WASHINGTON—The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops elected Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., as president Nov. 13.

Bishop Gregory, 53, vice president for the past three years, is the first black and the first Catholic convert to be elected president of the U.S. bishops in history.

The bishops also elected Bishop William S. Skylstad, 67, of Spokane, Wash., as vice president and Archbishop James P. Keleher of Kansas City, Kan., 70, as treasurer-elect. The bishops also cast ballots for nine committee chairmen and 13 committee chairmen-elect. Bishop Gregory received 186 of the 249 votes cast, with the other 63 scattered among nine candidates. He spent the past three years as vice president of the bishops„ conference, a post that usually leads to the top office.

He succeeds Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, Texas, who is ending a three-year term.

Bishop Gregory, 53, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his aim over the next three years is “to do the will of the bishops” and to increase participation by blacks in the Church.

Black Catholics comprise 2 million to 3.5 million of the 63.7 million Church members nationwide.

“I hope that African-Americans might see in me the fact that the Catholic Church takes seriously its commitment to multicultural celebration and life,” The Washington Times quoted Bishop Gregory as saying.

The bishops’ new president holds a doctorate in liturgy from Rome's Pontifical Liturgical Institute and has written extensively on the subject, particularly on liturgy in the African-American community.

Bishop Gregory is chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Personnel and vice chairman of three others: the Committee on Priorities and Plans, the Executive Committee and the Committee on Nomination of Conference Officers. He also is a member of the Administrative Committee and the ad hoc Committee on Publishing and Promotion Services.

He was born Dec. 7, 1947, in Chicago. It was just a few weeks after he enrolled as a sixth-grader at St. Carthage School that Wilton Gregory decided he wanted to become a priest. He first had to become a Catholic, however, which he did by the end of the school year.

Two years after becoming a Catholic, he entered Chicago's Quigley Preparatory, a high school seminary. By the time he was 25, he was ordained a priest. Just 10 years later, he became the youngest bishop in the country. He was installed as an auxiliary bishop for Chicago a few days after his 36th birthday in 1983.

The election was held during the bishops’ Nov. 12-15 fall general meeting, their first as the USCCB, operating under new statutes that call for all officers and chairmen to be elected a year in advance of taking office.

All officers and committee heads have three-year terms.