FEW PEOPLE were surprised when news came that Bishop John Ricard, who oversees Baltimore-area parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, had been named to run the diocese of Pensacola, Fla. In his 13 years in Baltimore, Bishop Ricard has become a beloved figure, in large part because he understands and values the richness of diversity within the city and the church. He has also become a strong voice for justice and for ensuring that all people are given a voice.
In Baltimore, Bishop Ricard forged strong ties with Baltimore's rapidly growing Hispanic community. He helped raise the profile of African-American Catholics both locally and nationally, establishing the National Black Catholic Congress to give black Catholics across the country a chance to address their particular concerns.
Bishop Ricard also played an important national role chairing a hot-seat committee on domestic policy for the National Council of Catholic Bishops. Last year, he was named president and chairman of Catholic Relief Services, an international aid organization based in Baltimore. He will continue in that post until his term expires in December 1998.
Bishop Ricard has approached his responsibilities with a broad perspective on the needs of the city. Among other projects, he organized discussions between pastors of urban and suburban parishes on the future of the city and its relationship to surrounding jurisdictions, with an eye toward the role the church can play in smoothing those tensions.
But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was his implementation of the archdiocese's plan to consolidate or close struggling inner-city parishes, a delicate task which by all accounts he accomplished as painlessly as it could have been done.
In his new role, he will be one of only five African Americans to head a diocese in this country. Many people see him as a rising star in the American church -- and perhaps, someday, as the first African-American cardinal. Whatever his future holds, Baltimore is a richer city for his service to it through his church.
Pub Date: 1/26/97