In 2018, Archbishop Wells received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association. Here is the introduction speech for his award.
Good evening. Tonight I am honored to introduce to you the newest recipient of the Saint Meinrad Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Peter Wells came to Saint Meinrad as a college student in 1985 to study for the priesthood for his home diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
He graduated in the Class of 1987 and was then sent to the Pontifical North American College in Rome for his theology studies. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Tulsa in 1991.
He served well in the Diocese of Tulsa, including as the associate pastor of Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa, as private secretary for the bishop, and as vicar for religious education for the diocese.
In the latter role, he developed a nationally imitated program to teach theology to lay Catholics. At one time, the diocese’s Pastoral Studies Institute offered both a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry and a master’s degree in theology studies.
Meanwhile, Peter continued his own studies. In 1992, he earned a licentiate in theology from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family at the Pontifical Lateran University.
After working in the Tulsa Diocese for several years, Peter was called to Rome, where he earned both a licentiate and a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University, in 1998 and 1999, respectively.
After graduating from the Pontifical Ecclesial Academy in Rome, where he studied international law and papal diplomacy, Peter join the diplomatic service of the Holy See on July 1, 1999.
His first diplomatic assignment was to the Holy See’s embassy in Nigeria. Three years later, in 2002, he was transferred to Rome to work in the Vatican at the Section for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State.
This department handles the everyday administrative functions of the Pope, which includes preparing papal documents and assisting appointments with the Roman Curia. They also publish official papal announcements through the Vatican Press Office and are responsible for keeping records.
Peter worked in the Secretariat of State for three popes: John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.
In 2006, he was appointed to head the English Section for General Affairs., through which all material and correspondence in English going to or coming from the Holy See must pass.
Then in 2009, he was appointed the assessor for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, becoming the highest-ranking American in the Secretariat of State. The role of assessor has been compared to being the deputy chief of staff for the Pope.
During his 6 ½ years as assessor, Peter worked on a number of high-profile and sensitive issues. Among them were:
And now more recently, in February 2016, Peter was appointed by Pope Francis to his current position – papal nuncio to five countries in southern Africa. Those include South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Swaziland.
At that time, he was also raised to an archbishop.
A few months after his appointment, Archbishop Peter was interviewed by America magazine about his work in South Africa – compared to his 14 years in Rome. Here’s what he said about his new assignment: “I have been able to come out and do direct ministry again. I am really happy to be able to have this opportunity because every priest needs this.”
Before I close this introduction to our newest Distinguished Alumnus, I would like to share a few words from those who nominated Archbishop Peter for this award.
A fellow alumnus and priest of the Diocese of Tulsa, now Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, said: “Wells has distinguished himself in every assignment. … He is respected by the international community as a man of the Church, free from careerism or favoritism. He is professional and faithful.”
A classmate of Archbishop Peter, Nashville’s Bishop J. Mark Spalding, also spoke of our nominee’s fine qualities: “Peter is a man of great character whose sense of humor, wit and devotion are representative of the qualities which I associate with a good priest. St. Meinrad surely nurtured these qualities in Peter during his studies and, undoubtedly, the student community received the benefit of his joyfulness, genuine piety and exceptional ability to lead others.”
And finally, from Fr. Godfrey Mullen, who attended college with Peter in the 1980s and is now the rector of St. Benedict Cathedral in Evansville, comes this description: “(He) is a bright man with a tremendous sense of humor. He has worked hard out of love for the Church and has certainly made Saint Meinrad proud in his service.”
And tonight, we echo that joy and pride, as we present Archbishop Peter Wells with the Saint Meinrad Distinguished Alumnus Award.