By Andy Telli, Tennessee Register
Father J. Mark Spalding, a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, has been appointed by Pope Francis as the 12th Bishop of Nashville.
“I love being a priest, love it. I love being a pastor and being present to parishioners in times of great joy and in sorrow as well,” Bishop-elect Spalding said during a press conference on Tuesday, Nov. 21, to introduce him as the new bishop. “I will miss my home in Kentucky but I truly look forward to my new home in Nashville.”
Bishop-elect Spalding will be ordained as a bishop and installed as the Bishop of Nashville on Feb. 2, 2018, at Sagrado Corazon Church in the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville. He will succeed Bishop David Choby, who died on Saturday, June 3, 2017, at Saint Thomas West Hospital in Nashville where he was undergoing treatment for injuries he suffered in a fall at his Hendersonville home in February. He was 70 years old.
Bishop-elect Spalding’s day in Nashville began with a Mass, concelebrated by several priests of the diocese, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. The Mass was followed by the press conference in the Cathedral’s Fleming Center, which was attended by about 150 people.
He made several stops in the city, including stops at the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation Motherhouse and the Sisters of Mercy Convent, before touring the diocesan offices at the Catholic Pastoral Center and meeting diocesan employees.
“I’ve been very blessed in my life to always be surrounded by the church,” Bishop-elect Spalding said during his homily at the Mass, noting that two of his aunts are Ursuline Sisters of Mt. St. Joseph in Maple Mount, Ky., and other members of his family have always been involved in the church. “That’s what drew me to the priesthood. I wanted to understand what was that joy. … It drew me to ponder the call of God.”
Bishop-elect Spalding received the call from Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre informing him of Pope Francis’ intention to appoint him as the Bishop of Nashville on Monday, Nov. 13. “When you get one of those calls your nerves are shot,” he said during his homily. “It lasted all of three minutes, but your whole life is changed.”
“I want to thank my wonderful family,” Bishop-elect Spalding said of his father, his late mother, his brother, his sister, their spouses, and his nieces and nephews. “They are my anchor.”
He also expressed his gratitude for the support and mentorship of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, the late Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, who ordained him, Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis and his brother priests from the Archdiocese of Nashville.
“The wonderful parishioners whom I have served know of my constant reminder to them and to myself: ‘To whom much is given, much will be required,’ ” Bishop-elect Spalding said during the press conference. “I pledge to demand much from myself as I work with the priests, deacons, consecrated religious, seminarians, and lay faithful of the Diocese of Nashville to inspire a zeal for the Gospel, serve those in need, promote vocations, provide lifelong formation through strong Catholic schools and parish formation programs, call forth the gifts of our youth and young adults, provide a place of welcome for persons of every race, culture and language, and support families in their vocation as schools of love.”
Bishop-elect Spalding said he will take his episcopal motto from Mary’s hymn of praise, the Magnificat. “God has lifted up the lowly.”
“With God’s grace and Mary’s yes as my guide, I will seek always to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd,” he said.
Bishop-elect Spalding told the crowd at the press conference, “I’m a passionate preacher. I love preaching. You speak the word in a way that is reverent but also in a way that inspires others,” he said.
He also talked of his love of Catholic education and his joy in visiting the parish schools and parish formation programs where he has served.
“I like people so I’m going to get out” among the people of the diocese, he said. “I’m a country boy. They’re my people.”
“What excites me is the church in Middle Tennessee is known as one that is growing and has a great spirit,” Bishop-elect Spalding said. But he acknowledged that “in Western culture, faith is fading and we have to revive it. … If we remind people it’s about Christ, it’s about Christ’s life … it can transform your life.”
Among the bishops at the press conference, were Archbishop Kurtz and Bishop-elect Spalding’s fellow Tennessee bishops, Richard Stika of Knoxville and Martin Holley of Memphis.
The Diocese of Nashville, then covering the entire state of Tennessee, was established on July 28, 1837, by Pope Gregory XVI. The new diocese was carved out of the Diocese of Bardstown, Ky., which eventually became the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Like Bishop-elect Spalding, the diocese’s first bishop, Richard Pius Miles, O.P., came from the area of central Kentucky known as the state’s Holy Land, which was settled in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by a large group of Catholics from Maryland.
Today, the Diocese of Nashville covers 38 counties in the middle third of the state and includes about 76,000 registered Catholics in 53 parishes and three missions. Masses are offered in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Latin and Korean.
Andy Telli is the managing editor of the Tennessee Register, the newspaper for the Diocese of Nashville.