By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Evoking the passion of a Southern preacher and the care of a shepherd, Bishop J. Mark Spalding, now the 12th Bishop of Nashville, greeted about 3,000 members of his flock in Middle Tennessee with simple advice:
“Pray. Pray to God that the love of Jesus ever increases in your heart. And if you do that not only, I believe, do you save yourself but you help save others. That is what the church is all about.”
He delivered this message minutes after his episcopal ordination and installation here at Nashville’s Sagrado Corazón Church.
The nearly three-hour ceremony unfolded at the former Baptist mega church that’s now part of the diocese’s Catholic Pastoral Center. It sits opposite the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center off the Briley Parkway.
On Feb. 2, the sanctuary was filled with bishops, an abbot, the apostolic nuncio to the United States Archbishop Christophe Pierre, hundreds of deacons and priests and all the pageantry of Catholic ordination rites.
Until Friday, Bishop Spalding, 53, was a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville. He is a son of Kentucky’s Holy Land, hailing from Holy Trinity Church in Fredericktown, Ky. He now leads the Diocese of Nashville, which stretches across more than 16,000 square miles and 38 counties in middle Tennessee, according to diocesan statistics available at dioceseofnashville.com.
About 80,000 Catholics are registered in parishes — representing about 3.4 percent of the general population, the diocese said. The diocese estimates that another 110,000 Catholics, including Hispanics, are present in the diocese.
The Diocese of Nashville was established in 1837 and its first bishop was also from the Archdiocese of Louisville — Bishop Richard Pius Miles came from Fairfield, Ky.
The diocese includes 53 parishes and three missions. These are served by 33 diocesan priests and 19 religious order priests, 12 priests from other dioceses and about 70 deacons. Thirty-four men are in formation in seminary. About 168 women religious serve in the diocese.
Three Catholic high schools operate in the diocese and 18 elementary schools.
At his ordination as a bishop last week, he was assisted ceremonially by Father Steven Henriksen and Jeffrey Shooner, priests of the Archdiocese of Louisville. He was ordained by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who offered gratitude and praise for Bishop Spalding during his homily.
“You have been very well prepared,” the archbishop told him. Then he added some advice for the new bishop: “Your daily preparation will begin each morning in the chapel, as you call on the governing Spirit, given to you this day, a gift from God not for yourself but in service to the faithful.”
The archbishop also added, “Serve those entrusted to your care lovingly and joyfully — so that God might ‘lift up the lowly’ through you.”
That was a reference to Bishop Spalding’s episcopal motto, “God has lifted up the lowly.” He chose this motto from the Magnificat, he said in his statement as bishop, in his search to be “a humble servant for the Church.”
The new bishop also offered thanks to the archbishop, his brother priests, his family and parishioners. He offered particular thanks to women religious, especially the Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph (he has two aunts serving in this congregation).
“Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph … have been part of my life since I have had life,” he said. “As much as any priest has inspired me to serve in the church, they have as well.”
Bishop Spalding, who grew up on a farm in central Kentucky where work, family and faith were priorities, has said he will feel at home in the rural parts of the Nashville diocese.
He is the eldest of three children and graduated from Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, Ky., in 1983.
He attended St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, the American College of Louvain in Belgium and the Catholic University of Louvain, where he earned a Licentiate of Canon Law in 1992. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville Aug. 3, 1991.
Bishop Spalding served as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in La Grange, Ky., from 1999 to 2011. He served as pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Louisville from 2011 to present.
He was assigned as pastor of Holy Name Church in 2016, and continued as pastor of Holy Trinity.
Bishop Spalding served as judicial vicar and director of the Metropolitan Tribunal for the Archdiocese of Louisville from 1998 to 2011. In 2011, he was named vicar general.