“Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, is the author of this quote and had it carved over the front door of his Zurich home as well as on his tombstone. It is an English translation of the Latin “Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit,” a saying Jung came across when studying the Catholic theologian Erasmus. Bidden means “invited.”
The carved quote sits on a bookshelf in the office of Bishop J. Kevin Boland of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah and was a gift from his brother, Tony, and his wife, Colette.
The diocese happens to be in the inviting mood. Boland, 74, is having a party. On Wednesday, he will celebrate Mass at a service marking the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. The Mass begins at 5:30 p.m. at The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in downtown Savannah, the “center” of the 90-county diocese that covers the lower half of the state. A reception will follow. Both are open to the public.
‘Shy young priest’
Bishop Boland was ordained June 14, 1959, in Ireland, his homeland.
“What I remember is how squashed we all were. There were 41 of us crossways in the floor in a semi-circle,” Boland said in a phone interview this week from Savannah.
He was named the bishop of the Diocese of Savannah in 1995 by Pope John Paul II. From 1983-95, Boland was pastor of St. Anne Church in Columbus, which was his longest assignment on a parish staff, by one year. He came to the States following his ordination and was first assigned as associate pastor of St. Mary On the Hill in Augusta. Monsignor Daniel Burke was the pastor.
“I remember him as a shy student and a shy young priest,” Burke said in a video interview on the diocesan Web site. “He was a very docile assistant, very trustworthy.”
Boland was told that his new boss was a “conscientious and harsh disciplinarian,” Boland recalled. The reports proved wrong. The young priest found him sympathetic and caring. “He was a phenomenal symbol of the Church. That was my first impression,” Boland said. Boland did have learning curves in his new country, where he had to find his way, not only in his vocation but with American customs and southern accents. Right out of school, the young priest didn’t have money for a car so he rode a bicycle around St. Mary On the Hill, which sits in a residential neighborhood just west of downtown.
“People always got a kick out of it. They’d see me and say, ‘Can I give you a ride?’ ”
To the west side
From Augusta, Boland became associate pastor of The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah (1961-62); pastor, Saint Michael, Tybee Island (1967-68); rector, Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist (1970-72); pastor, Blessed Sacrament, Savannah (1972-83); and pastor of St. Anne, Columbus (1983-95).
Boland faced another adjustment, this time in the religious sense, when he came to Columbus from the coast in 1983. On the one hand, he enjoyed the diversity of the people — due largely to Fort Benning — but on the other he found the city lacking in Catholic influence. (That’s partly due to geography. The first Georgia Catholics found their way to the state via ocean, so the east side, particularly the coastal cities, have a heavier Catholic flavor.)
“The Catholic overlay is not as integrated in the community,” said Boland, who in Savannah has helped lead the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
But he made the most of his time here.
In March 1992, dedication services were held at St. Anne for the building that houses Our Lady of Mercy Chapel, meeting rooms, the Youth Room and Visitation Hall. On April 18, 1995, Boland transferred the ownership and governance of Pacelli High School to St. Anne Parish, making it a parish high school. (The entire school has since been renamed St. Anne Pacelli.)
In October 1998, the parish broke ground on a bell tower and an addition for St. Anne School, which enabled the school to double the number of classrooms. Boland, by that time the bishop, blessed and dedicated the new addition on Dec. 9, 1999.
In 1981, Boland’s mother, Gertrude, traveled to the States to see him and another of her sons who became a priest. (The Most Rev. Raymond Boland is now Bishop Emeritus of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo.) Her two other sons, Tony and Frank, were businessmen in Ireland. Kevin Boland’s father, John Joseph, died in 1958, missing his son’s ordination by one year.
Gertrude Boland flew here from Ireland in 1981 in part so her sons could enjoy her cooking again.
“Kevin’s favorite is stuffed pork roast,” Gertrude told the Ledger-Enquirer that year. “It’s made a little different in America, usually with pork instead of lamb or mutton.”
His influence continues
During his tenure at St. Anne, the church experienced “a great deal of growth. He was really the one responsible for our focus on stewardship, which continues,” said Margo Truett, a St. Anne member since 1969 and the church’s pastoral assistant for the past 11 years. As a continuation of Boland’s teaching on stewardship, furthered by the Rev. Gerard Schreck, the pastor since 1995, St. Anne Church won an international stewardship award in 2003.
“He’s such a pastoral man and very charismatic,” Truett said. “It was just the way he presented (stewardship). It all took hold here within a short period of time. His message was, everything belongs to God and we have a responsibility to share, whether that be with our time, talent or treasure.”
Also during his time here, Boland was the priest in charge of Christ the King, originally a mission church in Harris County. The mission opened the same year Boland was ordained to the priesthood. As pastor of St. Anne, Christ the King’s parent church, he preached there every other week until he was selected bishop. Christ the King’s current pastor, the Rev. Ronnie Madden, was recruited by Boland for the diocese in 1964 when Madden was living in Ireland. He shares a homeland with his bishop.
“We met at the post office and went around the corner to this restaurant. I thought it’d be a little talk and then he pulled out this paperwork,” said Madden, who will be at the celebration next week.
“I’m delighted for him. Fifty years is a great accomplishment and achievement,” Madden said.
St. Anne and Christ the King members had bittersweet feelings when Boland was selected bishop. They were losing their pastor to another city but were also happy for him, Truett recalled.
“Everybody was just thrilled,” she said, “and it was great to have him come from Columbus.”
Five years after he became bishop, the year 2000 marked the 150th establishment of the Diocese of Savannah, and the 100th anniversary of the rededication of the Cathedral which had been damaged by a fire. The diocese’s home parish was showing its age. Planning ahead for these occasions, Boland embarked on “The Jubilee Campaign One Faith … One Family” and sought $10 million from the people of the diocese. About $15 million was raised. A rededication ceremony in 2000 was attended by 30 bishops and two cardinals.
“To highlight Columbus,” he said of the financial appeal, “they were as generous and supportive as anyone.”
The bishop has built more than buildings. After he became the chief pastor of the diocese, Boland began emphasizing vocations — with the help of vocations directors, developing a system of prayer and communications for men exploring ordination.
“I saw the great need,” Boland said. “If you’re in a parish, you have a tendency to say, ‘The bishop will take care of it.’ I began to take it on as an emphasis and tried to highlight (vocations) more.”
“From the vocations angle, he’s been very supportive, often instrumental in inspiring young men,” said the Rev. Brett Brannen, who for 10 years was the diocesan vocations director but now serves as vice-rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland.
‘Great aplomb and great grace’
During his tenure as bishop, through this month, Boland will have ordained 32 men to the priesthood for the Diocese of Savannah, in addition to 38 permanent deacons.
The priest who now leads The Church of the Most Holy Family in downtown Augusta was one of those. The Rev. Tim Donahue remembers his first appointment in 1995 with the bishop when Boland was just six weeks into the role. Donahue, a former parochial vicar or associate at St. Anne, talked to him about his interest in the priesthood. Boland eventually approved his move to seminary.
Donahue is a definite fan of the bishop.
“First of all, if you look at his schedule each week, the amount of time he spends around the diocese and with his appointments is incredible. He’s the chief shepherd of the diocese, and he does it all with great aplomb and great grace,” Donahue said. “If he’s at a confirmation or something and there’s a reception, he’s the last person in the room to get food or drink.
“I’m not that patient, so I’m learning from my bishop. … He’s very folksy and he tells great stories. He has great stories from the diocese and he knows his priests very well.” Boland has responsibility for 54 parishes, and 25 missions and mission stations. Of the diocese’s approximately 2.8 million residents, about 73,650 are Catholic.
Because Boland is the diocese’s chief pastor, each of the priests can go to him with personal concerns; yet they’re also aware he’s the boss.
“I couldn’t say to him, ‘I’m thinking about opening a restaurant,’ because he’d say, ‘Timmy, that’s not a good idea,’ ” Donahue said, mimicking the bishop’s Irish accent.
Even after 50 years, Boland still considers it an honor to be a priest. “It’s an extraordinary privilege,” he said, “because people put so much trust in you.”
ContactAllison Kennedyat 706-576-6237