By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published October 27, 2011
In solemn rites lightened by the joy of an affirming congregation, Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., was ordained and installed as Savannah’s fourteenth bishop Oct. 18. The Mass was celebrated in the diocese’s 110-year-old Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, with over 20 bishops attending, along with over 180 priests, his family and parishioners from across Georgia.
Bishop Hartmayer succeeds Bishop-emeritus J. Kevin Boland, who has served the Savannah Diocese for over 50 years, first as a priest and then as bishop.
The new bishop is a member of the Conventual Franciscan order and only the second to be named a bishop in the United States. The city looked a bit like Assisi as Franciscan friars wearing the religious habit crisscrossed the streets.
Huge flower arrangements graced the altars and fragranced the steps outside, as they were placed on either side of the heavy wooden doors. Roses in gold, yellow and amber did double duty as papal and fall colors, clustered with Southern magnolia, palm and camellia leaves. An ecumenical team of volunteers spent hours crafting the arrangements, after bringing the greenery, in some cases, from their own gardens.
After ordination, Bishop Hartmayer took his place in the oak bishop’s seat, built around 1900. He chose as his episcopal motto “Pax et Bonum,” meaning “peace and goodness,” the words St. Francis of Assisi used to greet people.
“Gregory, my brother, today you undertake a humbling new responsibility,” said Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who ordained the new bishop.
A bishop’s three-fold responsibilities to teach, govern and sanctify the people of God “will continuously entwine themselves around your heart and usually consume all of your waking hours,” the archbishop said.
Each of the responsibilities must be exercised in love, Archbishop Gregory said, and with a heart that strives to encourage people to believe the truth of church teaching, to gather them together and govern them by the truth in love, and to pray with them and for them, especially at the Eucharist.
“You have chosen as your episcopal motto the greeting that Francis himself often used: Pax et Bonum—Peace and Goodness. May that motto mark all of your days as bishop and may it forever be the response that the Holy Spirit generates in the hearts of the people entrusted to your care,” Archbishop Gregory said.
Bishop Hartmayer, 59, is a native of Buffalo, N.Y., who entered the novitiate of the Conventual Franciscan Friars when he was 18 years old. He professed his solemn vows as a Franciscan in August 1973 and was ordained a priest in May 1979. In over 30 years of priesthood, he has served as a Catholic high school teacher, guidance counselor and principal, and has been a pastor for the past 16 years in parishes of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He has also served in leadership in the Franciscan order and in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, where he was three times elected chairman of the Council of Priests. He holds master’s degrees in theology, pastoral counseling and secondary Catholic school administration.
The many layers of his priesthood were reflected in the community gathered at the ordination. In addition to some 50 Franciscans, many Atlanta archdiocesan priests, deacons and parishioners came to the Mass, along with priests and deacons of the Savannah Diocese. The pastor of his mother Sally’s parish in Tonawanda, N.Y., was there, along with 35 members of his family, including his mother and three siblings.
“He is an excellent priest for the whole community,” said Matiana Rios, who was a lector at the Mass. The new bishop was her pastor at St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, for 15 years. Of Mexican descent, she coordinated the annual celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe and ministries for the Spanish community. A close friend to her family, the future bishop went to Colombia to marry her son and his bride.
She said although he doesn’t speak Spanish Bishop Hartmayer appreciates the way various cultures express the Catholic faith, has learned about the traditions, and is supportive of those cultural expressions.
“For the integration of the Spanish community, he will give you a lot of support,” she said.
Savannah parishioner Sylvia Johnson, who does not yet know the new bishop, went to vespers the night before and said, “This is a day I’ve been looking forward to.”
A member of the diocese for 40 years, she said, “He is a young bishop. I want him to bring more youth and young adults into the parishes. I think he will be an inspiration to all of us.”
“This is one of the most exciting things that’s happened to me in my 51 years,” said Denise LeMay, a member of the choir at the Mass.
St. Vincent’s Academy religion teacher Lori Williams said students were “really excited” because the future bishop blessed animals in a Savannah park on the feast of St. Francis, including the school mascot, Vinnie.
Among challenges he will face will be how to accommodate aging priests, Williams said, and drawing more to the priesthood in general, LeMay added.
A busload of about 200 people from St. Philip Benizi and another large group from St. John Vianney Church, Lithia Springs, came to witness his episcopal ordination.
Yone Daly, editor of the St. Philip Benizi newsletter, said, “We came to support him and show him our love. We are so proud of him.”
Among the qualities of the new bishop are a Franciscan detachment from owning possessions, humility, and “care and concern for the people he shepherds,” Daly said.
“He laughs at himself,” she added. “He is very comfortable with who he is.”
“He is the type of leader who allows you to serve in your ministry,” she said. “He is not a micro-manager.”
The Franciscan religious practice of living in community with three friars, which Bishop Hartmayer has practiced throughout his priesthood, has been a great asset to the parishioners, said Larry Foust of St. Philip Benizi Church.
“He will be extremely pastoral. He will be a bishop for the priests and the people,” said Conventual Franciscan Father Michael Sajda, who has known the new bishop since seminary days.
His brother, Jack, said their parents were very active Catholics in the Buffalo area of upstate New York. All four children went to Catholic schools, he said.
“We were brought up in a strict Catholic home. That’s all we knew,” he said.
He said his brother’s gifts in ministry were evident to him, but nonetheless the appointment was startling.
“It is such an honor,” he said.
“He has the qualities, the talent, the heart, to be a spiritual leader,” his other brother, J. Douglas, said.
“He is very compassionate when dealing with people,” he said. “I think people gravitate to him. They feel comfortable talking to him.”
Franciscans who taught at Cardinal O’Hara High School where the Hartmayers went to school were his brother’s inspiration, he said.
At vespers Oct. 17, Bishop Boland joked about the path his successor took to become bishop of Savannah.
“When I heard about the appointment … that he has been 16 years in Atlanta as a pastor, but he is originally from Buffalo … I said to myself, ‘Sherman is coming to town.’”
The Savannah Diocese was established in 1850, one of the oldest in the United States. Bishop Boland recalled that the first bishop in the United States, John Carroll, had to travel to England to be ordained a bishop because there were no bishops in the United States in 1790 to ordain him.
“As our fourteenth bishop, we welcome you with open arms and loving hearts,” Bishop Boland said. “You are and will be a blessing and a gift to all the people of South Georgia. Our gift to you is the gift of ourselves. We pledge our prayers, good will and total support for your spiritual leadership.”
“It is with a joyous heart and a tinge of sadness that I pass the mantle,” Bishop Boland said. “You are inheriting a faith family of which we are justly proud. … They are prayerful, sacrificial, and proud to be Catholic even though their numbers represent about 3 percent of the total population. They are a great and noble people. Your ministry will greatly enhance their goodness and strengthen their resolve in living out the mystery of Christ in our midst.”
Bishop-designate Hartmayer read aloud a profession of faith and the bishop’s oath of fidelity, with Bishop Boland standing at his side at the altar.
The solemn ritual of ordination and installation took place the next day in a two-and-a-half-hour liturgy before the congregation of bishops, priests, deacons, ecumenical and civic leaders from Savannah, and lay people, who filled the cathedral.
Archbishop Gregory presided as a representative of Pope Benedict XVI in the United States, Msgr. Jean-Francois Lantheaume, read the apostolic mandate from the pope calling Bishop Hartmayer to be the new bishop of the Savannah Diocese.
As the transition began, Bishop Boland was warmly applauded for his service as bishop.
Following his homily, Archbishop Gregory read a series of questions to the bishop-designate, who answered in a firm voice, “I do,” to each responsibility given to the shepherd of the diocese. He then lay prostrate before the altar as the choir and congregation interceded on his behalf, praying the litany of the saints.
Rising, he knelt before Archbishop Gregory, who at this moment of episcopal ordination laid his hands on the head of the new bishop and prayed. Two bishops chosen to be co-consecrators, Bishop Boland and Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama of Atlanta, also prayed and laid hands on the new bishop. This action was repeated by other prelates attending, beginning with Cardinal Adam Maida, archbishop-emeritus of Detroit, and followed by each of the over 20 bishops present.
While this rite was taking place, the choir sang a composition based on the new bishop’s motto “Pax et Bonum,” a gift for him composed by musician Vince Ambrosetti, a former student. Another past student, Brian R. Taberski, designed his coat of arms.
As the rite continued, Bishop Hartmayer was anointed with chrism and presented with the Book of the Gospels and the insignia of a bishop, the ring, the miter and the crozier. He was then brought to the center of the sanctuary, and the congregation rose and welcomed the completion of the ordination and the installation of Savannah’s fourteenth bishop with a standing ovation.
Speaking to the congregation after the Mass concluded, Bishop Hartmayer said he needed to “catch my breath.”
“This is the first ordination of an ordinary that I’ve ever attended,” he said.
“Thank you for being here and for sharing this joyful day for the local church and for the universal church,” Bishop Hartmayer said.
His voice caught as he said, “I am especially grateful to God for allowing my mother to share this special moment in my life.”
He said he was grateful that his appointment was welcomed in the Savannah Diocese by the faithful as a new bishop sent by Pope Benedict XVI. He added, “Personally, I also need to earn that respect.”
“I have quite a challenge to follow the likes of Bishop Boland,” Bishop Hartmayer said. “I also have the privilege of having him here in the diocese and calling on him.”
He said he recently had read a Paulist book “From Maintenance to Mission” that caused him to have “a greater understanding of evangelization as the mission of the church.”
“The people of God are hungry for the word of God,” Bishop Hartmayer said.
In a meeting with journalists the morning of the ordination, the new bishop said he planned to begin a series of listening sessions in the deaneries of the Savannah Diocese.
Some challenges facing the diocese derive from its geography, he said, as 77,000 Catholics are spread across 90 counties. Resources are stretched, he said, and vocations to the priesthood need to be encouraged and fostered.
On the other hand, Bishop Hartmayer said, he has come to deeply appreciate the Catholic Church in the southern United States.
“The Church in the South is alive. The Church in the South is contagious,” the new bishop said.