By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 14, 2020
ATLANTA–The values taught around the dining room table in his modest home in upstate New York shaped the new Atlanta archbishop.
The four children of the late Sally and John Hartmayer Jr. saw kindness, faithfulness, humility and compassion lived out, said the elder of the group, C. Douglas Hartmayer.
“They were kind to other people, not pre-judgemental, very open. They lived the faith in a very humble way,” he said about his parents. And those traits were ingrained in their children, Hartmayer said, and helped his brother Greg’s ministry.
It was an Irish and German Catholic, blue-collar lifestyle that shaped him. Their father worked two jobs, as a Buffalo police detective and drove an armored truck. His mother raised the children at home in Tonawanda, until later working as a parish administrator.
“He’s a down-to-earth individual, who is able to relate to all people of all classes,” said Doug Hartmayer, speaking on the phone. His ease at making connections makes him a good priest, he said.
“He will take time to sit, not just go through the motions. He is able to relate to them and listen to them. Because he is a bishop doesn’t mean he’s better than anyone else,” said Hartmayer.
The new Atlanta archbishop is the second oldest of four. The family is C. Douglas Hartmayer, of Clarence Center, New York; John Hartmayer III, of Hamburg, New York; and Mary Jo Kotacka, of Bluffton, South Carolina.
They grew up, as Doug Hartmayer put it, in “middle America in suburbia.” Their Cape Cod-style home was in the suburbs, about 15 miles from Buffalo. Young families like their own moved into the growing town after World War II.
For the young Hartmayers, that meant lots of playmates around, ready to turn a street or vacant lot into a baseball diamond or football gridiron. “We’d yell ‘Car!’ and run to the curb. Then continue when the car passed,” said Hartmayer, who retired as the communications director for the Buffalo area public transit system.
The new archbishop’s interests were more in scouting and activities like Catholic Youth Organization at his parish, St. Amelia Church, in Tonawanda.
Younger sister Mary Jo Kotacka remembered a story how as a Boy Scout, the boys played baseball and when her brother was told to play right field, he “just had a glazed look in his eyes.”
And then one of his roles in Savannah as bishop was to throw the opening pitch at the special Catholic Night with the Savannah Bananas, the local baseball team.
The idea of their brother on a pitcher’s mound gave the siblings a chance to laugh.
“We just roared and really razzed him,” she said.
He always takes the ribbing in stride and has his own quick wit to respond, said Kotacka, who spent 27 years as a Navy nurse.
She and her husband moved in 2019 to South Carolina to be closer to her brother. Kotacka cried thinking about a 20-minute car ride replaced with a four- hour trip. A statue of St. Francis at her front door honors her brother’s ministry with the Conventual Franciscan religious order.
Staying connected to his roots
The archbishop was a teen leader at his childhood parish. He served as president of the parish’s Catholic Youth Organization. He read Scripture during Masses as a lector.
In 2013, St. Amelia parish honored him with a plaque on its wall of acclaimed students and supporters.
Father Sebastian Pierro is pastor at the 3,200-family parish. He invites Archbishop Hartmayer to celebrate Mass when he visits the area. It is obvious he enjoys seeing longtime friends and greeting families from his past, said the priest.
“He doesn’t cut out early” as he greets people after Mass, said Father Pierro.
The pastor said he believes the bishop has a great sense of the church and “proclaims the Gospel by word, deed and actions.”
At Cardinal O’Hara High School in the late 1960s, the bishop worked on the school newspaper and served on the student council. He earned the superlative of most school spirit in his class.
It was there he met Franciscan friars, who taught the boys in the co-ed school. The archbishop credits the teachers’ enthusiasm, fun and good nature in drawing him to religious life. He was one of several members of the class of 1969 who entered the Franciscans.
Hartmayer was ordained in 1979 a Franciscan priest in Albany, New York, serving in different education ministries. He moved to Atlanta in 1995 when he was appointed to lead St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, and later St. John Vianney Church, Lithia Springs. He was named bishop of Savannah in 2011.
The archbishop keeps in touch with classmates, attending the 50th reunion last summer. He encourages them to call him by his first name.
Carol and Steve Golyski graduated with the archbishop. He is approachable, stays in contact with his classmates and school community, they said. A class trip a few years back took them to Savannah, where they toured the city, and the bishop played host to his old friends at his home, she remembered. At their 50th reunion in 2019 at Mass, he prayed for a dying classmate, which touched everyone’s heart. The woman died weeks later.
Since his appointment to Savannah, the Hartmayers made a point to get together. A few years ago, the siblings and their mother stayed on Tybee Island for the matriarch’s 90th birthday.
Doug Hartmayer remembered fond days of everyone pitching in with kitchen duty, walks on the beach, board games and laughs over memories of growing up. It’s a treasured time spent with their mom, who died in May 2019, and all the siblings.
For the installation, the Hartmayers watched from afar like everyone else. Nine years ago, his mother, brother and sister, cousins and relatives traveled to Savannah to see him ordained a bishop.
“We will be there in spirit on this memorable day in his life,” said Doug Hartmayer. “We hope the day comes sooner than later when we can share the day with Greg.”