By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 19, 2018 | En Español
ATLANTA—Bishop-designate Joel M. Konzen, SM, made his oath of fidelity to the Catholic Church on the eve of his episcopal ordination with his hand resting on a verse in the Gospel of St. Luke that has been an inspiration to him.
It was about being a useless servant.
Speaking at the end of the April 2 vespers service at the Cathedral of Christ the King, he quoted one translation of this verse—“When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants, we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
He said the verse underlines that Christians “strive to do what is our duty.”
“Jesus means to say that we gain no bounty of merit when we do what God or the mandates of the Gospel demand of us. We are simply fulfilling our end of the bargain that we entered into the day of our baptism,” he said.
“The paradox here is that while we work diligently in this life to be useful, our ultimate goal is to be useless in the sense that we hear our Lord proclaim, which is to say without recognition and acclaim.”
On the eve of his ordination as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Bishop-designate Konzen asked the congregation, “Pray for me that, if worthy of the office I undertake, I may in time prove myself ungainful in the eyes of God, doing no more than my duty.”
The service on Easter Monday followed the pattern of evening prayer as the Cathedral Choir and Ham Smith, director of music emeritus, led the congregation in chanted hymns and psalms. Priests, seminarians and dozens of friends and family members of the new bishop filled the wooden pews.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States from the Vatican, and the current and emeritus bishops of Savannah, Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, OFM Conv., and Bishop Kevin Boland, were present.
Teacher becomes bishop
Father Daniel Ketter, the archdiocesan judicial vicar, was one of three priests carrying the insignia for blessing that the new bishop would receive the next day: a ring, a white miter for his head and a crosier, symbolizing his role as a spiritual shepherd.
Father Ketter attended Marist School, Atlanta, in the 1980s, where the future bishop served as principal and president, and he kept in touch with the community of Marist priests, occasionally joining the community for a meal. The friendship deepened as they supported his interest in the seminary and priesthood. He asked then-Father Konzen to assist him in vesting for the first time at his ordination to the transitional diaconate in 2007.
Father Ketter said in an email that nothing seems to rattle the new bishop.
“He maintains a very calm, peaceful demeanor in all circumstances. This was on display during the events surrounding his election and ordination as a bishop. Whenever I interacted with him or heard him speak after we learned of his election, he was as he always is—serene and at ease,” he said.
As head of the Tribunal, Father Ketter will work closely with Bishop Konzen, who will have administrative oversight of that office.
“He’s a terrific grammarian,” Father Ketter said. “As students we learned to double and triple check anything we were to give to him in writing, so I’ll be double- and triple-checking my work again!”
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory has presided over this ritual of prayer and reflection in Atlanta three times, as auxiliary bishops were ordained for the growing archdiocese. Throughout most of the evening, Archbishop Gregory was seated in the cathedra, flanked by Deacons Alfred Mitchell and Bill O’Donoghue, while Bishop-designate Konzen sat opposite him beside his new colleague, Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, auxiliary bishop of Atlanta.
“A son of Mary”
Following the archbishop’s homily, Bishop Konzen stood at the altar to take the oath of fidelity, a profession of allegiance to the Catholic Church and all of its teachings, as well as fidelity and loyalty to the pope. Both he and Archbishop Gregory signed the text.
The archbishop then blessed the ring, miter and crosier, items which “must remind him and all of us of the mission of Jesus that he will exercise within the church, not for his own glory but for the building up the body of Christ in north and central Georgia.”
“(Bishop Konzen) is no stranger to this community and he is deeply loved and admired for his long and faithful service to the Marist community, many of whom have gathered this evening to join their prayers for him with the prayer of the church at this vesper moment,” Archbishop Gregory said.
Calling the new bishop a “son of Mary,” Archbishop Gregory said the local Catholic community “gladly embrace(s) him in our prayers that the Mother of God, who gave the world her Son, will accompany her son, Joel, in this new mission.”
Commenting on the evening prayer service, the archbishop said, “The cosmic sun will set in a few short minutes, but may Joel’s service to Christ’s church continue to bring greater brilliance and peace to all those that he will serve and plant a deeper spirit of hope and love within his own heart each day.”
Following the intercessory prayers, Bishop Konzen spoke and thanked Archbishop Gregory and Bishop Shlesinger for their “guidance and good will.”
The preparation time for his ordination has caused him to reflect on his life as a priest for nearly 39 years and as a member of the Society of Mary for 42 years. At the age of 67, he never thought he would be making new life promises, he said with a smile, but could simply concentrate on keeping the ones he had made long ago.
“I am glad that the Holy Spirit led me to discern a call to service in the church early in my life and that after that I was supported by many, many good people, including so many here tonight,” he said.
His episcopal motto is “Be merciful, and with a cheerful heart,” taken from Romans 12:8.
Bishop Konzen said this spiritual touchstone is rooted in the tradition of the church and of the Society of Mary.
“When that mercy is the soul of my ministry, I am to do it without complaint, resentment, or hesitation—in other words, to do it cheerfully, even joyfully.”