Installation Masses typically see cathedrals filled to the brim with members of the Catholic faithful, with hundreds of priests attending.
But the installation of Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer as head of the Archdiocese of Atlanta on Wednesday, took place in a nearly-empty church.
Just a handful of priests and bishops concelebrated the Mass, their seats spaced out to follow social distancing guidelines as the coronavirus pandemic continues to prevent large gatherings of people. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, delivered a greeting and read the papal bull with Hartmayer’s appointment via video rather than in person.
Maureen Smith, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said it was a challenge to maintain the tradition of the installation Mass without many of the normal people who be present, according to the Associated Press.
The Mass was broadcast live on EWTN from the Cathedral of Christ the King, so that members of the diocese could watch from home.
In his homily, Hartmayer acknowledged the unusual circumstances.
“I am somewhat distressed that those I love, those I revere, those I have been asked to tend in [Christ’s] name are not gathered around me,” he said. “This cathedral is empty. And yet is it filled with the presence of the guiding force of the Holy Spirit.”
He emphasized the need to trust in God’s loving guidance as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
“I stand before you today as both sheep and shepherd,” he said, stressing his own reliance on Christ as he moves forward as head of the diocese.
Hartmayer reflected on his calling to imitate Christ as he takes over leadership of the archdiocese.
“Shepherds are called to love unconditionally…True shepherd give their lives to those who have been entrusted to them. They do not live for themselves.”
A member of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, Archbishop Hartmayer had previously served as bishop of Savannah since 2011.
In Atlanta, he follows Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who was appointed to head the Archdiocese of Washington in early 2019, after leading the Georgia archdiocese for almost 15 years.
Hartmayer was born in 1951 in Buffalo, New York, one of four children.
He joined the Conventual Franciscan novitiate in Ellicott City, Maryland in 1969 and made his solemn profession in 1973.
He was ordained a priest for the Franciscan order in 1979.
In addition to a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from St. Hyacinth College and Seminary in Massachusetts, Hartmayer holds three master’s degrees: a master of divinity degree from St. Anthony-on-Hudson, in Rensselaer, New York; a master of arts degree in pastoral counseling from Emmanuel College, Boston and a master of education degree from Boston College.
Prior to being named bishop of Savannah, Hartmayer had spent 16 of his 32 years of priesthood in Catholic high school education, with the remaining in parish ministry.
He spent many years in New York and Massachusetts, but in 1995, he moved south to teach at a Catholic high school in Florida, before being asked to serve as pastor of St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, Georgia. He was appointed bishop of Savannah in 2011.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta covers 21,445 square miles in the northern half of Georgia. The archdiocese has over 100 parishes and serves around 1.2 million Catholics, according to 2018 stats.