By Catholic News Service
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 priesthood.
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 child.
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 archdiocese.
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 Ministry.
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.