WASHINGTON -- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, and has appointed Father Michael G. McGovern, a pastor in the Archdiocese of Chicago, as his successor.
Bishop Braxton, a former auxiliary bishop of St. Louis who has headed the Belleville Diocese since 2005, turned 75 last June, the age at which bishops are required to turn in their resignation to the pope. Bishop-designate McGovern, who was ordained to the priesthood May 21, 1994, by Chicago Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin, is currently pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Old Mill Creek, Illinois.
The appointment was announced April 3 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
At this time of the pandemic where everyone is being asked to abide by the Illinois governor's a stay-at-home order, "we're almost drawn together by our very separation," Bishop Braxton said in a video message welcoming his successor's appointment.
He noted that because of the current situation, Bishop-designate McGovern could not be in the Belleville Diocese in person, which was something he and the newly name bishops "regret very much."
Bishop Braxton, one of the nation's 10 African American Catholic bishops, welcomed his successor in the name of the faithful of the diocese and in his own name, "assuring him of our fervent prayer." "I pray the Holy Spirit will empower him with the grace and gifts he will need" to spread the Gospel in the small mostly rural diocese with limited pastoral resources diocese.
He brings to his new post many "natural talents and his pastoral experiences," added the bishop. The Belleville Diocese covers 11,678 square miles and has a Catholic population of about 91,000 out of a total population of about 842,000.
The newly named bishop said he was "honored and humbled" by his appointment as the ninth bishop of Belleville.
"I thank the Holy Father for the confidence he has placed in me, and want to express my abiding respect and full support of him, who as the successor of St. Peter the Apostle, preserves the unity of love in the Church," he wrote in a letter to his parishioners posted on the parish website.
He said that due to the coronavirus, a date has not yet been set for his episcopal ordination and installation in Belleville.
Born Aug. 1, 1964, in Chicago, Bishop-designate McGovern is a native of the city's Beverly neighborhood, and grew up in a large Catholic family in which Catholic education was emphasized. A graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep and Loyola University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in sacred theology, he entered the University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, in 1990.
After his 1994 ordination, his first pastoral assignment was as associate pastor at Queen of the Universe Parish in Chicago, 1995-1998, then associate pastor the next year at St. Mary Parish in Lake Forest, Illinois, and at the same time served a year associate chancellor of the Chicago Archdiocese. He was vice chancellor from 1999 to 2000 and the next two years was the archbishop's delegate for extern and international priests studying or working in Chicago parishes.
From 2004 to 2012, then-Father McGovern was pastor of St. Mary Pariah in Lake Forest. He became pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel in Old Mill Creek July 1, 2016. He is also a member of the board of trustees of St. Ignatius College Prep. He has served as a member of the priests' council and the college of consultors in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Bishop Braxton was born in Chicago and he was ordained a priest for the Chicago Archdiocese. In addition to formerly serving as auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, he is former bishop of the Diocese of Lake Charles, Louisiana.
He has been a strong advocate for greater Church openness to African Americans, including ways of better expressing the faith to a black culture.
In 2015, he wrote a pastoral letter on the racial divide in the United States. In 2017, in a presentation at The Catholic University of America in Washington he said every person "must do something," whether big or small, to address racism in this country.