By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
For the third time in eight years, the Holy See has looked to the Archdiocese of Louisville for a new bishop.
Father J. Mark Spalding, 52, was named the Bishop of Nashville by Pope Francis in an announcement released Nov. 21. His consecration and installation will be Feb. 2 in Nashville.
Bishop-elect Spalding serves as pastor of two parishes — Holy Trinity and Holy Name churches — and as vicar general of the archdiocese.
He welcomed the appointment during an interview this week, noting “it’s amazing how God works and uses a humble instrument to build up his church.”
“God has always worked in
my life,” he said. “Sometimes I didn’t understand how God was working, but in time I did see his hand guiding me, leading, encouraging, challenging me to be more in the world. I feel like this is one more occasion for God to work in and through me.”
Bishop-elect Spalding is a native of Fredericktown, Ky., and grew up at Holy Trinity Church there, part of the Holy Land of Kentucky where Catholics who can trace their roots to the first Catholic settlers still proliferate.
He is the eldest of three children raised on the family farm. His childhood, he said, was marked by hard farm work, and centered on family and faith.
Ordained on Aug. 3, 1991, he has served for more than a quarter of a century as a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville. During that time, he has led parishes and held administrative duties for the archdiocese — as judicial vicar and later as vicar general. All of his responsibilities, he said, “will help me assume the role of bishop.”
But nothing, he added, could have prepared him for the moment he was asked to become Bishop of Nashville.
“The whole conversation was surreal,” he said of the phone call he received on the morning of Nov. 13, a Monday.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, called him that morning to ask, as is customary, if the priest would accept the appointment by Pope Francis to become the 12th bishop of the Diocese of Nashville.
The bishop-elect recounted, “He’s casual and you are sitting there with your life being radically changed as he asks this question of you. He says, ‘Do you accept this appointment?’ ”
Silence ensued. A long silence, said the bishop-elect. Finally he replied, “I will serve with all that God has given me.”
The nuncio made that phone call moments before addressing the fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Since Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz was attending the meeting, the stunned priest waited for more than an hour before he could process the news with his archbishop.
The day happened to be a day off for Bishop-elect Spalding, and he already had plans to visit family in Kentucky’s Holy Land. That turned out to be a very good thing, he said.
After having lunch with his brother and his family — without sharing the news — the bishop-elect felt guided by the Holy Spirit to process his appointment with prayer and Communion with the saints.
He began a pilgrimage of sorts that took him first to the Springfield, Ky., grave of his mother, Mary Aileen Spalding, who died in 2002.
“I told Mom, ‘I’m going to need your help’ and ‘Be with me,’ ” he said. “Then I went to my parish in Fredericktown, and thank goodness they were having eucharistic adoration.
“The third place I went was to Calvary Cemetery (in Louisville), to the priest section,” he said. “I stood there before Archbishop (Thomas J.) McDonough, who confirmed me; Archbishop (Thomas C. Kelly) who ordained me” and others who inspired him.
“I prayed and asked them to be with me, to help me,” he said.
The support of friends and family — a large extended family — mean a great deal to the bishop-elect. At the time of his ordination in 1991, he told The Record that he expected about 100 relatives, including 60 first cousins, to attend the ceremony.
In fact, some of his relatives inspired his religious vocation, he said. He has two aunts and one great aunt who became Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph in Maple Mount, Ky. His uncle was the late Father James Thompson and his second cousin was the late Father Harold Spalding.
Closer to home, his father, Joseph Lawrence Spalding and his mother cultivated his deep faith, he said.
“I’ve learned from the greatest theologians and professors in the world,” he said. “However, they still rank second to my mom.”
Growing up in the country, he noted, provides a “simpler life, but it also makes you more clearly see the most important things in life.”
He hopes to begin his service as a bishop with a simple plan to listen.
“I’m going to listen, I’m going to learn and I’m going to lead,” he said. “I think that’s appropriate; that’s the way I come into a parish, too. You listen to people, you bring their dreams into your prayer and that makes you the leader they need.”
In Nashville, he’ll be leading about 76,000 Catholics spread throughout 38 counties. By comparison, the Archdiocese of Louisville is composed of 24 counties and nearly 200,000 Catholics.
According to the Nashville diocese’s website, the diocese has 53 parishes and three missions. There are 33 diocesan priests and another 31 priests who are non-diocesan. The diocese has 34 seminarians, three high schools and 18 elementary schools.
Bishop-elect Spalding succeeds Bishop David Choby, who died in June.
The installation and consecration of Bishop-elect Spalding will be held on a Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, at Sagrado Corazon Church in the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville.
In addition to Bishop-elect Spalding, the Archdiocese of Louisville has had two other priests elevated to the episcopacy since 2010 — Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro and Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis.