A new archbishop was selected to lead the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and news of the appointment rippled through the Catholic community Thursday even before a morning news conference to introduce him.

Pope Francis announced Thursday Nelson Pérez, 58, currently the bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland, will be the next head of the 1.3 million-member archdiocese and the first Hispanic in the role. Pérez was a priest for more than 20 years in West Chester, and the Olney and Lawncrest sections of Philadelphia, before being elevated in 2012.

At a 7:15 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, Rev. Isaac Haywiser briefly acknowledged Pérez’s appointment, saying: “Rome announced it, so I guess I can, too.” He directed parishioners to tune into a 10 a.m. news conference introducing Pérez to the Catholic community of Philadelphia.

He also prayed for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Cleveland “during this time of transition.”

Reverend Monsignor Nelson J. Pérez in the chapel of the Catholic Institute, in 2002.
File Photograph
Reverend Monsignor Nelson J. Pérez in the chapel of the Catholic Institute, in 2002.

Pérez succeeds Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who turned 75 last year, the typical age of retirement for Catholic bishops, and will step down. Politically, Pérez will likely be to the left of Chaput, a conservative. While in Cleveland, Pérez took on immigration reform and last year criticized the Trump administration’s immigration policy separating parents from their children, saying it was a moral issue.

Haywiser’s announcement was the first time Ulises Prudente — a lifelong Catholic who has attended Mass at the Basilica for three years — had heard of the move. The 34-year-old Mexican immigrant who lives in South Philly and works as a shoe-shiner said the naming of the archdiocese’s first Latino archbishop was “wonderful news, especially here” at the Basilica, which has a robust community of Latino parishioners and offers a weekly Mass in Spanish.

Prudente said while he respected Chaput’s leadership and saw him as “like a father,” he was heartened to hear Perez may represent a different political bent.

“The world is better with different ideas,” he said.

Attendants at the Basilica’s Mass Friday afternoon felt similarly, though the pastor did not mention Pérez’s appointment.

Parishioner Mary Gerry, who worked in finance with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for nearly three decades, said she was happy to hear of Pérez’s social justice bent, saying she felt Chaput was rightfully more focused on financial stability.

“Change is always good,” said Gerry, who is retired and lives in Center City. “It just takes some getting used to.”

But when told of Pérez’s criticism of the Trump administration’s family-separation policy, Gerry defended Trump and said she’s a “tremendous” supporter of the president, largely due to his support of anti-abortion causes.

Connie Beraducci points out points of interest in the Basilica of St Peter Paul, later in the day that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput announced the new Philadelphia Archbishop-elect Nelson J. Pérez on January 23, 2020.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Connie Beraducci points out points of interest in the Basilica of St Peter Paul, later in the day that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput announced the new Philadelphia Archbishop-elect Nelson J. Pérez on January 23, 2020.

Connie Beraducci, who has been a volunteer at the Basilica since 2018, said some change would be welcome.

“Progressive is good, just not overly,” she said. “As long as he’s not way out in left field, I think he will be okay.”

Beraducci, who was raised in South Philadelphia and now lives in Woodland, said that she’s “glad they picked someone a little younger so he will be around longer.” She’s also appreciative of Perez’ Philadelphia roots.

“I think that’ll make him more accessible and comfortable with us,” she said. “He’ll know his way around."