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Bishops elect first black president

The US Catholic Bishops elected Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Illinois as its first black president on Tuesday.

Gregory has spent the past three years as vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The current president, Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, Texas, is ending a three-year term.

Black Catholics see Gregory's election as recognition they have long sought from church leaders. Estimates of the number of black Catholics range from 2 million to 3.5 million, out of 63.7 million church members nationwide.

The 53-year-old Chicago native was ordained in 1973 and later earned a doctorate in sacred liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome. He became a bishop in 1983, serving for 10 years as auxiliary bishop under the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in Chicago.

"If you were standing there talking to him, you wouldn't know he was a bishop," said Richard Mark chief executive of St. Mary's Hospital in Gregory's diocese. "He's very down to earth with everyone."

US Catholic Conference