By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published April 19, 2018 | En Español
ATLANTA—Having chosen “Be merciful, and with a cheerful heart,” as his episcopal motto, Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Atlanta during an afternoon Mass, April 3.
Magnificent Easter flowers adorned the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the King as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory ordained the Society of Mary priest to the episcopate.
Bishop Konzen, 67, served as teacher, principal and president at the independent Marist School, Atlanta, for some 28 years. Pope Francis appointed him as an auxiliary bishop of Atlanta Feb. 5, seven months after Bishop Luis R. Zarama, former Atlanta auxiliary, was named the bishop of Raleigh, North Carolina.
More than 113 priests, along with deacons, seminarians, religious and members of the Marist community, attended the Mass.
Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi, of Mobile, Alabama, and Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, auxiliary bishop of Atlanta, were co-consecrators with Archbishop Gregory in the laying on of hands and invoking of the Holy Spirit.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and nine other visiting bishops attended the Mass. Bishop Zarama was among the visiting bishops.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory reflected on the heart of Easter joy with the additional happiness of the ordination of Bishop Konzen to serve Christ’s church.
“We will be fortified by the many gifts that he brings to the episcopacy, and we now rejoice with him, with all of his Marist brothers, with his family members and with his countless friends and colleagues from throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta and beyond,” said the archbishop.
He noted that the local church has been blessed with clergy of exceptional dedication and zeal, a quality of faith frequently affirmed by the pope.
“Your appointment is another expression of the affection that the Successor of Peter has for this local church. We could not be more grateful to Pope Francis,” the archbishop told the bishop-designate.
Bishop is a teacher
The duties of the episcopacy are three-fold: governing, teaching and sanctifying, said Archbishop Gregory. He added that Bishop Konzen will draw upon his experiences and his Marist religious heritage in the new role.
“Being a bishop involves making important decisions that may be difficult at times, but these must always come from a heart that desires the church to be gathered in communion with one another and in Christ,” said the archbishop.
He said that the new bishop’s extensive ministry in education prepares him well for the duties of being a teacher of the church’s doctrine and discipline.
“Working in the classroom with young people has given you a taste of the joy, and at times, the headaches of attempting to help people understand and to accept life’s lessons,” said Archbishop Gregory. “Our church’s teachings must never be presented as abstract facts, but vehicles to provide insight and inspiration in how to follow the risen Christ.”
Every successful teacher knows the best way to impart wisdom is by “living the lessons” one attempts to convey, said the archbishop.
“Blessed Pope Paul VI reminds us that the world listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers—and then only to teachers who are also witnesses,” he said.
Archbishop Gregory said the Son of Mary, now risen gloriously from the dead, invites Bishop Konzen to follow him into this new journey.
“Mary, his always faithful and loving mother, will guide you as her own son in your service as bishop, for she never abandons those that she loves as her children in Christ,” he said.
Under Mary’s patronage
In a rite from centuries past, the bishop-to-be was presented to the ordaining bishop and a letter from the Vatican confirming the appointment was read.
Father John Harhager, SM, vicar general of the Society of Mary, traveled from Rome to formally present the bishop-designate to Archbishop Gregory.
Archbishop Pierre made remarks before reading the apostolic letter.
The nuncio said that on the day the appointment was announced, Father Konzen commented on the virtues that Father Jean-Claude Colin, the founder of the Society of Mary, wished to instill in its first members—humility, hospitality, prayerfulness, and union with God and with one another.
“I have no doubt that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, took special notice of these virtues in your own priestly ministry and consequently called you to greater service in the church,” said Archbishop Pierre. “In addition, I trust that our Blessed Mother, Regina Caeli, the Queen of Heaven, looks down kindly upon you and your religious order, interceding for you with her loving protection and care.”
The bishop-designate then held the letter up for all to see as he walked down the center aisle.
During the ordination, Bishop Konzen made promises to faithfully carry out the office of bishop. He prostrated himself before the altar as the congregation prayed the litany of the saints.
After the laying on of hands by the three consecrating bishops, Bishop Konzen knelt before Archbishop Gregory as sacred chrism was poured on his head in anointing. The Book of the Gospels was opened and extended above his head while the archbishop prayed that the bishop would preach the word of God with patience and sound doctrine.
During investiture, the new bishop received the signs of his office—the ring, miter and crosier.
The Mass continued with the celebration of the Eucharist, and then Bishop Konzen walked through the cathedral, giving his first blessing as a bishop to the people. He walked next door to speak with the overflow crowd at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church.
The ordination Mass and the vespers service held the previous night, April 2, were streamed live online for those who could not attend.
A humble servant to be shared
Marist School graduates Dee Lane Eades and Maryann O’Connor took their seats early in the cathedral to witness the ordination of the school’s former leader.
Eades, a 1979 graduate of Marist School, is president of its alumni association.
She said the priest was very involved in the association’s activities.
“Father Konzen would always do a state of the union,” said Eades.
The association leader said Father Konzen attended football games and every reunion. She appreciated that after a sabbatical he took time to share the experiences of his travels at a Marist evening series program.
“He’s one of the most learned men I know,” said Eades.
O’Connor is a member of Marist’s class of 1987. One of her sons currently attends Marist, and one is a graduate.
She had Father Konzen as an English teacher.
“He was the hardest teacher I ever had,” O’Connor said. “He was great. I think he’s personable. He’s got a great sense of humor.”
As a parent, it was comforting, said O’Connor, to know Father Konzen was at the helm.
“It’s a well-oiled machine,” said Eades about Marist School. She attributes the school’s smooth operating to the teamwork of Father Konzen and now president, Father William Rowland, SM.
Marist’s loss is the archdiocese’s gain, said the two women.
“It’s very bittersweet for me,” admitted Eades.
“The whole Atlanta community gets a piece of him,” said O’Connor.
Deacon Rick Medina was deacon of the altar for the ordination. Deacon Medina is chief executive officer of Catholic World Mission in Roswell and serves at All Saints Church, Dunwoody.
The deacon’s three daughters all attended high school at Marist, and he has known the new bishop since 2009.
Catholic World Mission is a supporter of Centro Hispano Marista, a program for Spanish-speaking adults that opened with the help of the Society of Mary at Marist School in 2012. It offers affordable secondary education to adults so they can prepare for and earn their GEDs with hopes of obtaining better employment. Deacon Medina has also been a speaker for Father Konzen’s leadership classes at Marist.
The deacon was happy to see so many attending the ordination, from young families to religious sisters.
“It is a testament to the person Father Konzen is. He is clearly very well loved and respected in the diocese,” said Deacon Medina.
He has always recognized the bishop as a humble person.
“During the sign of peace when I extended my greeting to Bishop Konzen, he hugged me, looked me in the eye, and thanked me for being there as his deacon. The look of appreciation is so genuine; I was choked up,” said Deacon Medina. “It was a privilege for me to be there for him.”
He said that Atlanta has a great shepherd in Bishop Konzen.
“Archbishop Gregory was clearly influenced by the Holy Spirit in recommending Father Konzen,” said Deacon Medina. “I am glad Bishop Konzen’s leadership and humble servanthood will be shared with the entire diocese.”
Ohio hometown cheers appointment
Tammy Steindam Myers and her family traveled to Atlanta for the Mass from Oak Harbor, Ohio, the bishop’s hometown.
Her grandparents, Margaret and Wilbur Steindam, and the bishop’s parents, Lawrence and Margaret Thome Konzen, became friends and played cards together long before Myers was born.
The families share the same home parish, St. Boniface Church in Oak Harbor, where Myers teaches at the preschool.
“When our family found out that ‘our’ Father Joel had been appointed bishop, the first thing we commented on was how his kindness and humility would make him perfect for this job,” said Myers.
She tells people that the qualities Pope Francis has become known for of kindness, living to serve others, treating others with dignity and a sense of humor are qualities Bishop Konzen also possesses. Myers said he is committed to the Catholic faith and its teachings and has an ability to explain them for all to understand.
As a priest, Father Konzen officiated at many of the Steindam family weddings and joins them for holiday and family gatherings.
“Those of us that have had the privilege of him doing the homily at our weddings have all commented on how personal and special he made each wedding, but with a little added humor,” said Myers. “I know that he will strive to add those personal touches when serving the people in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.”
Before the final procession, Bishop Konzen spoke to those gathered at the cathedral, demonstrating the wit for which he is known.
“This is indeed a remarkable sight to see all of you here together in this one place. And to think that it’s not my funeral,” said the bishop.
New bishop thanks supporters
He extended his gratitude to Pope Francis, Archbishop Pierre and for Archbishop Gregory’s generous support of him and the Society of Mary.
“The ring that I was given this afternoon and the pectoral crosses that I wear, including one that belonged to Cardinal (Joseph) Bernardin, the first auxiliary bishop of Atlanta, are gifts from Archbishop Gregory,” he shared. “The crosier I’m using is a gift from Msgr. (Francis) McNamee and all at the Cathedral of Christ the King.”
Bishop Konzen thanked co-consecrators Bishop Shlesinger and Archbishop Rodi. Bishop Shlesinger “was quick to my aid” in those first days, he said. Archbishop Rodi and Bishop Konzen served as deacons in the same parish in New Orleans.
He addressed priests and deacons serving in the archdiocese, visiting priests and religious men and women.
“I continue to learn from you each day and to delight in the goodness and the humor that’s so much a part of our service to the church,” Bishop Konzen told them.
He acknowledged the presence of his brother, Ray; niece, Terese and two great-nieces; and a “wonderful array of cousins” and friends from Oak Harbor and New Bavaria, Ohio.
He also thanked members of Marist school communities in Atlanta and Austin, Texas, and friends from his time as a priest and deacon in Louisiana for attending.
“You too have been generous to me in ways too numerous to recall,” he said.
He emotionally thanked those who could not attend but “united their prayers with ours today.”
As a vowed member of the Society of Mary for more than 42 years, Bishop Konzen said the members and leaders and the local communities have imparted “indelible fellowship and their boundless support.”
“I add also that my colleagues of 28 years at Marist School as well as students, alumni and parents have put up with me and treated me with more benevolence than I often deserved,” he said.
Bishop Konzen recalled looking at a pictorial retrospective of his home diocese of Toledo, Ohio, with his late mother. She pointed to a picture of Bishop Karl Alter and remarked, “I’ve always said that Bishop Alter looked like a bishop.”
When her son questioned what did it mean to look like a bishop, she replied, “Well, I guess he looked like he meant business.”
“So I suspect that when I have a conversation with my deceased mother, I will have to ask her, ‘Do you think that I look like a bishop yet?’” he quipped.
“It should be said that our parents were tremendous role models for Ray and for me, as were the priests of our youth and the Sisters of Mercy who taught us on Saturday mornings,” said Bishop Konzen.
He concluded by thanking his teachers from high school, seminary and in his Marist formation and expressed his hope for the future in both English and Spanish.
“I look forward to serving all of the people—old and young and in between—in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and to proving worthy of the apostolic trust invested in me,” said Bishop Konzen. “Under the protection and direction of the mother of our Lord, animated and consecrated by the Holy Spirit, I ask God to grant each one of us the will and wherewithal to fully live the vocation that he has blessed each one of us with. May you and I remain faithful to the One who has marked us in the sign of his sacraments, and may we praise and please Jesus Christ in our readiness to serve him gladly and mercifully.”
Photographer Michael Alexander contributed to the story.