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Laity Are at the Heart of Archbishop Chaput’s Legacy

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia marks his 75th birthday on Sept. 26.

As canon law stipulates, he is expected to tender his resignation to Pope Francis, but whether it is accepted or set aside, the anniversary is a time for his closest collaborators to reflect on the legacy of the first Native American to become an archbishop — a shepherd with an outsized impact on the Catholic Church in the United States who took “risks” to empower lay apostolates.

“I learned a lot from him about the need for getting solid laypeople involved in the work of the Church and giving them the space to take a vision of the New Evangelization and move forward on it,” said Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, who had served as the founding rector of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, which opened early in Archbishop Chaput’s tenure in the Rocky Mountain State.

Cristine Barba, a Philadelphia Catholic who in 2014 founded her own apostolate, The Culture Project, inspired by a desire to share Catholic teaching on human dignity and chastity with young people, used similar language to describe the archbishop’s gift for nurturing new apostolates.

“He gives firm, clear guidance and leadership, and then gives space,” Barba told the Register. “He pushed me, giving me the confidence to launch The Culture Project. The longest I waited for him to respond to an email was a day.”

During his 31 years as a bishop, Archbishop Chaput, ordained to the priesthood in the Capuchin Franciscan order, backed dynamic lay apostolates like the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), the Augustine Institute and Endow. Aides and lay collaborators describe him as a talent spotter and risk taker who is accessible and generous with his guidance and contacts, but will withdraw support if he loses confidence in a project.

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