By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published April 19, 2018
ATLANTA—Bishop-designate Joel M. Konzen, SM, thought he’d stay at Marist School for the rest of his life, but God had other plans. As he bid farewell to the students, alumni, parents, and former and current Marist faculty and staff who filled Centennial Center gymnasium, he expressed his gratitude for the nearly three decades he spent at the school.
The family Mass, celebrated March 18, began with alumnus and board of trustees’ member Clarence Smith welcoming attendees and speaking about his respect and admiration for the bishop-designate.
“Upon our learning of Father Konzen’s appointment, our first instinct was no. However, we will follow Father Konzen’s lead as we have for the past 28 years,” he said. “This morning, we gather to say yes. We are grateful for how gracious Father Konzen is with his presence and his wisdom. Yes, we will give him our blessing to do for the Archdiocese of Atlanta what he has done for us. And also, we will say yes to the future without knowing exactly what will be required of us.”
Bishop Konzen first came to Marist as a teacher in 1980, the year after he was ordained to the priesthood. He also served as admissions director and principal, as well as school president, before leaving in 1989 to pursue higher education. He returned to Marist in 1999 where he has since served as principal. He was slated to again serve as school president beginning in July.
Always a teacher at heart, in his homily, Bishop-designate Konzen focused on the day’s readings and shared the wisdom for which he is most known. He referred to the Gospel of John in which Jesus tells the faithful that “whoever loves his life in this world loses it and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”
“OK, none of us is really looking to hate our lives, right? What Jesus means when he says ‘hate’ is we detach from the life that is solely of this world,” he said. “Be aware that this life is transitory. We give up the things in this life eventually for the abundant reality that comes next.”
He spoke of an interview he gave in the Marist “Blue & Gold” newspaper in January “before (his) world shifted,” in which he shared his favorite quote from Psalm 116: “What return can I make to the Lord for all he’s done for me?”
Though students may at first consider how they can thank their parents for all they’ve done for them, eventually they must turn to God.
“That question … should be with you—should haunt you for the rest of your days,” he said, speaking directly to the young people. “If you decide that your chief goal in life is to make a lot of money, then it should haunt you all the more. But if everybody can have an acceptable answer to the question because everyone has a vocation that comes from God, then know that it requires of yourself to ask yourself that question—how am I going to give back to the Creator … some portion of his blessing that has been given to me. That’s a life’s work, no matter what your occupation is.”
He said though some people may consider his own vocation of becoming a priest—and, in the broader sense, a teacher—to be fruitless because it didn’t lead to having children or great wealth, he knows he is living as God intended.
“I’m asked sometimes ‘what would you be doing if I weren’t doing this right now?’ But I never have an answer. I don’t know. I don’t think about that. I’m completely fulfilled in living out the vocation that I discerned was mine when I was about 13,” he said. “Not everyone may know that early how they can channel their God-given gifts for good, but everyone can look in the mirror every morning and ask ‘what return am I going to make for all I’ve been given?’ I say to our students and to those who would like to be Marist students—don’t be afraid to dream big. And don’t be afraid to dream your dream and not someone else’s.”
Right for the role of bishop
After Communion, several people spoke about the bishop-designate.
Marist Father Paul Frechette, provincial superior of the Society of Mary U.S. Province, said when he was called to leadership in the Marist congregation, he was hesitant, but he was peaceful, as he knew it was a call that came from above.
“That’s my prayer for you, Joel. Your call has come in a different way, but my prayer for you is that that peace of the Lord Jesus will be with you as you take on this new path, this new role,” he said.
Bill Roche, chairman of the Marist School board of trustees, said he “can’t imagine a better bishop.”
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with him extensively for many years. During that time, I’ve gained profound respect for him as a priest, as a leader and as a man. (He) is a very spiritual man. It’s reflected in everything he does,” he said. “As a Marist, his devotion to Mary is palpable.”
He also spoke of the bishop-designate’s humility.
“He does nothing to attract attention to himself, and he didn’t go seeking this, I can tell you that. He’s also an extremely graceful man—I mean that both in the literal sense and in the sense of being full of grace,” he said, adding that Bishop-designate Konzen is a very gifted writer and speaker. “He’s literally never at a loss for the right words—and as you’ve seen this morning he’s a brilliant homilist—an incredibly brilliant messenger of the word of God.”
Roche said that the Marist principal was an excellent leader because he was thoughtful, careful and considerate and has done an “extraordinary job as principal of Marist School.”
“To sum it up, if I were creating a job description for a bishop, I’d want someone like Joel Konzen,” he said.
Roche and Marist Father William Rowland, school president, presented the future bishop with a financial donation and a bishop’s miter and crosier—both reflecting the blue and gold colors of Marist School.
Thanking those in attendance, the bishop-designate said Marist is in “good hands” with Kevin Mullally as the new principal. Marist, which he “loved from the first moment” he arrived, is a place that will always remain in his heart, he said.
He became emotional when speaking of how much the school and its students have meant to him. By his calculation, more than 5,000 students have come and gone to and from Marist during his time there. He’s continued to stay in touch with many of them and has married them and baptized their children.
“It’s an extraordinary community—not because I’ve had anything to do with it, but because it is, because of the name Marist. It’s Mary’s school,” he said. “And she’s going to make sure this place stays together and that it stays on track and that it is the school she’s wanted it to be from the very beginning.”