Callista Gingrich’s nomination as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, first mentioned as a possibility back in January, looks to be a done deal. Numerous media sources are reporting that the third wife of former Georgia congressman and U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, is President Donald Trump’s choice to represent his administration at the Holy See. CNN said Sunday that the White House hopes to make the formal announcement before Trump meets with Pope Francis on May 24 in Rome.
UPDATE: On Friday, May 19, it became official. A White House press release announced the president’s intention to nominate Gingrich. He still needs to formally submit her name to the U.S. Senate, which will then schedule hearings and a vote on her confirmation. She would be the third woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, where President Trump will meet with the Pope on Wednesday. Knowledgable observors say the timing of the announcement may have been meant to signal ahead of time that Trump takes seriously his administration’s relationship with the Vatican.
Callista Gingrich, 51, is a lifelong Catholic who is credited with playing a major role in her husband’s conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholic in 2009. But she’s also been an object of controversy, beginning with her November 1999 deposition during Newt Gingrich’s divorce from his second wife, Marianne. Then known as Callista Bisek, she admitted that her affair with Newt had begun six years earlier, when he was a congressman representing Georgia’s 6th District. (Interesting related fact: That’s the same district that’s now the focus of the special election between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel to replace Tom Price, who gave up the seat when he became Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.)
Newt and Callista Gingrich married in August 2000 and currently live in McLean, Virginia. At one point, her husband was considered in the running for Trump’s pick for vice president; now with Callista getting a presidential nod, here are some other things to know about the likely next ambassador to the Vatican:
RELATED: The Newt Gingrich File
Her family -- and social media -- know her as something other than “Callista:” To her 13,000 Twitter followers, she’s @CallyGingrich. To her family in Whitehall, Wisconsin, where she was born Callista Louise Bisek and graduated as valedictorian from Whitehall Memorial High School in 1984, she’s “Cally Lou.”
Wisconsin brought her to Washington D.C.: After graduating cum laude in music in 1988 from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, she became an intern in Wisconsin Republican Steve Gunderson’s congressional office. That became a fulltime job until 1995, when she moved to the House Committee on Agriculture where she worked as Chief Clerk until 2007.
She’s got the music in her: She started playing piano in third grade and was already singing with the Capitol Hill Chorale in the mid-1990’s when a friend encouraged her to audition for the choir of Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception -- the country’s largest Catholic church. “They needed altos,” Callista Gingrich told the Washington Post in 2011, about the paid, professional gig she’s held ever since. She also plays French horn in the City of Fairfax (Va.) band, an all-volunteer operation that’s partially funded by the Gingrich Foundation, of which she’s president. Among its charitable contributions: Establishing the Newt L. and Callista L. Gingrich Scholarship to benefit instrumental music majors at her alma mater, Luther College.
She’s been a lightning rod for criticism at times: Years after their affair was revealed, in June 2011, at least 16 aides and advisers quit Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign; insiders at least partially blamed tension caused by Callista’s enormous influence on her husband’s thinking and schedule. She was the one who encouraged him to take a luxury cruise to the Greek Isles just weeks after he entered the race, they said, adding that the candidate had sought to book campaign trips around her choir practice schedule. Gingrich defended his wife and their closeness, saying, “I think most couples would find that refreshing and not a problem.” In April 2012, he suspended his campaign and endorsed the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney.
Related video: Newt Gingrich: “I would listen carefully if Trump calls about VP”
She makes documentaries and writes children’s books: As president of Gingrich Productions, Callista has produced and hosted with Newt more than a half-dozen historical and public policy documentaries (including one on Pope John Paul II) with titles like “America at Risk,” “Rediscovering God in America” and “We Have the Power.” She’s also the author of six children’s books (No. 7 comes out next October) featuring Ellis the Elephant (”Ellis meets some of America’s greatest presidents and discovers how they have led our country throughout American history,” is the description of “Hail to the Chief,” released in October 2016).
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