As he prepared to meet Pope Francis for the first time, President Donald Trump formally nominated Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to be the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.
The White House announced the nomination late on Friday as Trump was beginning his first overseas trip, a trip that would include a meeting with Pope Francis on May 24 at the Vatican.
The nomination of Gingrich, 51, a former congressional aide, had been rumored for months. If confirmed by the Senate, she would succeed Ambassador Ken Hackett, who retired in January. She would be the third woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See after Lindy Boggs, who held the post in 1997-2001, and Mary Ann Glendon, who served in 2008-2009.
Gingrich is president of Gingrich Productions, which produces documentaries as well as other materials related to her husband, Republican Newt Gingrich, who served from 1995 until 1999 as the 50th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 2010, the company released the film “Nine Days That Changed the World” about Pope John Paul II’s nine-day pilgrimage to Poland in 1979 and how it played a part in the fall of communism in Europe. Callista Gingrich graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in 1988, majoring in music, a passion that has remained with her throughout life. She is a longtime member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
Some like John Schlageter, executive director of the Bethlehem University Foundation in Washington, hailed the choice.
“It might make me biased, but I think that her years of singing in the choir at the national shrine has given her a backstage pass to some of the most important events in the life in the church in the United States, including two papal visits,” said Schlageter, who is a friend of the couple. The Gingriches are patrons of Bethlehem University, the first Catholic university in the Holy Land founded by the Vatican and the De La Salle Christian Brothers, he said.
Schlageter said Callista Gingrich’s time producing the documentary about Pope John Paul helped her create professional relationships and friendships in the U.S. and Rome that will serve her well should she be confirmed to the post.
“She also loves the church and the United States,” he told Catholic News Service May 15. “I think she’s a wonderful choice.”
Others criticized the choice online because she admitted to having an affair for years with Newt Gingrich while he was married to his second wife. After his 1999 divorce, the two married the following year and he became a Catholic in 2009, saying Callista, a lifelong Catholic, was instrumental in making that choice.