By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published March 15, 2012
We here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta celebrated a quiet anniversary just a few weeks ago without much public attention. On February 21 of this year, we observed our 50th anniversary as an archdiocese. On February 21, 1962, we were separated from the Province of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and became a new independent ecclesiastical province that, at the time, included all of the Carolinas and Georgia and Florida. I recently was playing golf with a wonderful Catholic man who asked me the question, “How many archbishops are there?” I had to go into a rather detailed description of the definition of an ecclesiastical province since an archbishop is generally the Shepherd of the ranking diocese of a province. Usually an archdiocese is the oldest or the largest in a territorial cluster of dioceses.
Some densely populated states comprise a province—New York, Illinois, Florida, etc. Some states have two provinces: e.g., California and Texas. Other provinces have several states as part of their group, e.g., the Atlanta Province embraces the Carolinas and Georgia, the Mobile Province includes Alabama and Mississippi, and the Louisville Province serves Kentucky and Tennessee. In the United States we have 33 Latin Rite provinces and thus 33 metropolitan archbishops—including the Military Archdiocese. This clustering of dioceses is intended to allow for closer collaboration and fraternity on the part of regional groups of bishops. The metropolitan archbishops have no direct jurisdiction in the other dioceses but serve as a chairman of the group when they are gathered together. Provinces were established at a time when people did not have the vast capacity of communications that we now possess, and these territorial gatherings made it possible for better and more frequent exchange among the bishops, clergy and faithful.
In 1962 when Atlanta became an archdiocese, we were already beginning to demonstrate the rapid growth that has marked our history for the past 50 years. Six years later, Miami became the ecclesiastical Province for the state of Florida. The steady growth of the Church in the South has continued unabated for the past 50 years as many of the dioceses in our region have doubled or tripled or even quadrupled in their population as people have relocated to our area. It is a blessing for all of us to see the Church grow in numbers and in strength as many Catholics from other parts of the nation and the globe move south, bringing a rich diversity of cultures and languages along with their deep Catholic faith. We also have benefitted from the growing numbers of people who have embraced the Catholic faith as our wonderful celebration of the Rite of Election recently testified.
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to be the keynote speaker for the 25th anniversary of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Louisville. During the course of the dinner, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz told me that he had recently read a portion of the Quinquennial Report (the formal written review of the status of a diocese that a bishop must prepare and submit to the Holy See every five years or so in anticipation of the Ad Limina visit) that was prepared by Bishop Benedict Flaget in 1815 when Louisville was then called the Diocese of Bardstown. Bishop Flaget described his ministry in the vast territory that included Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. He wrote about a visit that he made to the frontier community of Chicago at a time when that city was on the very outskirts of his pastoral territory—and as he noted, not a very promising outpost at the time. History would eventually change that opinion!
As I conclude my own Quinquennial Report for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, I am proud to describe the tremendous growth, the deep faith and the zealous devotion of a million Catholics, 275 fine priests, 220 generous deacons, almost 100 women religious and a future that looks very bright indeed. Happy 50th anniversary, Archdiocese of Atlanta—may your growth and vitality only continue!