A familiar face to Catholics in the Virgin Islands has been appointed by Pope Francis as the next bishop of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
The news that their parish priest, the Rev. Msgr. Jerome Feudjio, will be the next spiritual leader of Catholics in the territory was announced with the opening of a sealed letter from Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre during a prayer service Tuesday morning at Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral on St. Thomas.
As attorney Richard Bourne-Vanneck read the name, the congregation burst into cheers and applause.
Known widely in the community as Father Jerome, Feudjio currently serves as the diocese vicar general and chancellor.
“I am humbled and grateful to his holiness Pope Francis for the honor and trust he places in me by appointing me in this high office,” Jerome said.
He thanked his predecessor, Bishop Herbert Bevard, for “his leadership, love and dedication during his episcopacy,” as well as the Virgin Islands community that has supported him since becoming a priest. While he specifically pointed out his barber of 31 years, he said the complete list would be too “long, long, long and very long.”
“Your faith and dedication to the church have ignited by zeal and motivated me to joyfully to offer my contribution to this our diocese,” he said.
“It has been a blessing and a privilege to serve this diocese”
Jerome asked for the community’s prayers as he begins “this new phase of my priesthood.”
“Bishop-elect Jerome is no stranger to the people of the diocese,” said Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, in a prepared statement. “His long history of service and pastoral dedication to the people of this community of faith are well known and widely respected. He now begins a new chapter in his own life and in all of your lives as well.”
According to Gregory, who has served as apostolic administrator for the diocese of St. Thomas since Bishop Bevard stepped down in September, Jerome will be the diocese’s sixth bishop.
“Please keep him in your prayers as he transitions into his new office as I am certain he will hold all of you securely in his daily prayers from this day forward,” Gregory said.
Jerome, 65, is a native of Cameroon where he attended Catholic schools, earning a degree in bookkeeping in 1972 before seeking admission to the Congregation of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart, according to a statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
It was while he was at the Sacred Heart Novitiate that Father Jerome’s journey brought him to the United States and to the attention of a future Virgin Islands bishop. While visiting Washington, Jerome would meet the future bishop of St. Thomas and later cardinal, Father Seán O’Malley, who invited him to stay in the city where he would complete his religious education.
Upon completing studies in philosophy and theology for the priesthood at Oblate College in Washington, Jerome made his temporary religious profession to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
After further studies in the administration of justice at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., Jerome, answered an invitation from now-bishop O’Mallley to serve at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic School on St. Thomas.
He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of St. Thomas in 1990 and in 2002, was named by Pope John Paul II a chaplain of his holiness, a recognition that carries the honorary title of monsignor.
In 2004, Monsignor Jerome would temporarily leave the Virgin Islands to return to Southern Illinois University to pursue graduate studies in rehabilitation administration at the request of Bishop George Murry.
Feudjio has previously served as pastor of Holy Family Parish and has been rector and vicar general of Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral since 2008.
Father Jerome isn’t the first Virgin Islands priest recently elevated by Pope Francis. In late December, Francis named the Rev. Father Neil Sebastian Scantlebury as the next bishop of Bridgetown in Barbados.
Like Feudjio, Scantlebury also served at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic School and had most recently been pastor of St. Ann Parish on St. Croix. He was ordained in 1995.