By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published May 14, 2009
On Saturday, May 2, in a church packed to the brim, Msgr. R. Donald Kiernan celebrated Mass at All Saints, just as he has for more than 20 years. However, this celebration was a bit different as it recognized the pastor for reaching the milestone of 60 years as a priest.
Parishioners who have been there from his first days at the Dunwoody parish in 1985 and those who have just begun attending Mass there came to show their support and gratitude for the hard work of the gregarious and indefatigable priest.
A procession with the Knights of Columbus, members of the Sandy Springs Police Department, deacons and his brother priests showed the reach of his ministry and hinted at some of the many avenues he uses to preach the Gospel.
“Thank you for coming to help me celebrate the 60th anniversary of my ordination,” a smiling Msgr. Kiernan said at the beginning of the Mass, visibly touched by the hundreds who packed the pews and lined the perimeter of the sunlit church.
The Mass was a joyous celebration, and many felt it matched perfectly the spirit of Msgr. Kiernan.
“It was a beautiful celebration,” said Joan McIvor, director of operations for the parish. “Quite a tribute to Monsignor.”
McIvor, who has worked there for over a decade, moved to Atlanta in 1982 and has been a parishioner at All Saints ever since.
The church was full of people, many Catholic, some not, who have been touched by Msgr. Kiernan’s presence in Georgia, including concelebrant and homilist for the evening, Father Timothy Gadziala.
Laced with personal stories and jokes, Father Gadziala’s homily honored Msgr. Kiernan for his dedication, but also drew laughs from many of those present.
“I hope I’m still his friend after this homily,” he joked before telling one of many stories.
Father Gadziala also said it was fitting that the anniversary was celebrated on Good Shepherd Sunday, seeing as how Msgr. Kiernan was a perfect example of a good shepherd.
“(Msgr. Kiernan) has helped shape the vision of this local church,” Father Gadziala said, adding that the pastor is a living history book who witnessed the creation of this diocese in 1956 and participated in its growth over six decades.
“He has weathered the storms through many calamities,” Father Gadziala said.
Msgr. Kiernan, a native of Massachusetts and now 84 years old, attended Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and was ordained to the priesthood May 4, 1949, by Cardinal Richard Cushing, archbishop of Boston.
The priest’s first assignment following his ordination was as assistant rector of the Cathedral of John the Baptist in Savannah. At the time the Diocese of Savannah embraced the entire state of Georgia.
His first assignment as a pastor was at St. Peter’s Church in LaGrange. Named a monsignor in 1969, Msgr. Kiernan served as a pastor for several other parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta including St. Jude and Immaculate Heart of Mary before he was assigned to All Saints.
Msgr. Kiernan has also built a legacy of service to many community and statewide organizations. He founded the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, serving as its director and chaplain for over 20 years.
He also has served as the chaplain to the Georgia State Patrol, the DeKalb County Police Department, the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms’ local division and the Knights of Columbus.
He has been a colleague to Georgia governors and Atlanta mayors over the decades, as well as to chiefs of police and public servants. He was editor of The Georgia Bulletin for over a decade in the 1950s and 1960s and a vicar general of the archdiocese from 2000-2005.
In 1984, the Boy Scouts of America recognized Msgr. Kiernan’s contributions by awarding him its highest honor, the Silver Beaver Award. He has served on the Executive Committee of the Metropolitan Atlanta Boy Scouts of America and the board of the USO.
Msgr. Kiernan has received many honors and awards, including the Prothonotary Apostolic, which is the highest rank of monsignor, in 1979. He has received honorary doctorates from Biscayne College in Miami, from his alma mater, Providence College in Rhode Island, and from Georgia State University.
Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue, who has resided at All Saints since his retirement, also took a moment to address Msgr. Kiernan and the crowd at the end of the Mass.
“Msgr. Kiernan is very unique,” the archbishop said. “He does the best he can to help the church and does it very well.”
Archbishop Donoghue also said that Msgr. Kiernan has many talents and also responds “graciously and effectively” to those who need him.
And “he doesn’t look a day older than he actually is,” joked the archbishop at the end of his address, inciting laughter from the crowd and Msgr. Kiernan himself.
Following the Mass, dinner and dessert were offered to parishioners as they gathered in the Activities Center to continue the celebration.
Photo albums were there for people to browse through, as well as a book where they could write a message to Msgr. Kiernan, sharing a memory or good wishes.
Dozie Bowen, director of the parish school of religion, said, “I smiled through the whole thing.”
Bowen has been at the parish for more than 20 years and said she cannot imagine working for anyone else.
“It has been a joy,” she said.
“The world would be a better place if there were more Msgr. Kiernans,” said Father Gadziala.