ANNAPOLIS – President George W. Bush appointed Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele as part of the three-person presidential delegation for Sunday’s inaugural Mass of Pope Benedict XVI.
Steele, along with the president’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Carl A. Anderson, chief executive officer of the Knights of Columbus, left Friday evening for the service.
“It is a tremendous honor to represent my country and the state of Maryland at the installation of Pope Benedict XVI,” Steele said in a statement.
A devout Catholic, Steele attended parochial schools and spent three years in preparation for the priesthood as a seminarian in the Order of St. Augustine. He attends the Catholic church of St. Mary in Landover Hills, where he was honored as Man of the Year in June 1998.
The Archdiocese of Washington, which encompasses Prince George’s County and four other Maryland counties, had 567,266 Catholics living there in 2004, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore administers 10 Maryland counties containing 509,000 Catholics.
“It is a real honor for the Washington area to have the Maryland lieutenant governor as part of the delegation coming to the Vatican,” said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington. “This is such a historic and important moment in the life of the church.”
Another Marylander, Helen Alvare, a law professor from Catholic University of America, accompanied the delegation, and more than 20 members of the House of Representatives were set to attend the Mass as well.
“We are very pleased about that,” said Catholic University of America Provost John Convey of Alvare’s appointment. “Helen is an associate professor of law here at Catholic University and used to work for the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the pro-life office.”
“I am honored that the Ehrlich-Steele Administration will be present to witness history,” Gov. Robert Ehrlich said in a statement. “I thank Lieutenant Governor Steele for his attendance.”
“I know he is thrilled to be asked,” said John Kane, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. “As people who know the lieutenant governor know, he is a man of great faith. This is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent the country and great state of Maryland on such a momentous occasion.”
Steele is also a potential Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacating by Maryland Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes.
“I think it shows again the interests of Republican leadership in the country that they certainly see Michael Steele as somebody of interest,” Kane said. “They know that he is a man of great integrity and strong character. I am sure the president recognizes he would be a great senator.”
The Democratic Party had a different take on his appointment.
“I think if he keeps hanging out with people in the Bush family,” said Terry Lierman, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, “it is continued proof that he is just a reflection of their radical, right-wing policies and priorities.”