By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — More than 3,000 well-wishers — some saying goodbye and others bidding welcome — crowded into Sagrado Corazón Church Feb. 2 to witness the ordination of Bishop J. Mark Spalding, Kentucky priest turn Tennessee prelate.
Bishop Spalding is the third Archdiocese of Louisville priest in eight years to become a bishop. Like the other two bishops — Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro and Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis — Bishop Spalding leaves behind friends, family and parishioners in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
They believe Nashville is one lucky diocese. And Catholics of Middle Tennessee seem to agree.
Barb Schulz, a parishioner of St. Stephen Church in Old Hickory, Tenn., said she attended Bishop Spalding’s ordination because it was “a once in a lifetime event.”
“I think he is the perfect fit for Nashville, especially with his strong family and clerical background,” Schulz said.
Connie Blevins, also a member of St. Stephen, said she thought Bishop Spalding would bring new life to the local church.
“He’s young; he will appeal to young people and that’s what we need,” she said.
Bishop Spalding succeeds Bishop David A. Choby, who died June 3, 2017, at age 70 after a long illness.
Aggie Reed, a parishioner of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, said she attended the installation to “celebrate and support the change in leadership” of the local church in Nashville. “It’s an important celebration for our diocese.”
Those who know Bishop Spalding best say the Diocese of Nashville is receiving a social, approachable priest who can make you laugh and cry in the course of a homily.
Ackie George, a parishioner of St. Augustine Church in Lebanon, Ky., has known Bishop Spalding since he served as an associate pastor at St. Augustine when he was a newly-ordained priest.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything in the world. I prayed and prayed for him to be a bishop. He’s such a humble man. The people in Nashville are very blessed,” George said.
Susan Smith, a parishioner at St. Rose Church in Springfield, Ky., has known the Spalding family for years and was good friends with the bishop’s late mother.
“I videoed his first Mass and ordination,” she said with pride. “I wouldn’t have missed this for nothing.”
Smith said he would bring only good things to Nashville. “If people don’t know him now, they will soon. He’s a very sociable priest,” she said.
Sandra Goatley, Bishop Spalding’s younger sister, said the ordination and consecration were very “moving.”
“Mark’s address was amazing. He always knows how to deliver like that. He’ll make you cry one minute and make you laugh the next,” she said.
She said she was impressed with the large crowd — more than 3,000 — including numerous deacons, priests and religious sisters.
“I always knew Mark would do wonderful things; it’s his calling,” Goatley said. “I just told him to be himself and to stay humble.”
Lawrence Spalding, Bishop Spalding’s father, expressed his immense pride following his son’s episcopal ordination.
“I feel great. I feel really proud,” he said. “I think they are going to like him. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Brad Spalding, the bishop’s younger brother, said he felt an “overwhelming sense of pride.”
“It’s such a joy to see Mark do something he loves so much. It shows in how he leads and preaches,” he said.
Brad said in his big brother the people of Nashville have gained a leader who has “great enthusiasm” and one who is a “wonderful listener and a great pastor.”
“I think they will love him,” he said.
Macy Spalding, Bishop Spalding’s sister-in-law, said she thinks the Diocese of Nashville has gained “the most amazing leader” and an “eloquent speaker.”
Olivia Goatley, Bishop Spalding’s niece, said when she first heard the news that “Uncle Mark” would be a bishop she knew her “dear grandmother above” had a plan for our family.
“He was placed in Nashville to spread the Good News,” she said.
Hunter Goatley, Bishop Spalding’s nephew, said the large crowd gathered to witness his uncle’s installation shows how much the people in Nashville support the local church.
“I think he’ll bring a relaxed attitude here. He’s very personable and loves sports. Anybody can approach him,” he said.
The new bishop’s approachability has already become evident to Irene Boyd, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Madison, Tenn. She worked for the Diocese of Nashville for 22 years and said she wanted to attend to support the church and to catch up with old colleagues.
“It really touched me that he (Bishop Spalding) had attended Deacon Henry Harrington’s funeral last month,” Boyd said, explaining that Deacon Harrington met Bishop Spalding shortly after he was named Bishop of Nashville and asked him to celebrate his funeral in the event his parish priest was unable to do so.
“That really touched me,” Boyd said.
Karen Arms, a parishioner at St. Matthew Church in Franklin, Tenn., said she’s been impressed with everything she’s heard about her new bishop.
“He seems very warm. There’s a feeling of welcoming and excitement,” Arms said.
Janet Amelang, a parishioner of St. Philip Church in Franklin, Tenn., is confident Nashville’s new bishop will do a good job.
“It seems like you can go up to him and talk to him. And, I learned his birthday is on my birthday,” Amelang said.