate Bellisario, 60, succeeds Bishop Edward J. Burns, now
head of the Diocese of Dallas. Since 2015, the Vincentian priest has
served Hispanic Catholics in the Anchorage Archdiocese. He is a former
provincial of his religious congregation's Western U.S. province.
During his introduction to the diocese and the media at the
Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist July 11, Bishop Perez said he was
"absolutely thrilled" to come to Cleveland to lead a church with many
rich ethnic cultures.
"I've been getting texts and calls and emails since 6 o'clock this
morning. Thank God I got up early," he said. "And they all had this
theme: 'Congratulations and Cleveland rocks!'"
Bishop Perez said that the 677,000 Catholics in the eight counties of
the diocese show that the church in Northeast Ohio remains vibrant and
alive. He said he looked forward to working alongside the faithful as
missionary disciples, as Pope Francis calls the faithful to be.
"I hope that these 670,000 missionary disciples will go out, each one
of them, and call more people to get to know Jesus Christ and love the
church," Bishop Perez said. "Those 670,000 people that make up this
local church, our church, my church, is all potential. And we have to be
joyful and excited and enthusiastic about that."
Bishop Perez was warmly welcomed by
Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of Toledo, Ohio, who has served as apostolic
administrator of the Cleveland Diocese since Bishop Lennon's retirement.
Both share a connection with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where
they served as priests in the past.
The new bishop also expressed gratitude to the Diocese of Rockville
Centre's leaders, retired
Bishop William F. Murphy, and the diocese's current bishop,
Bishop John O. Barres, for guiding him during his five years as an
auxiliary bishop in the diocese. "Both have helped me to learn how I can
imitate their love for the church," he said.
Bishop Perez also held up fellow
Rockville Centre Auxiliary Bishops Robert J. Brennan and Andrej J. Zglejszewski for their kindness and friendship.
In his opening remarks, he addressed offered a few words in Spanish
to Cleveland's Latino Catholics. He recapped his background including
his work in evangelization and ministry to Hispanics throughout his
Bishop Perez will be installed as the 11th bishop of Cleveland Sept. 5.
He was born in Miami in 1961, the son of Cuban parents. He briefly
described how his parents fled their homeland in 1960 because of
restrictions on their freedom under the regime of Fidel Castro. The
Perez family moved to New Jersey a few years later when the bishop was a
Bishop Perez graduated from
Montclair State University in New Jersey with a bachelor degree in psychology. He taught for a year at
Colegio la Piedad, a Catholic elementary school in Puerto Rico, before entering
St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia to study for the priesthood.
Ordained in 1989 as a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,
Bishop Perez served as a parochial vicar in one parish and pastor of two
others. He also was the founding director of the
Catholic Institute for Evangelization, an archdiocesan office for adult
faith formation development and lay ministry training. In addition, he
served as assistant director of the Office for Hispanic Catholics of the
In 2012, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Rockville Centre
Diocese. There, he was a member of the
Corporate Board of Directors for Catholic Health Services, vice chair of
Catholic Charities, and served on the Priests Personnel Board,
Presbyteral Council and Diocesan Advisory Committee for Hispanic
He is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops'
Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs and is a former member of the bishops'
subcommittee overseeing the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
mid-morning introduction at St.
Ann's Hall at the diocesan Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Juneau,
Bishop-designate Bellisario said he was surprised to learn Pope Francis wanted
to appoint him to the Southeast Alaska diocese the last week of June by
stunned and floored was I to the point that I was having trouble breathing,"
he told diocesan staff. "Yet the grace of God was in the exchange, the
Holy Spirit I believe because once I was able to catch my breath, I was able to
say emphatically and completely 'Yes.'"
Bellisario said he wrote a letter of acceptance to Pope Francis and shared the
words of St. Vincent de Paul, who founded the religious order to which he
belongs: "St. Vincent told the members of what he called his little company
... 'Let us love God, my brothers. Let us love God but let it be
with the sweat of our brows.'
now declare that it is with the strength of my arms and the sweat of my brow
that I completely dedicate myself to serving you," the newly named bishop said.
recalled his upbringing in southern California by Depression-era parents, who
came to the U.S. from Italy. He said his parents, Rocky and Mildred, stressed the importance of
helping others who were less fortunate.
dad always told me, 'You have to look out for the little guy. There is no one
to care for the little guy.' I always suspect the reason he always said that was
because he himself was a little guy," Bishop-designate Bellisario said.
immigrants, his parents faced "were treated unfortunately the way that
immigrants are treated today," he said, adding that their devotion to the Catholic
faith helped inspire his vocation to the priesthood as a Vincentian.
native of Los Angeles, the bishop-designate was ordained in 1984. After
ordination he served on the staff of St. Vincent's Seminary in Montebello, California, first as assistant
dean of students and then dean of students.
served in parish ministry in California from 1986 through 1998 before becoming
director of the De Paul Evangelization
Center in Montebello. In 2002, he began an eight-year period as superior
of the Vincentians' Province of the West.
in 2003, he also took on added responsibilities as director of the
Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent
de Paul, Province of Los Altos Hills, California. In 2015,
Bishop-designate Bellisario headed north to Alaska to serve as superior
of the International Mission of the
Vincentians and parochial vicar of St. Anthony Parish in Anchorage.
a year he became pastor of Our
Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral in Anchorage.
ordination was set for Oct. 10.