Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Herbert A. Bevard of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and named Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory as apostolic administrator.
St. Thomas is a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Washington.
The Virgin Islands Consortium, an online news site, reported Sept. 18 that Bishop Bevard, 74, had been hospitalized after falling ill "several weeks ago," was later airlifted and was recovering in North Carolina after receiving medical care at mainland hospitals.
His resignation was announced in Washington Sept. 18 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States.
Bishop Bevard has headed the diocese since he was installed Sept. 3, 2008. He turns 75 on Feb. 24, 2021, the usual age at which canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope.
In a Sept. 18 letter to the diocese, the bishop told the faithful he had submitted his resignation to Pope Francis July 6 and expected to said he had expected to serve the diocese until he reached the age limit of 75.
"Regrettably, I have experienced some new and unanticipated medical conditions that unfortunately preclude my ability to continue to maintain my position in the Diocese of St. Thomas," he said. "As a result, I have requested to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, that my resignation be immediate, so as not to inhibit the effective ongoing pastoral leadership and care of the Diocese of St. Thomas."
Bishop Bevard, who did not provide details of his illness, said he has "loved serving the people of God -- the clergy, religious, laity and the entire Virgin Islands community" as St. Thomas' bishop.
He said he "will treasure the fond memories that we share together." "It is this same love and concern for them (the people of the diocese), recognizing my own limitations, that now compel me to make this request," he continued. "I welcome and pledge my support to my successor in the hope that the Lord will bless his ministry among you."
Bishop Bevard urged diocesan Catholics to join him in welcoming Archbishop Gregory, who will serve as apostolic administrator until a successor is named, "and reassure him of our unquestionable support."
"As you continue to pray for me and as I continue to pray for you, I take this opportunity to present to you my profound esteem," the bishop added.
A Baltimore native, Herbert Armstrong Bevard was born Feb. 24, 1946, and was raised Presbyterian. He became a Catholic in 1964, the same year he graduated from high school. He later entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. He was ordained a priest in 1972 for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, named a monsignor in 2003 and appointed vicar for the northern part of Philadelphia in 2007.
In July 2008, when he was named the fifth bishop of the Diocese of St. Thomas, then-Msgr. Bevard had been pastor at St. Athanasius, the largest African American parish in Philadelphia, for 14 years.
In an interview after his installation in September of that year, Bishop Bevard said he has been welcomed by the Catholic community in St. Thomas with "open hearts and open arms."
"They certainly are people filled with faith, filled with joy," he told The Catholic Standard & Times, Philadelphia's archdiocesan newspaper at the time. "They love the church very, very much. I have a beautiful diocese."
In his homily at his installation Mass, Bishop Bevard said he had been sent to the islands to "proclaim the Gospel and guide God's holy people."
As St. Thomas' bishop, he succeeded the late Bishop George V. Murry, when he was named to head the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, in January 2007.
Established in 1977, the St. Thomas Diocese comprises the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island, with a combined estimated population of 110,000, about 30,000 of whom are Catholic. The diocese has eight parishes and is served by 12 priests.
The first bishop was Edward J. Harper, a Redemptorist, who head the diocese from 1977 to 1985. He was succeeded by now-Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, who was St. Thomas' bishop from 1985 to 1992. He was followed by Bishop Elliot G. Thomas, who served from 1993 to 1999, when Bishop Murry was appointed to head the diocese.
When Bishop Bevard was installed to the head the diocese, the co-consecrators were Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., who was a classmate of Bishop Bevard's at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, and Bishop Daniel E. Thomas, then a Philadelphia auxiliary and now bishop of Toledo, Ohio.
Among others in attendance for the Mass were the other auxiliary bishops of Philadelphia, along with more than 50 priests of the archdiocese, 50 parishioners from St. Athanasius Parish and parishioners from other Philadelphia parishes where Bishop Bevard had served over the course of two decades.
"The ceremony itself brought tears to my eyes," Eileen Ceraso of St. Richard Parish said at the time. "I'll be talking about this for the rest of my life. It was important for me to see him accomplish this because we just love him so much. He's just such a kind and humble man in every capacity. It was just amazing."