By ANDREW NELSON, Staff writer | Published February 8, 2018 | En Español
SMYRNA—Pope Francis named a longtime administrator of the Marist School as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Atlanta Feb. 5.
Bishop-designate Joel M. Konzen, SM, has served in front of the classroom and as a principal at the respected independent Catholic school for some 28 years.
“I look forward to serving the people of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. I appreciate the good wishes of all here in the archdiocese, and I will soon be among you and at your disposal,” said Bishop-designate Konzen at a press conference at the archdiocesan Chancery in Smyrna.
He will assist Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III in serving the more than 1 million Catholics in central and north Georgia.
His appointment was announced in Washington Feb. 5 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Bishop-designate Konzen’s episcopal ordination as a bishop is scheduled for Tuesday, April 3, at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta.
Familiar face in Atlanta
Introducing the new auxiliary bishop at the press conference, Archbishop Gregory called it “a very wonderfully happy day for us.”
“This appointment is a recognition of the vitality of this local church. We are growing. I believe the work of evangelization is a positive force. We have many wonderful things going on,” he said.
Archbishop Gregory said the new bishop-designate has demonstrated “wonderful pastoral skills, his sense of humor, his great capacity to preach well, to be engaged in the lives of young people and their parents and to have a great pastoral heart.”
Bishop-designate Konzen is highly regarded in education circles, working with young people at Marist and in assisting in the establishment of Notre Dame Academy in Duluth and Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School.
He has been principal of Marist School since 1999. In November, he was appointed as the school president following the departure of Father John Harhager, SM, to become vicar general of the international Society of Mary in Rome, Italy. The new bishop has also served in many roles in the Society of Mary religious community and national private school committees. Among other activities, Konzen assisted in creating Reach for Excellence, a program housed at Marist School, which prepares under-resourced middle school students for success in college-prep high schools.
Two years ago he received the Educational Excellence Award from the Catholic Secondary Schools Department of the National Catholic Educational Association in recognition of his long and varied service to Catholic schools.
Archbishop Gregory said the pope has “great affection” for the archdiocese, appointing two auxiliary bishops in quick succession.
“I could not be happier,” the archbishop said.
Atlanta’s former auxiliary bishops were appointed to lead other dioceses. Bishop David P. Talley is now in Alexandria, Louisiana, and Bishop Luis R. Zarama in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Responding as “a son of Mary”
The news came as he prepared for Mass on Saturday, Jan. 27, for Catholic Schools Week. His mobile phone rang minutes before the start of the celebration. Bishop-designate Konzen said he was tongue-tied hearing the unexpected request from the Vatican’s representative in Washington, D.C.
His Marist religious community takes seriously its rule to avoid “ecclesiastical honors” so he felt unsure how to proceed.
“That’s not easy to do when the papal nuncio tells you in a few minutes that this is the will of the Holy Father. I felt a little bit like he was the Angel Gabriel calling,” he said. “I know I wasn’t as graceful in my response as Mary was. But eventually I got out the answer a son of Mary would be expected to offer.”
He will spend time in the coming weeks tying up any loose ends at Marist School in preparation for service as a bishop.
Society of Mary ministry
Bishop-designate Konzen, 67, is a native of Toledo, Ohio. In 1975, he joined the Society of Mary. The religious community has served in Atlanta primarily at the Marist School. Marist priests also lead the parish of Our Lady of Assumption Church, Atlanta.
He is the second Marist principal in Atlanta to become a bishop. The first was Bishop John E. Gunn, the founder of Marist School. He was named in 1911 to become the bishop to Natchez, Mississippi.
Another Marist was the bishop of the Diocese of Savannah, which then covered the whole state of Georgia. Bishop Michael J. Keyes served from 1922 to 1935.
Bishop-designate Konzen said the values of his religious community are to “think, act, judge and feel as Mary would.” Those are carried forward with a spirit of humility, hospitality, prayerfulness and union with God, he said.
“A lot of my work has been sitting at a desk, but I’ve been particularly happy when as part of the work that I’ve done at Marist, I’ve been called upon to be the sacramental minister, somebody who does baptisms, weddings, funerals, and everything in between. That’s why I became both a Marist and a priest,” he said.
Over the years he has conducted classrooms of Marist students in the study of leadership, bringing in leaders from the community. He said successful leaders share a common thread to care for those who work with them and for them.
“We talk about servant leaderhood and transformational leadership. The successful and the transformational leader empowers those who are working for him or her and helps them to achieve their goals.”
Bishop-designate Konzen named Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an admirable leader and quoted him, “Anybody can lead because anybody can serve.”
“That’s a great message for them to know. You don’t always have to be appointed, you don’t have to hold an office. You can simply decide you are going to serve, and already you are leading.”
Bishop-designate Joel M. Konzen
Birthdate: Nov. 6, 1950, in Toledo, Ohio, son of Lawrence A. and Margaret Thome Konzen
Education: St. Meinrad College, Indiana, 1972, bachelor’s degree in English; Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans, 1974, master’s degree in divinity; The Catholic University of America, 1978, master’s degree in systematic theology, 1991 master’s degree in educational administration.
First profession of religious vows: 1975, Society of Mary, Washington, D.C.
Ordination to the priesthood: New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1979
Marist School, Atlanta: 1980 to 1989 and 1999 to present.
Ministry highlights: Bishop-designate Joel M. Konzen served at St. Peter Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio; as deacon at St. Andrew the Apostle Church, in New Orleans; parochial vicar at St. Edmond Church, in Lafayette, Louisiana; and principal/president at St. Michael Academy in Austin, Texas. He was recently appointed to serve as the president of Marist School after working at the independent Catholic school, for the second time, as principal since 1999. In 2015, he received the Educational Excellence Award of the National Catholic Educational Association. He has held a variety of leadership roles within the Society of Mary including serving as vicar provincial two times in Washington, D.C.