By ANDREW NELSON and STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writers | Published July 21, 2011
Conventual Franciscan Father Gregory John Hartmayer has been appointed the 14th bishop of the Diocese of Savannah.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Father Hartmayer July 19 to head the diocese in south and middle Georgia, taking him from his role as the pastor of the parish of St. John Vianney, Lithia Springs, in the Atlanta Archdiocese. The pope accepted the retirement of Bishop J. Kevin Boland, who is 76, one year beyond the retirement age for bishops.
“My life is going to be very, very different,” said Bishop-designate Hartmayer. He said his 16 years in the Atlanta area have been a wonderful period of growth.
“As a priest, I grew up. I learned so much from the people. Their generosity and their faith made me a different person,” he said, in a telephone interview from Savannah on the day of his appointment. “It is hard for me to put into words.”
As bishop of the Savannah Diocese, Bishop-designate Hartmayer will be the spiritual leader of some 84,500 Catholics in 90 counties. Some 104 priests, 56 permanent deacons and 114 religious sisters and brothers serve in the diocese, which has a population of nearly 3 million people.
His appointment came on the 161st anniversary of the founding of the Savannah Diocese, which once covered the whole state.
Bishop-designate Hartmayer, who is 59, will be ordained and installed as bishop on Tuesday, Oct. 18, the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, at 2 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah.
Mary Mauldin, director of faith formation who has worked at St. Philip Benizi Church for 26 years, remembers when Bishop-designate Hartmayer first arrived in Jonesboro in 1995.
“I think the people of Savannah will love him just as much as we do,” she said. “(The Diocese of Savannah is) going from one good bishop to the next.”
Bishop Boland said the diocese has been “truly blessed” with the nomination of the bishop-designate. He has gotten to know his successor during the past two weeks. Bishop Boland has been the leader of the diocese for 16 years and a priest there for 50.
Bishop-designate Hartmayer said he was asked to serve on July 5 when he got a phone call from the Vatican representative in Washington, D.C. He answered a call in his church office and on the other end of the line he heard a “very strange voice with an Italian accent.”
“I didn’t quite understand what he was saying. I understood some words I recognized like Pope Benedict XVI and Diocese of Savannah. I didn’t believe what I heard. My heart started pounding, like it would pop out of my chest.”
“What was I going to say? No?”
A series of phone calls from his Franciscan superior and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory soon followed.
Bishop-designate Hartmayer joked with the archbishop. “I thought we were friends,” he told the archbishop. “You’re throwing me out of the archdiocese.”
The bishop-designate was born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1951. He has two brothers and a sister. When he told his mother about the news, she protested when he swore her to secrecy to not speak about it, even to his siblings.
“Well, you shouldn’t have told me,” he recalled her saying. “She was so excited for me, as a mother would be.”
He was ordained a priest in 1979. He is a member of the Conventual Franciscans and is only the second priest from the religious order to serve as a bishop in the United States in the last 100 years.
Bishop-designate Hartmayer said he will bring his spirituality as a Franciscan to his new appointment. It is one of “simple living, joy and humility. It’s become a part of me,” he said.
As a Franciscan, he said community life has always been a priority, but in his new role, he’ll be living on his own.
“I live in two rooms. I never had a car. Now, I’ll have a home in Savannah,” he said.
He said one of his early priorities in the diocese would be to get to know the priests who serve there and travel to the parishes. He’ll join the priests for a retreat in Florida in the fall.
And when he is ordained, the bishop-designate said he asked Archbishop Gregory, Bishop Boland and Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama to be the three ordaining bishops. The three were selected out of great respect for them, he said.
Archbishop Gregory applauded the appointment, calling Bishop-designate Hartmayer an “outstanding priest and pastor.”
Said the archbishop: “He will bring with him the great spiritual heritage of St. Francis of Assisi and the pastoral experience to be a zealous and effective shepherd for the church in South Georgia. He will build upon the loving and well-respected ministry of Bishop J. Kevin Boland who has been a vast blessing to the people of Savannah for more than 50 years.”
The archbishop broke the news to priests serving in the Atlanta Archdiocese Tuesday morning, July 19, and said the appointment is “a great honor for our local presbyterate and an acknowledgment of the wonderful ministry of the Franciscan community here in Atlanta.”
Friends and colleagues of Bishop-designate Hartmayer called him a great choice to be a leader in the church.
Members of St. John Vianney Church, where Bishop-designate Hartmayer currently serves as pastor, are sad to see him leave after only a year. It will be a time of transition for the parish, which feels blessed they were able to work with the priest during that time.
“We’re in complete shock,” said Sharon Loiselle, director of religious education for St. John Vianney. “It’s been a great year with him.”
Loiselle said that Bishop-designate Hartmayer’s love for the priesthood is evident and that has an impact on those he meets.
“He always comes across as being happy in the priesthood. It’s comes through in everything he does,” she said.
At St. Philip Benizi, Jonesboro, Mauldin said Bishop-designate Hartmayer is very comfortable in leadership roles but also allows the people around him to fulfill their responsibilities the way they see fit. This is something that Deacon Richard Tolcher also noticed as he served the parish while Bishop-designate Hartmayer was pastor for 15 years.
“He was very open to our ministry,” said Deacon Tolcher, adding that Bishop-designate Hartmayer was always mentoring the deacons and available to them to assist with their homilies and other areas of their ministry.
“He has all of the tools,” to be a successful bishop, Deacon Tolcher added. “He is generous and gracious and very people-oriented. … They couldn’t find a better man than him.”
Priests who are close to him called it a moment of celebration.
“This is an exciting day,” said Father Al Jowdy of the announcement.
Father Jowdy, pastor of St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceville, has come to know Bishop-designate Hartmayer during his years of ministry in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, where he has been elected chairman twice of the Council of Priests.
“The priests know him well and he is highly respected,” he added.
Father Jowdy believes Bishop-designate Hartmayer’s transition to the role of bishop will be smooth because of his skills as a pastor and his openness to the growing diversity of the church.
“(Bishop-designate Hartmayer) will intuitively understand the challenges the church faces,” said Father Jowdy. “His openness to diversity is noticeable. … He has a heart that really responds to the new diversity of the church.”
Father Vincent Gluc, also a Conventual Franciscan, entered a novitiate with Bishop-designate Hartmayer in 1969 in Maryland. The two have crossed paths many times throughout the years, teaching, studying and serving together.
The two most recently worked together at St. Philip Benizi, where Father Gluc served as parochial vicar from 2000 to 2005 while Bishop-designate Hartmayer was pastor.
“I’m delighted and happy for him,” said Father Gluc, who now works as the vocations director for the St. Anthony of Padua Province of the Conventual Franciscans.
“He is a pastoral man, a patient man and a good listener,” he continued. “That is important for a bishop. It is a gift and talent that (Bishop-designate Hartmayer) will bring to his new ministry as bishop.”
When Father Jim Schillinger heard the news about Bishop-designate Hartmayer he called his friend and fellow priest Father Thomas Meehan. A self-titled jokester, Father Schillinger said Father Meehan thought he was pulling his leg. He couldn’t believe such a good priest would be leaving the archdiocese.
“I have not stopped smiling since I heard the news,” said Father Schillinger, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Atlanta.
Bishop-designate Hartmayer and Father Schillinger have become good friends over the past few years, mainly through working together on the Committee for the Ongoing Formation of Priests.
“Greg is probably my best friend in the archdiocese,” Father Schillinger said. “It gives me hope” for the future of the church, he said.
Father Schillinger described Bishop-designate Hartmayer as a good, solid man of God, someone who is happy to be a priest and who is happy to work with priests.
“(Bishop-designate Hartmayer) is very pastoral. He has worked in the parish and with the people,” he said. “He has both pastoral experience and administrative experience.”
“He is genuine … and not afraid of hard work,” he added.
Bishop-Designate Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.
Date of Birth: Nov. 21, 1951
Place of Birth: Buffalo, N.Y.
Family: The son of Sally and the late John W. Hartmayer, he has two brothers, C. Douglas and John, and one sister, Mary Jo Kotacka.
Ordained: On May 5, 1979, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, N.Y., by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard. He joined the Conventual Franciscan Friars at the novitiate of St. Joseph Cupertino in Ellicott City, Md., in 1969. He professed his simple vows there on Aug. 15, 1970. He professed his solemn vows on Aug. 15, 1973.
Education: Master of education degree in secondary Catholic school administration, Boston College, 1992; master of arts degree in pastoral counseling, Emmanuel College, Boston, 1980; master of theology degree, St. Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in Rensselaer, N.Y., 1979; bachelor of science degree in philosophy, St. Hyacinth College and Seminary, Granby, Mass., 1974; Cardinal O’Hara High School, Buffalo, N.Y., 1969.
Pastoral Assignments: Pastor, St. John Vianney Church, Lithia Springs, 2010 to 2011; pastor, St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, 1995 to 2010; faculty at John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce, Fla., January 1995 to August 1995; principal of St. Francis High School, Athol Springs, N.Y., 1989 to 1994; principal at Cardinal O’Hara High School, Tonawanda, N.Y., 1988 to 1989; teacher, guidance counselor and principal at Archbishop Curley High School, Baltimore, 1974 and 1975, 1979, and 1985 to 1987.
Additional Archdiocesan Appointments: Archdiocesan Committee for the Ongoing Formation of Priests and Mentor for Newly Ordained, 2008 to the present; Archdiocesan College of Consultors, June 2005 to the present; elected chairman of the Archdiocesan Council of Priests for 2005 and 2006 and currently chairman in 2011 as well as elected representative of religious order priests.
Conventual Franciscan Appointments: Past definitor of the St. Anthony of Padua Province; guardian of friaries in Baltimore, Tonawanda, N.Y., Athol Springs, N.Y., Jonesboro and Lithia Springs, Ga.
Hobbies: Golf, walking and watching the Atlanta Braves.