Growing up in the greater Philadelphia area, my response to questions about the merits of any number of our attractions, history, sports teams or cuisine is pretty simple: It’s the best. In a move befitting the designation, I learned last week that Pope Francis has named Bishop Nelson Perez as the next Archbishop of Philadelphia. You guessed it. He’s the best.
I first met Bishop Perez when he was a pastor at my local parish, St. Agnes, in West Chester, Pa. It took less than a minute to recognize there was something different about him. He was clearly a devout man who dedicated his life to the church and seemed to radiate kindness and generosity. But there was something more. He made it all interesting and, in short, fun.
He is fun, to be clear. If his rapid rise from a local pastor to archbishop of Philadelphia has changed anything about him it isn’t obvious to those of us who know him best. If you encountered him outside the context of the church he is someone you would strive to make plans to see as often as possible.
My late father, Bill Latoff, was not an easy man to impress. He was faithful and committed to his community but he had never been taken by a local pastor the way he instantly was by Bishop Perez. He watched in admiration as a diverse congregation united behind this bilingual pastor with boundless energy and infectious positivity.
Bishop Perez worked with local doctors to develop services for people in need. He quickly raised the quality of the elementary school. He did it all while miraculously bringing the parish’s finances back. I think people just wanted to be a part of what Bishop Perez was doing.
He and my father became the best of friends but soon he was elevated to Auxiliary Bishop of Rockville Center in New York. Despite the distance between them, Bishop Perez always made an effort to stay in touch. We would hear stories of his new assignments in New York and then Cleveland, and he was there for us through every major development in our lives.
In the best times of my life — weddings, baptisms, vacationing at the Jersey Shore — Bishop Perez was there. In 2012, he and the late Bishop Joseph P. McFadden married my husband Josh and me in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. And in 2018, he baptized our son William, named after my late father, in Washington, D.C., where my family now lives. In both instances, he reminded us of the need for commitment to our family, our friends, and our religion. He also spent time with my parents at their beach house in Ocean City along with his closest friend, Father Gary Pacitti, and invited our neighbors there to join us for Sunday Mass at our home.
At my father’s funeral Mass, Bishop Perez said, “When someone we love and lost is gone from us, it is then when they will be with us where ever we go.” I cannot imagine getting through any of that without him.
Bishop Perez was also there when my father was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 66, which ultimately took his life within five short months. It was at the funeral Mass where the bishop said, “When someone we love and lost is gone from us, it is then when they will be with us where ever we go.” I cannot imagine getting through any of that without him.
What my family has come to appreciate is that there are countless families across the country who have the same story of Bishop Nelson Perez. He doesn’t just teach faith, he lives it. If you spend enough time around him, you’ll realize you’re living it too.
There is no place on earth more equipped to host Archbishop Perez than Philadelphia. Individually they are the best. I cannot imagine what the church, the city, and all of its people can do now that they’re back together. Welcome home, Bishop Perez!
Blair Latoff Holmes is a veteran Washington, D.C., communicator whose work includes serving as a spokesperson for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the late Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She is a proud native of West Chester, Pa., and currently resides in Arlington, Va., with her family.
Please support Broad + Liberty. We rely on the generosity
of donors to continue publishing great work.