By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published October 27, 2011
The Diocese of Savannah is 161 years old this year, and it has now witnessed the arrival of 14 bishops over those many years. For 106 of those years, the bishop of Savannah was also the bishop of the territory that would eventually become the Archdiocese of Atlanta and, in fact, the entire state of Georgia. Therefore, it was fitting that a goodly number of people from Savannah’s daughter diocese attended this past week’s Episcopal Ordination and Installation of Bishop #14. A great many of our clergy, religious and faithful did, in fact, attend, and we rejoiced with our mother diocese in receiving Bishop Gregory John Hartmayer, OFM Conv., as Bishop #14.
At the end of the ceremony, Bishop Hartmayer recognized a number of people who had played a significant role in his life as a priest. These included his Franciscan confreres and, of course, his own personal family. When he spoke of the people of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, he specifically mentioned the parishioners of St. Philip Benizi and St. John Vianney. The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist erupted with applause as the many folks from those two parishes acknowledged their love and respect for this priest who was their former pastor and now Bishop #14 in Savannah. Over the weekend, I ran into a couple from St. Philip Benizi who had attended the Episcopal Ordination and were in attendance at the Confirmation at St. Catherine Labouré Parish in Jefferson, and they just beamed when they spoke about Bishop #14—but they kept calling him “Father Gregory” and then correcting themselves by saying, “Bishop Hartmayer”! For them and for countless others, he will always be Father Hartmayer since that is how they first met him and first encountered that wonderful priest.
Next weekend, we will celebrate Priesthood Sunday, an event first organized through the Serra International organization to take place each year on the last Sunday of October, and I hope many of our people will stop and congratulate and thank the priests who serve them in their parishes or perhaps drop a note to a former priest or a retired pastor. These are not easy days to be a Catholic priest, yet the wonderful men who care for the people of God in Atlanta and Savannah and throughout our nation continue to do so with great dedication and generosity.
A couple of weeks ago, I participated in the formal promotion of an excellent new book by Msgr. Stephen Rossetti entitled, “Why Priests are Happy.” One simple answer always includes the support that priests find in the midst of the people that they serve. Our priests take great encouragement from the little expressions of thanks that people offer them and the expressions of support that they find within their parish communities. So I invite you to stop one of those priests who’s been so pivotal in your life and simply say thanks!
Savannah Bishop #14 was loudly applauded when he just mentioned the parishioners that he had served so faithfully. They didn’t applaud him so much because he was a bishop (having served under that title for only about an hour at that moment), but because he was their beloved priest and pastor. Every bishop that I know, including myself, has many friends who continually call him “Father” because that is how they first knew him. And I must say when I hear “Father Gregory,” it brings a smile to my heart and memories to mind of the great good fortune that I experienced as a priest in service to people even before I held the title “Archbishop”!