Published March 31, 2005
As he steps down as vicar general for pastoral ministries, Msgr. R. Donald Kiernan, 80, the senior active priest in the archdiocese, is happy to be once again “just a pastor” who can devote his attention entirely to his parish.
For the past five years he has served as a vicar general while also continuing as pastor of All Saints Church in Dunwoody where he has been pastor for 19 years.
In making the announcement, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said that Msgr. Kiernan had come to him and suggested that he needed to appoint a younger vicar general, someone who would help shape the future of the archdiocese.
Archbishop Gregory expressed his gratitude to Msgr. Kiernan for his service as vicar general and emphasized his extensive knowledge of the priests and people of the archdiocese and of the history of the church in Atlanta and North Georgia.
“He has the great history of the archdiocese. The people love him. He is a man of joy and consummate devotion to the church,” Archbishop Gregory said. “What a delight it has been to work—even for a brief time—with Msgr. Kiernan.”
Ordained in May 1949, he will celebrate his 56th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood this year. He has served with every bishop and archbishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and is well known in state law enforcement and government circles where he has been a chaplain and a goodwill ambassador for the church over five decades.
In April 2000, Archbishop John F. Donoghue asked Msgr. Kiernan to serve as vicar general for pastoral ministries with Msgr. Paul Reynolds as vicar general in curia. Msgr. Kiernan’s role emphasized interactions with the priests and the parishes of the archdiocese. He said at the time, “When you are ordained, you pledge the archbishop your loyalty. I’ve put 51 years in this archdiocese. I want to feel I’ve left a contribution. I welcome this opportunity.”
A native of Taunton, Mass., who studied at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., Msgr. Kiernan was ordained for the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta before the separate diocese and later Archdiocese of Atlanta was created. A pastor with experience in six parishes of the archdiocese, he was pastor of St. Jude the Apostle Church, Sandy Springs, for 10 years, and of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Atlanta, for eight years. For a period of 13 years he was an editor at The Georgia Bulletin and wrote a weekly column.
Msgr. Kiernan has built a legacy of service to many community and state organizations in Georgia, including chaplain to the Georgia State Patrol, to the DeKalb County Police Department, and to the Atlanta offices of the FBI and ATF. He founded the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police in 1962 and served as a director and chaplain for over 20 years. Instrumental in the passage of a bill that authorizes police chaplains to be certified by the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council, he also served as chaplain to the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Msgr. Kiernan received a 2004 Governor’s Public Safety Award for outstanding contributions to the profession at a state agency level from Gov. Sonny Perdue during a ceremony last year at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth. The recognition was given in honor of his over 35 years of service as chaplain to the Georgia State Patrol and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. During his nearly four decades of service, Msgr. Kiernan “could always be counted on to answer the call for service when needed, to provide spiritual counseling to people in their time of greatest need or to provide the invocation for various events,” the nominating group said.
Msgr. Kiernan has also been a chaplain to the Knights of Columbus, and he served on the executive committee of the Atlanta Boy Scouts of America council. He holds honorary doctorates from Biscayne College in Miami, Georgia State University, and Providence College in Rhode Island, his alma mater. He was named a monsignor in 1969 and holds the highest rank of protonotary apostolic. He serves as a judge for the Court of Appeals of the Province of Atlanta.
His service is also reflected in the hub of activity at All Saints Church where, in addition to many ministries and sacramental programs, there is an active Knights of Columbus council and thriving Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts groups.
He is proud to note that All Saints Church is completely debt free. He is currently leading a fund drive for some upkeep on the buildings and grounds and some special projects, including the parish’s 12th Habitat for Humanity house, a new organ and some liturgical improvements in the sanctuary of the church.
He is also hosting Archbishop-emeritus Donoghue at All Saints while the archbishop awaits the completion of St. George Village in Roswell, a Catholic continuing care retirement community. The archbishop is regularly celebrating daily Mass, hearing confessions and occasionally cooking him dinner, Msgr. Kiernan reports. “He’s a good man,” he said.