Thursday, January 03, 2013

Talley-Ho – For Atlanta, A New Auxiliary. Again.

Just last night, the burgeoning Catholic presence in Metro Atlanta happened to come up in a conversation... and, lo and behold, it was reflected this morning in 2013's first Stateside appointment – an unprecedented second auxiliary bishop for the booming 404 church.

And you thought Wilton inheriting Tara was big.

As the sun rose over the 69 counties of North Georgia, the Pope tapped Msgr David Talley, 62 – a Rome-trained canonist and onetime social worker who's spent the last decade building or growing a trio of parishes – to join Archbishop Wilton Gregory and Bishop Luis Zarama in overseeing the vibrant, wildly diverse Southern juggernaut, grown sixfold since 1990 to a million members, a majority of them now Hispanic.

Born a Southern Baptist – and, ergo, just the latest of several adult converts (Swain, Conley, Bevard) named to the bench by B16 – the bishop-elect spent over a decade as a case-worker for abused children before being ordained from St Meinrad in 1989. Given the nominee's pre-seminary background, Talley's being shortlisted by the global church's emblematic figure of "zero tolerance" and restoring trust sends a deeply potent signal, especially amid developments elsewhere into the present.

After returning from the Gregorian with a JCD, the new auxiliary served by turns as Atlanta's vocation director, judicial vicar, chancellor and at the tribunal before entering parish work full-time in 2003. On another front, meanwhile, even before his degree in the canons, Talley becomes one of just a handful of US bishops to hold a master's in social work; the others include the USCCB vice-president, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, and Bishops Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Paul Bradley of Kalamazoo and the Philadelphia auxiliary Timothy Senior. Unlike Talley, each of the others had run Catholic Charities in their respective hometowns before becoming bishops.

Having led the building of a 900-seat, 36,000 square-foot church for the 2,500-family flock of his last pastorate, in 2011 Talley was sent to the even more massive St Brigid's in Johns Creek, home to nearly 5,000 families and – so the parish website says – no less than seven permanent deacons. The page likewise features a full archive of Talley's weekly bulletin columns, which chronicle all the "happy problems" of a church busting at the seams. 
Known among his own as a fixer of difficult situations and a "dynamic, caring" figure who "gets people excited," the local reaction to today's move was described as "over the moon" – as one op put it, "Couldn't have happened to a better priest." (At right, the bishop-elect is shown reacting to an ovation from his people at the dedication of their new church.)

Before the appointment of the ever-smiling, Colombian-born Zarama – who came to the archdiocese as a seminarian – in 2009, the Hotlanta church (which spreads across some 22,000 square miles) had not received an auxiliary since 1966, when Msgr Joseph Bernardin of Charleston was named at 38 to aid the ailing Paul Hallinan, the son of Cleveland who became the Southeast's first archbishop four years earlier. Like many of the local clergy until recent times – legions of "FBI" notwithstanding – all but one of the subsequent Atlanta prelates hailed from points North or Midwest, and only with today's move can the 404 boast its first native-Georgian bishop.

In recent years, only one other Stateside diocese has – at least, to date – gone from having no auxiliaries to a duo in a rapid time-frame: the likewise erupting Dallas church, whose membership has more than quintupled since 1990 and now stands at some 1.2 million. To better serve the boom in the nation's fourth-largest metropolitan area, a native and a transplant – respectively Fr Douglas Deshotel and Msgr Mark Seitz – were named Big D's first-ever auxiliaries together in 2011. Elsewhere in Texas, a second auxiliary (most likely a Hispanic) is widely thought to be pending for the state's largest fold – the 1.5 million-member archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, where Bishop George Sheltz has been the sole assist to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo since his appointment last year. Even as it went auxiliary-less for over two years, however, the H-Town mecca has seen the dedication of over 25 new churches since 2006, merely part of an epic wave of construction projects that, despite running in excess of $300 million, is said to be barely keeping pace with the growth of the nation's newest archdiocese.

Back to Atlanta, even if the Pope's regard for the US church's ranking African-American is no secret, it is conspicuous that while Wilton Gregory now has a tandem of aides with hats, at the nation's southernmost point, the even larger (1.3 million-member) archdiocese of Miami remains without a single auxiliary following the transfer of Archbishop Thomas Wenski's two understudies to chairs of their own elsewhere in Florida, the last of which was in early 2011. 

Today's appointment actually marks the third elevation of a priest serving in Metro Atlanta to the episcopacy in the last three years. The pastor of another large church in the inner-ring suburbs, the Buffalo-born Conventual Franciscan Gregory Hartmayer was named to Savannah in July 2011. Until the territory of the now-archdiocese was spun off in 1956 – when the Peach State's Catholic population totaled little more than 30,000 – the antebellum jewel had been the seat of Georgia Catholicism since the 1850s.

Talley will be ordained on 2 April – Easter Tuesday – in the Cathedral of Christ the King, which marked its 75th anniversary last year. In the meanwhile, tomorrow's feast of St Elizabeth Ann Seton brings the ordination of another auxiliary: Boston's Bob Deeley, the longtime CDF prosecutor of clergy sex-abuse cases who returned home in 2011 as Cardinal Seán O'Malley's vicar-general. 

Currently claiming 1.8 million members – which would make it the nation's fourth-largest diocese – following the rite, Red Sox Nation will again have no less than six active auxiliaries, plus two retirees.

More about what's expected for 2013's Year in Appointments will come in due course. For starters, here's the baseline: as of this writing, seven Stateside Latin dioceses stand vacant, with another ten led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age of 75.

After a half-decade of significant turnover, this year is looking to be a time of catch-up on the docket – only five US diocesans will "age out" in 2013, one of whom (San Diego's embattled Robert Brom), already has a coadjutor waiting in the wings.

PHOTOS: Georgia Bulletin