Northeast Ohio Catholics are losing their bishop.
Bishop Nelson Perez has been appointed the archbishop of Philadelphia by Pope Francis, the Diocese of Cleveland announced Thursday.
Perez will remain at the helm of the Diocese of Cleveland, which includes Akron, until Feb. 18. He was installed as the bishop of the diocese on Sept. 5, 2017.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Perez, who was ordained in the "city of Brotherly Love." He said he was deeply grateful for the appointment.
"It is with great joy tinged with a sense of sadness that I accept the appointment — joy that I will be returning to serve the archdiocese in which I was ordained to the priesthood, where I served as the pastor of two parishes and where I held several leadership positions within the archdiocese, and sadness that I will be leaving an area and the incredible people in Northeast Ohio I have come to love deeply," Perez said.
Plans regarding Perez’s successor in Cleveland were not announced. The Vatican could name an administrator for the Cleveland diocese until a new bishop is appointed.
After Lennon retired in December 2016, Bishop Daniel Thomas of Toledo served as administrator of the Cleveland diocese until Perez was announced as Lennon’s successor in July 2017.
The Rev. Norm Douglas, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul, Akron’s oldest Catholic church, said the announcement is a loss for Cleveland but a great day for the faithful in Philadelphia.
Perez is remembered as an engaging spiritual leader who cared for all — young and old — and greeted everyone he met enthusiastically.
The bishop visited St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church not only for the sacrament of Confirmation for Akron teens but also when the parish celebrated its 151st anniversary in March 2018.
Douglas said Perez had a great love for his flock and was very pastoral in his approach.
"Even when he challenged you, he challenged you out of love and not fear," Douglas said.
At a time of division over thorny social issues like immigration, Douglas said, Perez would draw on his own experience as a child of immigrants to remind us to take care of one another.
"He believed every human being should be treated with dignity," the pastor said.
Perez’s stint as the 11th bishop here was short-lived, having served just about two and a half years before moving on to the bigger appointment.
During his time as bishop, he launched initiatives to ensure young adults were fully involved in the local church. Perez put in place a special "think tank" to make recommendations on youth engagement, and invited missionaries from the Culture Project, an organization of young adults dedicated to teaching other young people about the virtues of chastity and human dignity, to bring their ministry to the diocese.
He had been serving as auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre, New York, when he was chosen to replace Bishop Lennon, who stepped down in December 2016 because of health issues. Lennon died last October.
While serving in Cleveland, Perez made several trips to the Vatican to consult with church leaders on several matters so the move to the larger diocese in Philadelphia did not come as a complete surprise.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput is stepping down after turning 75 — traditional retirement age for Catholic bishops — last year.
Like in Cleveland, Perez will be the first Latino to lead the Philadelphia diocese with some 1.5 million Catholics compared to 677,000 here.
Proud of his Cuban roots, Perez was born in Miami and ordained in Philadelphia.
"I will never forget the kindness and hospitality of the people of the Diocese of Cleveland," Perez said. "They will remain in my heart and prayers always. As change is an ever-present part of life, I now turn my attention southeastward as I look forward to my return to Pennsylvania to shepherd the people of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia."
Craig Webb can be reached at email@example.com.