By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published May 14, 2020
ATLANTA—Excitement filled the room when Jovito Estaris and his wife, May, heard Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer would become the seventh archbishop of Atlanta.
“We were so excited we could not contain ourselves,” he said.
Affectionately known as “Father Greg,” the couple met Archbishop Hartmayer while he was pastor at St. Philip Benizi parish in Jonesboro. Both are involved in the parish, with May managing the church gift shop. They have fond memories of Archbishop Hartmayer over the years, sharing meals, stories and even visiting the bishop in the Diocese of Savannah.
Jovito describes Archbishop Hartmayer as accommodating, a great administrator, a great homilist and someone who “treats you like a friend.”
Beginning in 1995, Archbishop Hartmayer served as pastor of St. Philip Benizi Church for 15 years. He arrived after the unexpected death of the pastor, Father Patrick Mendola, OFM Conv.
“He came at a time when we were all grieving,” said Father John A. Koziol, now pastor of St. Philip Benizi Church, who was a parochial vicar when Archbishop Hartmayer arrived. “He came in and was a great support for me.”
Father Koziol enjoyed working with the now archbishop of Atlanta. He is so collaborative, delegates and respects the people he works with, said Father Koziol.
During his pastoral ministry at the Jonesboro parish, Archbishop Hartmayer led the construction of a new religious education building, which is named after him.
Archbishop Hartmayer was “always a very pastoral servant leader and did much to build up the faith community and facilities at the parish,” said Father Vincent Gluc, parochial vicar of the Jonesboro church.
Father Gluc has known Archbishop Hartmayer for more than 50 years. They began their Franciscan journeys together in Maryland and were in formation together before their priesthood ordination on May 5, 1979. He worked with “Father Greg” at St. Philip Benizi for five years.
He describes the new archbishop as easy going, thoughtful and a good listener.
The new archbishop is an incredible leader with diverse skills, said Michael Barry, a former parishioner of St. Philip Benizi Church.
Archbishop Hartmayer has been a strong supporter of the Pope Francis Home and School in Ghana, West Africa, which Barry founded. The archbishop serves on the advisory board.
“He believes in serving those with the least among us,” he emphasized.
After many years at St. Philip Benizi, Archbishop Hartmayer was appointed pastor of St. John Vianney Church. He served for eleven months before being named bishop of the Diocese of Savannah.
When Father Ignacio Morales, current pastor of the Lithia Springs parish, announced Archbishop Hartmayer would return to Atlanta as its next archbishop, the news was met with applause from the Douglas County congregation.
“I heard some people talking about it with joy and so proudly of him,” said Father Morales. “St. John Vianney parishioners are very proud of knowing he was part of the history of this church.”
Jack and Pat Clower were two of many parishioners praying for Archbishop Hartmayer to lead the Atlanta Archdiocese.
“He is a lover of his flock,” said Pat. “He gives himself to his commitments with much love. He fully embraced everyone.”
The Clowers visit Savannah twice a year, with one of them being for St. Patrick’s Day. They made an effort to visit Archbishop Hartmayer when his schedule permitted. One year, Pat had knee surgery, and was unable to walk in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Less than 10 minutes after a request from Jack, Archbishop Hartmayer walked through the crowd to where she was to give her a blessing.
This moment shows exactly what makes him outstanding as a priest, said Pat.
“I will never forget his kindness,” she said. “You can feel so much love of God in his presence.”
Sharon Ioiselle was also one of the many St. John Vianney parishioners praying for Archbishop Hartmayer to become Atlanta’s new shepherd. She met the archbishop while he served at St. Philip Benizi. She was involved in the Secular Franciscan community for laity that met monthly at the Jonesboro parish.
“Less than a month after he arrived, my husband passed away,” said Ioiselle. “He was very consoling to me and my children. He is easy to communicate with and is present to the moment.”
When Archbishop Hartmayer was at St. John Vianney, Ioiselle served in religious education.
“Working for him as director of formation was a pleasure; he was always very supportive of religious education programs,” she said.
Father Koziol fondly remembers international night, which began under Archbishop Hartmayer. Over 30 flags representing the many cultures in the Clayton County parish would be in the church for Mass. After, there would be a celebration with music and people could taste food from different countries.
“I hope he will bring to this diocese what he brought to this parish, which is a love for people and a desire to unite the diverse groups that make up our parishes,” said Father Koziol.
Barry hopes he will help heal divides in the church.
The Clowers look forward to the archbishop’s guidance, goodness and love for all. His total love and commitment to God and his children are some of his gifts, said Pat.
Archbishop Hartmayer returns with a great deal of experience and wisdom, said Father Gluc. “He has deep roots in this archdiocese and a great affection for its priests and people. He’s a great fit for this growing and vibrant archdiocese.”