By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published November 3, 2016
CHATSWORTH—For some, he reassuringly placed a steadying hand on their shoulders. For others in wheelchairs, he knelt down on the concrete floor to make sure they were eye-to-eye. For each, he put his head close to theirs, closed his eyes and prayed. As he confirmed young members of St. Toribio Romo mission church, the dedication and love for the disabilities community was written all over Bishop David P. Talley’s face.
For the bishop, the Faith and Sharing Mass hosted by the archdiocesan Disabilities Ministry was his last before becoming coadjutor bishop of Alexandria, Louisiana. The bishop has given countless hours to the disabilities community during his 27 years of priesthood. Many who have served in the ministry alongside him came to say farewell at the Oct. 2 Mass. Bishop Talley confirmed several members of the disabilities ministry at St. Toribio, spending moments in prayer with each of them.
“Me llamo David (My name is David),” he told those in attendance at the mostly Spanish Mass. “I am very happy to be with you all today.”
In his homily, which he gave in English but which was translated into Spanish and interpreted in American Sign Language, the bishop spoke of the importance of loving one another.
“Loving is how we were created to be. Loving is God’s image and likeness,” he said. “To love is to be like God because God is love.”
But at some point, we stopped loving one another, he said.
“We saw hungry people, and we didn’t feed them. We saw people who were sick, and we didn’t care for them. We saw people who were lost, and we did not show them the way,” he said. “So what did God do with all of this? Did he want to judge us? No. He wanted to save us. He wanted to bring us back home to his heart—and that’s when he gave us Jesus.”
The sacraments are the way God communicates his love to us, Bishop Talley said.
“Jesus is present. He is here. He is in our hearts right now,” he said. “What do we do with this power—because the presence of God in our hearts is a power, but only for good. So what we do for good, at St. Toribio Romo, is to become a holy people—a happy people, a generous people, a just people. And we will seek not to build walls between ourselves, but instead we will be bridges between each human heart.”
“He had a real passion for the ministry”
Bishop Talley knows firsthand about building bridges between human hearts. Since his first assignment as a priest at St. Jude the Apostle Church, Bishop Talley has served the disabilities community with enthusiasm and passion. The late Toni Miralles, who began the ministry at St. Jude, invited the young priest to spend a weekend with those with disabilities. It is an annual retreat now known as Toni’s Camp in Miralles’ honor.
Pat Tweed, a St. Jude parishioner who has served the disabilities community for 34 years, remembers that the future bishop was the first priest to spend the entire weekend at camp. He has put it on his calendar every year since, including coming back from Rome, Italy, for the camp when he was sent to study canon law.
“He fell right into it and he’s never looked back,” Tweed said. “I think he’s the perfect example of Christ for us to follow. He’s steadfast, and he was always there when we needed him. This is bittersweet—I’m happy for him, but what a loss for us.”
Mike and Peter Miralles said that Bishop Talley, who became camp chaplain more than 20 years ago, took an even stronger leadership role in the ministry after their mother died in 2000. He became chaplain to the ministry with persons with disabilities for the archdiocese in 2002.
“What stands out to me is his caring for people with disabilities and his kindness and compassion,” Mike Miralles said. “He had a real passion for the ministry and after my mother died, he stepped up and became more involved with the program.”
His brother agreed.
“He is our shepherd for the ministry,” Peter Miralles said. “He loves this ministry and the members of the ministry. He will always be family.”
Karen Ehmer has also served the disabilities community, including as a member of the Toni’s Camp planning team, for more than two decades.
“My work in the disabilities ministry has definitely been impacted by his example. He was a true servant for all who attended Toni’s Camp. He carried luggage to cabins, he greeted every camper by name by the end of the first night, all 80 to 90 of them, and most of the volunteers. He was chief cheerleader on activity day and made sure all had water and sunscreen,” she said.
“In between all of this he noticed everything and somehow managed to highlight the love and joy he witnessed into his homilies at Sunday’s Mass. Those homilies were meaningful to everyone, which considering that many of our campers have intellectual disabilities or other developmental disabilities, was no small accomplishment, making something that is abstract, real and concrete.”
Listen and recognize what others need
Scott Sowers first met Bishop Talley when he was the pastor of his parish, St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn. His daughter Gloria, who has special needs, would get excited about going to Mass because she would get to see Jesus.
“We realized she was talking about Msgr. Talley. For her to say that—it’s just an understanding of how he’s personified to someone so innocent. She sees him as Jesus,” Sowers said. “Bishop Talley just embodies the way we should all be, in my opinion.”
Sowers said Bishop Talley was always encouraging of the special needs ministry, which has grown tremendously at St. John Neumann. When a new church was designed and dedicated in 2010, it incorporated many features to make the sacraments and the liturgical ministries accessible to those with disabilities.
“He’s just so passionate. He was always there, as the pastor of our church, to say something positive or to offer a blessing,” Sowers said. “He was always so lovely.”
Maggie Rousseau, director of the archdiocesan Disabilities Ministry, said that the bishop helped the ministry grow, and the seeds he planted will continue to flourish.
“Bishop Talley was the water and the sun that fed and warmed those hearts and helped the wheat to blossom,” she said, adding that leaders in the ministry will continue his tradition of discipleship.
“He never is focused on himself—rather always looking at others with love. He understands that to love means to listen and recognize what it is others want and need and then take action to make that happen,” Rousseau said. “For families living with disabilities, that means to be seen, to participate in their faith and to belong in parish life throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He has worked tirelessly to help bring about a change of hearts. He has brought joy to so many.”