MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Bishop Martin D. Holley, a former auxiliary bishop of Washington whose motto of “his mercy endures forever” coheres perfectly with Pope Francis’s own spiritual vision, struck another very Francis-esque tone as he was installed as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Memphis on Oct. 19.
After calling on his flock to “love others as Jesus has loved us,” the first thing the 61-year-old African-American prelate did as the new leader in Memphis was to join Catholic Charities volunteers in assembling bags of food and other items for the homeless.
During the installation Mass, Holley declared: “With faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the love of God in my heart, I do accept the pastoral care of the people of God in the Diocese of Memphis … I resolve to faithfully serve the church in this diocese.”
After making his pronouncement, Holley was presented with a crosier, his shepherd’s staff, and escorted to his cathedra, his bishop’s chair — the symbols of his authority.
The crowd of nearly 3,000 who attended the Mass burst into cheers and gave a standing ovation as the new bishop of Memphis assumed his post.
He was then welcomed by representatives of his new diocese, and by members of other faiths in the city of Memphis.
In his first homily to his new flock, Holley stressed the Gospel mandate of love for others.
“In God’s love, we find the fullness of grace, life, peace and joy,” he said.
Holley’s installation was celebrated in Memphis’s Cook Convention Center to accommodate the large numbers who attended the liturgy.
- Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, who read Pope Francis’s mandate appointing Holley.
- Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops; Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington.
- Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington.
- Cardinal Justin Rigali, former archbishop of Philadelphia.
- Now-retired Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis, whom Holley succeeds.
Also concelebrating were more than 20 other archbishops and bishops and more than 120 priests.
“We are so, so grateful to our Holy Father for sending to Memphis one of the best,” Wuerl said.
McCarrick, noting he “had the honor of ordaining him to the episcopacy” 12 years ago, called Holley “a man of great compassion … who has the courage and willingness to plow new fields and build new houses for the Lord.”
Monsignor Peter Buchignani, who has been serving as Memphis’s diocesan administrator, called Holley’s installation “a very important day in the life and history of this diocese.”
“I speak for all of the clergy, religious and laity of our diocese in sincerely welcoming Bishop Holley,” the priest said.
Noting that the Diocese of Memphis will celebrate its 50th anniversary in five years, Buchignani said, “The future of the church of Memphis is bright, and we have a shepherd who will lead us there.”
During the installation Mass, Holley thanked Wuerl, saying the cardinal’s example “has prepared me for this new appointment.”
Among those attending the installation were religious and laity of the Diocese of Memphis, members of the bishop’s family — who donated the processional cross for the Mass in memory of the bishop’s late parents — and colleagues and friends from Holley’s 12 years in the Archdiocese of Washington.
Ron Jackson, the former director of the District of Columbia Catholic Conference, said he traveled to Memphis for the installation because “I know in my heart and soul that nobody could be more deserving.”
“In Bishop Holley, Memphis is getting a bishop of vision, courage, and fortitude,” Jackson said.
Debbie McDonald, executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s parish pastoral planning office, recalled attending four World Youth Days with Holley.
“He will be missed in the archdiocese (of Washington) — especially for his pastoral style and his approach to ministering to our youth,” she said.
Deacon Al Turner, retired director of the archdiocese’s former Office of Black Catholics, called Holley “the best boss I ever had.”
“He is a wonderful man and a wonderful priest,” Deacon Turner said. “He will be a blessing to the Diocese of Memphis.”
“We are so pleased for him, and it is good to see his ministry expand,” said Monsignor Godfrey Mosley, pastor of Epiphany Parish in Washington.
On the evening before his installation, Holley conducted a vesper service at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. There, nearly 1,000 people — including priests, diocesan officials and others — prayed for the first time with their new bishop.
Addressing his “dear brother priests,” Holley told the clergy of Memphis that he comes “as chief shepherd and as a brother to you in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Urging the priests to always rely on God’s mercy, love, faith and forgiveness, he asked them for their loyalty and support and he promised the same to them in return.
Telling the priests that he stands before them “as a father and a pastor who serves,” Holley promised to “learn from and share with these sons of Christ.”
During his installation Mass, Holley noted that his episcopal motto is “His mercy endures forever.”
He urged the faithful of Memphis “to love and to bring the mercy of Jesus Christ into the lives of those who need to know his love and mercy.”