By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published April 3, 2008
The first Archbishop of Atlanta, Paul J. Hallinan, died 40 years ago this past Thursday, March 27. I personally never met the man, but I certainly heard much about his wisdom and goodness on many occasions before I arrived here as the sixth Archbishop of Atlanta.
Cardinal Bernardin often spoke about his mentor and friend, Archbishop Hallinan. One of his favorite quotations from Archbishop Hallinan was “now the confusion is a little clearer!” Without a doubt, Paul Hallinan had a profound and lasting impact on Joseph L. Bernardin, much as Cardinal Bernardin had on me.
Archbishop Hallinan was an active and influential participant in the debates and the discussions at the Second Vatican Council, especially in the area of the liturgy. When he died in 1968 at the age of 56, he had already left a very favorable impression on the city of Atlanta as well as on the Church in the United States. The Archdiocese of Atlanta grieved the loss of this important churchman, as did many of his friends and colleagues here. He was buried on Monday, April 1, 1968, from the Cathedral of Christ the King. Our still youthful archdiocese mourned the loss of such a fine churchman after such a brief but illustrious six-year tenure in office.
On Thursday of that very same week, the city of Atlanta suffered the loss of another important citizen, as did our entire nation. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. Catholics as well as men and women of good will throughout the world were stunned and shocked at this tragedy. The violence that occurred in many cities all over our nation regrettably was not in keeping with the legacy of this great humanitarian and the architect of the civil rights movement in the United States. Fortunately, our own city of Atlanta was spared the destruction that was so widespread in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination. The dignified way that the people of Atlanta grieved his death was a great tribute to the people of Atlanta, to our civic leadership at the time and to the memory of Dr. King.
Forty years after the deaths of Archbishop Hallinan and Dr. King, we should consider the progress that we have made as an archdiocese and as a nation a splendid and well-deserved tribute to the goodness of both of these men.
Since coming to Atlanta, I have had the honor of meeting a number of the icons of the civil rights movement who were colleagues of Dr. King here in Atlanta. These men and women have revealed to me many of the examples of Dr. King’s wisdom, goodness and humanity, much like Cardinal Bernardin shared with me the pastoral acumen of Archbishop Hallinan. As I prayed for Archbishop Hallinan at Mass on the anniversary of his death and as I will pray for Dr. King on the 40th anniversary of his death, I consider myself a very fortunate man to have been given the grace of living in the very community where they both lived and served so well.
On this 40th anniversary of their passing, may the work that they began so magnificently continue to be brought to perfection in the lives of the people of this archdiocese and our great nation, by God’s own grace. May they both rest in peace. Amen.