By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published April 11, 2013
ATLANTA—Ordaining a native son as a bishop for Georgia, the Archdiocese of Atlanta on April 2 received Bishop David P. Talley, as a second auxiliary bishop to assist the archbishop.
Reflecting the ongoing growth of the Catholic population of the South, it’s the first time the archdiocese will have three bishops to guide it, and, perhaps as an indication of the maturing local church, it is the first time one of its bishops comes from Georgia.
On a sunlit Easter Tuesday, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory ordained Bishop Talley, 62, at the Cathedral of Christ the King. Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama of Atlanta and Savannah Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer completed the threefold prayer for a new bishop’s ordination, serving as co-consecrators with Archbishop Gregory in the laying on of hands and invoking of the Holy Spirit.
While the cathedral was filled to capacity with 13 bishops, about 150 priests, over 90 deacons, and the bishop’s family members and guests, more people participated in an overflow hall at the cathedral and at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church across the street, where they could view the Mass on large screens and receive the Eucharist at Communion.
“Easter is a moment of hope and promise and the heart of the Church is renewed in a special way during this season,” Archbishop Gregory said. “Your ordination as bishop adds to our hope and greatly comforts this local Church to know that you will begin the apostolic service in our midst.”
Bishop Talley, who was ordained a priest in 1989, was born in Columbus, Ga., and raised as a Southern Baptist, entering the Catholic Church during his college years. He holds a master’s degree in social work and a doctorate in canon law. He has been a pastor of three metro Atlanta parishes after serving earlier as the vocations director of the archdiocese and the chancellor, and then as the judicial vicar of the marriage tribunal.
In his bishop’s coat of arms, Bishop Talley chose the symbol of the Year of Faith, a boat on the water, with the monogram of Christ on its sail, symbolizing the Church. “I will give you a new heart,” a citation from the prophet Ezekiel, will be his motto as a bishop.
Bishop Talley chose a reading for the Mass from 2 Corinthians, which says, “We are ambassadors of Christ.”
Speaking in his homily of a bishop’s threefold responsibility to teach, to govern and to sanctify, Archbishop Gregory particularly emphasized the urgency to draw the very different kinds of people who make up the Church into unity, and also to bring back those who have left the Church or who have yet to hear the invitation of Christ.
The bishop’s staff, or crosier, symbolizes this, he said.
“While the crosier can and must also be used to ward off the wolves that scatter the flock, it is also a way to catch those who sometimes find themselves lost and confused,” Archbishop Gregory said.
‘Teach Them How To Pray’
“God’s people are hungry for holiness—although admittedly we frequently might not understand this hunger, and often that longing is confused with other desires and aspirations,” the archbishop said.
“Like the first disciples, you must teach them how to pray and to pray with words and experiences that speak truth to the world in which we now live,” he said.
Bishop-designate David Talley prostrates himself before the altar during the Litany of the Saints.
“You must help the Church discover the existence of God in the passage of time and in the great seasons of holiness that mark out our calendar. Help them understand and accept God’s Presence even in those confused moments of their lives, even in the suffering that each one of us must encounter, even in the secular environment that seems to overshadow any vestige of religious faith in our world,” he said.
“We bishops have our work cut out for us in today’s milieu, but we are never alone—the very Spirit that will be poured out upon you in the sacrament that we celebrate today will also be your strength and your joy as you go about your ministry as bishop,” Archbishop Gregory said.
Bishop Talley receives the miter, one of the signs of his office as bishop.
In a rite drawn from centuries ago, the bishop-to-be is presented to the ordaining bishop and the official letter from the Vatican confirming the authenticity of his election is read. Msgr. Albert Jowdy presented the bishop-elect to Archbishop Gregory, and when he was accepted, the cathedral erupted in applause. The Vatican letter, read by Msgr. Daniel Stack in Spanish and by Father Abel Guerrero Orta in English, explained how this second auxiliary bishop came about, when Archbishop Gregory asked the Vatican for another bishop to help in pastoral care of the archdiocese, and when this request was accepted by the Vatican, how names of those who might be suitable were sought from among the priests of the archdiocese. Pope Benedict XVI made the appointment, which was made public in January.
The marble crucifix in the cathedral was flanked with towering urns of flowering spring branches and bowers of white roses and lilies arched over the Mary and Joseph side altars as the rite continued with the congregation praying for the future bishop while he lay prostrate before the altar.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory pours the sacred chrism over the head of Bishop David Talley.
After the laying on of hands by the three bishops, Bishop Talley knelt before Archbishop Gregory as sacred chrism was poured atop his head in anointing and then while the scarlet-colored Book of the Gospels was opened and extended above his head while the archbishop prayed he would fulfill his duty to preach the word of God with patience and sound doctrine.
He also received the symbols of his office as a bishop: a ring, a crosier, and the distinctive miter, worn on the head of the bishop. After this, he was welcomed by Archbishop Gregory, Bishop Zarama and Bishop Hartmayer with large smiles and fraternal claps on the back. The Mass continued with the celebration of the Eucharist, and then Bishop Talley walked in procession through the aisles of the cathedral and into the overflow hall, giving his first blessings as a bishop to the congregation.
‘Real Formation Happens When You Go To The Parish’
Speaking to the congregation, Bishop Talley said when he was called last December by the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, and told of his appointment, the archbishop assured him of two things: that the appointment came from Pope Benedict himself and that “this is of God. There is nothing to fear.”
Archbishop Gregory “called me twice to see if I was breathing and to wish me paternal love and support,” Bishop Talley said. “I want to publicly thank him.”
He also thanked Pope emeritus Benedict XVI for appointing him as an auxiliary bishop and “for his promise of personal prayer and for his lifelong service as scholar and shepherd.”
He said that he was indebted to the people of all the parishes where he has served.
More than 650 people fill the Cathedral of Christ the King for the April 2 episcopal ordination of David Talley. Overflow seating was provided in Kenny Hall and across the street at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church.
“We priests begin our formation in seminary but real formation happens when you go to the parish, when you fall in love with the parish, the women and men and teens and children that show you Christ’s face.”
He said, “For all the laity of the Archdiocese of Atlanta who have formed me until now, I thank you.”
Empathy with those he serves and a down-to-earth, pastoral style characterize the new bishop, those attending the ordination Mass said.
“He has a very, very generous heart. I’ve seen the ability he has in talking and dealing with others,” said Jo Huff. “He has a way of seeing where they are and bringing God’s understanding and love to each one of them.”
A member of St. Brigid Church, Johns Creek, where he has been pastor for the past two years, she said, “In his messages from the pulpit, he has just been extraordinary. … I’ve heard him talk so much about the power of God’s love and mercy, the power of forgiveness—that each one of us brings a brokenness that only the Lord can heal. He’s a very open person about himself and some of his own struggles and obstacles. I think a lot of people have been able to relate to that.”
“He considers himself an introvert. He has allowed our parish to love him and care for him,” she said.
Karen Ehmer, of St. Jude the Apostle Church, Atlanta, met the future bishop at his first pastoral assignment in the 1990s as he married her sister and brother-in-law and as she became a volunteer in the parish ministry to people with disabilities.
“His love and commitment to that ministry is transformative,” she said of Bishop Talley. “The way he is able to communicate the faith to those with disabilities touches all of us.”
“He will often say—this is what Jesus is talking about. We are living it here,” Ehmer said of the annual getaway weekend, Toni’s Camp, where children and youth with disabilities spend time swimming, fishing, riding a zip line, enjoying the outdoors, partnered with an able-bodied counselor for the weekend. Perceived differences melt away, she said. It led her from being a lawyer to becoming a special education teacher. “I love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Bishop Talley has been a participant at the camp since he was ordained and like a chaplain for the disabilities ministry.
“He is there the whole time. He goes up on Thursday with the core committee to set up the whole place. He is there to welcome the campers. … He will say, put me where you need me. He is our cheerleader at the zip line. … It’s important for him to be in that part of the camp and it is important for our campers to see our priest loves them.”
Asked her reaction to his appointment as a bishop, Ehmer said, “I was surprised and thrilled. Surprised because he is the kind of man who would never aspire to it. … To see him become a bishop, I’m thrilled.”
The faith “shines through him,” she said.
“I think he brings the simplest way to live our faith, without trappings,” she said.
‘He Reaches Out To The Lonely’
The new bishop has a longstanding friendship with the Missionaries of Charity and several of the sari-clad sisters presented the offertory gifts at the ordination Mass.
Afterward, Sister Dominga, MC, said, “He is an old friend of our community. Many sisters know him. Many sisters are praying for him for what is a great gift of God. We are asking for the prayers of Blessed Mother Teresa. She had a special love for priests and bishops.”
Benedictine Sister Barbara Schmitz, his academic advisor at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, said, “I think his gift will be the Gospel message. I think he will be open to everyone. I think his background in social work … is a great gift. He is extremely pastoral. I think he is very humble.”
Lynda Von Kanel attends St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta, where she in an interpreter in American Sign Language.
“He’s a great man. He’s touched so many people’s lives and hearts. I call him an old friend,” she said about the new bishop.
“This is not going to give him a big head. He reaches out to the lonely,” she said.
She said he’s the kind of guy you see putting away tables after a parish party or tossing out fallen limbs during a parish cleanup day. “He rolls up his sleeves and just pitches in.”
Ricky Holland, who is developmentally disabled, was all smiles. He is a longtime camper at Toni’s Camp. As he made his rounds in the Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church overflow space, Bishop Talley slowed down to tell Ricky he looked forward to seeing him at camp. Holland called the new bishop a “good guy” and a “friend.”
Bill Wood, a parishioner at St. Brigid Church and a Knight of Columbus, said of the ordination Mass, “I was blessed to be there and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
“I’m a converted Baptist myself. I’ve been a Catholic now for a lot of years but have never had the opportunity to see some of these things, like ordinations, and I was just blown away. I thought it was just one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”
Later, outside the cathedral, Bishop Talley was asked about the new responsibility he has as bishop and the outpouring of support for him from those who came to the ordination Mass. He turned to the reading he chose for the Mass where St. Paul said, “we are ambassadors of Christ, as if the Lord is speaking through us.”
“In this Year of Faith we are called to be that ambassador and hopefully bring all into the reconciling love of Jesus of Nazareth,” he said.
Asked if he was touched to be the first native Georgian to serve as a bishop here, he said, yes, and added that he receives it as a Catholic and also “as one who has known the love and fidelity in the Baptist church and the Church of Christ and all the churches that have influenced me up until now.”
“I hold all dear,” he said.
Stephen O’Kane and Andrew Nelson contributed to this story.