By ERIKA ANDERSON, Special to the Bulletin | Published May 29, 2014
MARIETTA—There were gifts. Standing ovations. Musical tributes and heartfelt words of thanks. But in the end, the celebration was about one priest and one congregation who showered each other with the genuine mutual love and affection that can only come from a relationship that’s lasted a quarter of a century.
The signs outside Transfiguration Church told passersby of this momentous occasion—“40 Years a Priest. 25 Years a Pastor.” Parishioners, friends and loved ones of Msgr. Pat Bishop, known lovingly as just “Father Pat,” gathered for a special Mass May 17 to mark the beloved pastor’s 40th anniversary as a priest, as well as his imminent retirement from active ministry.
The celebration began with parishioners carrying 25 banners—marked with each year Msgr. Bishop served as the pastor of Transfiguration.
The Mass was concelebrated by several priests, including Father Richard Morrow and Father Eddie O’Connor, priests Msgr. Bishop called influential in his life and ministry. Father Fernando Molina-Restrepo, who will serve as the new pastor of Transfiguration, also concelebrated. He was greeted warmly with a standing ovation when Msgr. Bishop introduced him as the church’s new pastor and gave him a high-five. Msgr. Bishop’s sister and brother-in-law, as well as one of his former teachers from St. Joseph School in Marietta, were there.
In his homily, Msgr. Bishop called the priesthood the greatest gift he’d ever been given by the Lord.
“God has spoiled me rotten, in little ways and in big ways—first with a family who was devoted to Christ and the church—with my friends and teachers in my school,” he said. “And then he let me be a priest, and all sorts of magic doors opened up.”
Msgr. Bishop was ordained to the priesthood on May 18, 1974. He began his ministry as a parochial vicar at Holy Cross Church in Atlanta, and transferred to St. Thomas More Church in Decatur and then to Sts. Peter and Paul Church. From 1978 to 1983, he served as the spiritual director of St. Pius X High School, Atlanta, the school he had attended as a freshman. In 1983, he began his first pastorate at St. Bernadette Church in Cedartown, where he also wrote a column for the local newspaper and worked tirelessly in the community as a leader of ecumenical ministries. In 1989, Msgr. Bishop began his final pastorate at Transfiguration. In his homily, he spoke about each of his assignments with great affection.
“My time spent at St. Pius X High School was four of the happiest years of my life. Those kids kept me young. And then I got the magic call to come to a lovely little parish called St. Bernadette,” he said, adding that his time as a pastor there introduced him to ecumenical ministry.
“I worked as a team with several Protestant ministers there. I learned at St. Bernadette that a pastor doesn’t just pastor his parish. He has a responsibility to the whole community,” he said.
Then he received the call to come to Transfiguration. As a native of Marietta who had attended both St. Joseph School and Marietta High School, Msgr. Bishop was excited for the opportunity to come home.
“I was thrilled to come to this parish that I had seen grow. It was quite a challenge. It was not always easy,” he said. “Transfiguration is not a place where you can just put on a collar and expect to be put on a pedestal. You have to earn that respect,” he said. “But they love their priests like no parish I have ever seen before.”
He spoke of the heartbreak and triumphs he’d experienced at Transfiguration, including praying as a community in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the heartbreak of the clergy sex abuse scandal.
“We’ve stood through all these storms as shelter for one another. I can’t imagine being in a place where I felt safer than among people who, in the midst of terrible storms, held on to each other and were not willing to let go,” he said.
As their pastor for 25 years, he’s gotten to know parishioners in a deeper way, he said.
“You’ve created this priest with your loving expectations of what a pastor should be. You made me understand being a pastor in a way I would not have had I not been with you so long,” he said. “You made me understand the title ‘Father’ in a way I would not understand had I not been with you so long.”
He told parishioners to help encourage religious vocations in their children and other young people.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever done is to step down from being an active pastor because I’ve loved every single minute of it,” he said. “It’s a wonderful life.”
He ended his homily with simple words that left many in tears.
“You are an incredible Catholic church and community. And I love you so very much.”
Several parishioners and staff members, as well as local officials, presented Msgr. Bishop with gifts and well wishes at the end of Mass. A reception in Bishop Hall—named after the pastor—followed. A special celebration for young families with children will also be held the evening of May 30. Msgr. Bishop will retire formally at the end of June and is expected to stay in the area.
During Msgr. Bishop’s 25 years at Transfiguration, the parish grew from 750 families to more than 4,300 families. The plant has physically expanded, including in the seating capacity of the church and the addition of 40,000 square feet for offices, classrooms, meeting rooms, gathering areas, a day chapel and a licensed full-time child care center. A Family Life Center was built to develop mind and body with educational programs and athletics.
The program for the Mass and reception included quotes and thoughts from dozens of parishioners, parish leaders and other priests. With every word, thought and wish, one thing was certain—Msgr. Bishop will be deeply missed.
Judy Goddard noted that perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, established in April 1996 and continuous since then at the parish, would not have been as successful without his support. “Monsignor has given that support time and again both in his own words from the altar and in his writings in the bulletin,” she wrote.
His emphasis on health and wellness led to the creation of that ministry at the parish, according to Donna McNulty, which hosts a large health fair and regular preventive screenings.
“Well before the concept of a congregational nurse ministry became the norm, Msgr. Bishop realized the essential necessity of ministering to his congregation with regards to the ‘totality’ of the whole person. … He provided his unending support in promoting the ‘wellness’ of his congregation,” she wrote.
During his tenure, the parish established a Knights of Columbus council, a small group faith-sharing program that consists of 25 active small faith groups, and an emphasis on liturgical arts that has beautified the church with award-winning stained glass, a prayer garden, and seasonal and permanent artworks.
Reflecting his talent in communications, Transfiguration has been a trailblazer in its website, video productions, in-house signage with monitors throughout its facilities and digital catechesis. The deaf ministry that has been established reaches beyond the parish, offering classes in beginning and advanced American Sign Language. A weekly Mass in Spanish was instituted. The parish supports a sister parish in Haiti and the Lingap Center in the Philippines.
As distinctive is Msgr. Bishop’s love of his basset hounds, currently numbering five.
Amalia Flecksteiner and her family moved to Marietta in 1992, when she was just a year old.
“I’ve never known my Catholic faith journey without Father Pat being in it, which I believe had a great hand in how and why I came to love the Church so much and so early. He makes faith not only enjoyable, but he makes it relatable,” she said. “I fully believe a 10-year-old can receive a great message and have something inside of him or her sparked when listening to a Father Pat homily—just as easily as a 60-year-old would during the same homily. That’s one of Father Pat’s greatest gifts and achievements—transcending generations.”
As a young person, Flecksteiner also said that Msgr. Bishop encouraged the youth through tough times.
“Father Pat equipped us with the tools to be the saints of our generation. He has constantly reminded us that faith is not only a gift, but it’s a choice, and it’s one we must choose daily,” she said. “It is extremely difficult as a young person in this time to stand up for your morals and values when you are constantly chastised and judged for them, but it’s infinitely easier when you know you have a great faith community … led by a man as encouraging and as comforting as our Father Pat.”
Freddy Arencibia is a parishioner of St. Bernadette Church in Cedartown and remembers helping to move Msgr. Bishop into the rectory when he first came to that church. Msgr. Bishop often joined Arencibia and his late wife for dinner, where his wife made Msgr. Bishop’s favorite—tomato sandwiches. It was important for Arencibia to travel to Marietta to celebrate his friend, he said.
“I’ve had different pastors my whole life, but Father Pat is one of a kind. His homilies are always different—you always feel like he’s speaking to you,” he said. “He is really an innovator. I have to admit, I was envious when he left us to come here.”
Marilyn MacInnis, the parish administrator for 17 years and former director of religious education, said she heard many times of “his ability to make the person in the pew believe each week that he was talking to them.”
“He loves the people, and it shows,” she said, by email.
“ What I will remember most of all will be his reverence to the Body and Blood of Christ,” she wrote. “When you see Monsignor and hear the words of institution (of the Eucharist), you cannot help but know this is something so very special in his and in all our lives—I want to be a better person, do better things. And this did influence my job; he always said ‘Look for the face of Christ in everyone you meet’ and as administrator sometimes this was indeed a challenge.”
Joyce Guris, director of religious education at Transfiguration, has worked with Msgr. Bishop since 1996 and called him a “legacy in the Catholic Church.”
“He’s a great teacher, and I speak from personal experience because it’s not all happy, happy. He has challenged me, pushed me to learn and grow, while believing and supporting me all the way,” she said. “He has made an indelible difference in the lives of thousands. I can’t wait to see what the Spirit has in store for him next.”
The dates of Msgr. Bishop’s assignments at St. Pius X High School in Atlanta and St. Bernadette Church in Cedartown are corrected in this article.