Published February 2, 2023
ATLANTA—Beth Brantley has worshipped at Mary, Queen of Peace Church for close to 30 years. She has recently been the president of the pastoral council. Up close, she watched then-Father John Tran, her former pastor, help develop the parish pastoral plan, lead the church through COVID, in addition to taking care of its lawn.
“I would describe him as a humble servant. First of all, he’s very funny and very self-deprecating, but he takes his faith very seriously,” said Brantley, 60, who retired from a career in marketing.
On church grounds, it is not unusual to see the man who stands in the pulpit to be mowing the lawn, pruning trees and doing upkeep of the campus.
His faith is not lived in the church building but alongside people.
“He has worked on people’s roofs. He is generally out cutting the grass on the campus,” she said.
A large group from the parish traveled from Louisiana to watch their former spiritual leader on Jan. 23 be ordained a bishop to serve in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
When the parish was shut in 2020 during the early months of the COVID pandemic, one of his initiatives was to ensure people were not lonely during the lockdown.
“He had us call everybody to make sure they were okay, to see if they had any needs that weren’t being met that we could help with. He wanted to check in with everybody and let them know that we are here if they need anything,” she said. “And a lot of parishioners were very touched by that as you can imagine.”
It will take a while for the parish to recover after his departure.
“Gosh, I really was sad, and I feel sad. That’s being very, I guess, selfish and I think pretty much everybody in the parish feels the same way,” said Brantley.
In December, the parish of 1,800 registered families gathered for a formal goodbye to their pastor of close to a decade.
As a farewell, the community gifted him a miniature of one of the statues on the campus, “Ave Regina Pacis.” The image of “Hail, Queen of Peace” is a throned Mary, holding an infant Jesus, with an olive branch. He commissioned the statue that sits outside the parish pastoral center.
When Christy Bloom, 47, got the text message in October about his appointment as bishop, well, she admits it was not her finest moment.
“I picked up my phone and I looked at it, and someone had texted me the announcement. Now let me pause here and tell you I’m not proud of my reaction,” she said. Bloom said her emotions were raw and her two children thought a family member had died.
“It’s a huge loss. It’s a huge loss for my family and for our parish and for our community,” she said.
Bloom and her husband George traveled twice with the priest to help communities pick up after suffering through hurricanes. She called those experiences inspiring.
One of the trips on a Sunday was to the Florida panhandle. Everyone in the small group attended Mass Saturday, but George was busy collecting food and he had not been able to fulfill the Sunday Mass obligation. Bloom said after the long day of feeding hundreds, Father John would not let the group disperse before he celebrated Mass for the group to share the Eucharist with George. “It was beautiful. We’ll never forget it,” she said.
Now that a few months have gone by, Bloom said her feelings have moved from shock to gratitude for having Bishop Tran as the family’s spiritual guide. “The people have no idea how lucky they are. He’s truly remarkable.”
John Tomba, 60, jokes he and the bishop are twins. He towers above six feet. The priest may be a little over five feet.
Laughs aside, Tomba said the Archdiocese of Atlanta will have a bishop who will inspire and teach, and not just with words.
“Here’s a selfless servant leader, in every aspect of his life,” he said.
Tomba and friends wanted to replace the priest’s aging pickup truck. It was fast approaching the end of its life, but the priest often took it on the road to run around the community helping people, said Tomba. At the dealership the unsuspecting pastor was suddenly handed keys for a new replacement, he was speechless. The first question was whether his old truck could be kept and donated to someone else in the community in need, said Tomba.
Tomba is a leader of the Knights of Columbus, Council 12072, and the organization put together a plan and equipment to help as first responders when disaster strikes, following the example set by now Bishop Tran.
“That’s a signature thing he has done his entire time here,” he said.
The newly adopted pastoral plan has the priest’s influence throughout it, especially its emphasis to serve those in need and help the disenfranchised, said Tomba, also a member of the parish pastoral council.
“He’s going to leave a long legacy at our church,” he said.