By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published May 27, 2021
ATLANTA—On May 6, Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., marked one year as shepherd of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
In a May 13 interview with The Georgia Bulletin, the archbishop remembered being eager to get to work despite having a small installation Mass, one of many challenges faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s certainly more difficult to preach and to celebrate Mass with a very small number of people because there is an energy, or a synergy, that is experienced between the presider of the Mass and the people,” said Archbishop Hartmayer. “When we’re praying, it’s in dialogue with the people.”
A Mass dispensation, remote work for Chancery staff, school and parish closures with modified reopenings and social and political unrest were some of many adversities of the archbishop’s first year as spiritual leader of north and central Georgia.
“There was a point where we could not even send extraordinary ministers of holy Communion to the sick or to the homebound because there were restrictions,” said the archbishop. “We could not visit hospitals, nursing homes…even prisons were closed. We were not able to serve the people that we normally serve.”
Despite these and other frustrations, the archbishop has learned more about virtual meetings. And even though online events have saved money on travel expenses and time, he misses the “camaraderie and a lot of personal sharing” that in-person gatherings provide.
The archbishop’s schedule has been relatively full with various meetings and events, in-person and virtually. In September of last year, the bishops began celebrating confirmation Masses again. Many parishes requested multiple Masses due to social distancing requirements.
“My most favorite thing to do as a bishop is to confirm—to see the young people, to be able to talk to them, to be able to listen to some of their answers to my questions, to see where they are in their faith life,” said Archbishop Hartmayer, a Conventual Franciscan.
The archbishop was also encouraged by local Catholics staying connected with their parish during the pandemic.
“Though many of them did not attend Mass in person, they continue to support their parish which tells me that they have a relationship with their parish, they appreciate their facility, they appreciate what goes on there, they appreciate the leadership of the parish and they have a sense of responsibility to take care of it,” said the archbishop.
A different home
After eight years serving as bishop of the Diocese of Savannah, Archbishop Hartmayer described his appointment to Atlanta “like coming home.” However, he’s had to make some adjustments in his new role.
“It surprised me how much (the archdiocese) has grown, how much the Chancery has grown in size and its service,” said the archbishop.
The Diocese of Savannah serves more than 77,000 Catholics, while the Archdiocese of Atlanta consists of 1.3 million.
While serving as Bishop of Savannah, he would spend 10 days each month outside of his home because the diocese was so spread out, covering more than 37,000 square miles. With the Atlanta Archdiocese covering more than 21,000 miles, he can visit parishes in various directions and come home by the end of the night. Being able to return home each evening helps to approach the next day’s work with a clear mind, said the archbishop.
The majority of Chancery staff have worked remotely for more than a year. As they return to the office, Archbishop Hartmayer looks forward to meeting more staff members and learning about the various offices and ministries.
“I need to get to know people here and for them to get to know me as well so that we can provide greater service,” he said.
Building relationships with the priests in the archdiocese is an ongoing priority for Archbishop Hartmayer. While he knows many of them from his previous ministry in Atlanta for 16 years, he is meeting those ordained while he served in Savannah.
“My main objective is to serve the priests and their needs, and to ensure they’re as healthy and as happy and fulfilled in their ministry as possible because it only affects the people and the kind of ministry they receive from their priests,” said Archbishop Hartmayer.
On April 29, Archbishop Hartmayer announced the end of the Mass dispensation for the celebration of Pentecost on May 23.
“It’s the birth of the church,” said the archbishop. “It just sounded to me like a time for a new beginning.”
In his letter to the faithful, the archbishop expressed that COVID-19 vaccine availability contributed to the decision to reopen parishes. As of May 20, 30% of Georgians were fully vaccinated and 38% had received at least one dose, according to Our World in Data. Currently, Georgia residents 12 years of age and older are eligible to get a vaccine.
On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidelines for fully vaccinated people, which included resuming activities indoors and outdoors without wearing a mask and social distancing, with some exceptions.
“In light of this update, the Archdiocese of Atlanta will continue to recommend masks at Masses, but will give pastors discretion to allow vaccinated people to remove them,” said Archbishop Hartmayer in a May 14 email. “Those who are not vaccinated should still wear a mask.”
Some liturgical ministers, such as altar servers, may have to be retrained after more than a year not attending Mass.
“But they’re eager to come back and we’re looking forward to having them,” said the archbishop. “To have things pretty much back to normal will raise the hope and spirits of our people.”
As Catholics are welcomed back to Mass, the archbishop is grateful for the work of those in the archdiocese this past year. He indicated that keeping schools open and following safety guidelines at the Chancery, parishes and schools helped in moving forward.
“I’ve seen the devotion of the people, the longing for the people to be reunited with each other and to be able to receive the sacraments as they’ve been accustomed to,” said the archbishop. “My own personal faith has really been increased by the witness of the people and their financial support, but also their strong desire to enjoy the sacramental life of the church.”