MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Bishop David P. Talley, named by Pope Francis March 5 to be the next bishop of Memphis, said that being at a news conference on the day of his appointment marked his fifth visit to Memphis.
“The next time, I come to live with you and love with you and serve with you and to be a part of God’s church with you,” he said.
Talley, 68, has headed the Diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana, since 2017. He was named coadjutor in 2016 and automatically succeeded Bishop Ronald P. Herzog when he retired. A former auxiliary bishop of Atlanta, Talley will be installed as the sixth bishop of Memphis April 2.
Talley’s new appointment came just over four months after Francis forced Bishop Martin D. Holley to step down as bishop of Memphis.
Joining Talley at the news conference were Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who was named apostolic administrator of the diocese after Holley’s resignation in October 2018, and Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding.
Kurtz said Talley brings to Memphis a “wealth of experience” as pastor and bishop, and “most importantly, he brings the heart of a pastor and a sterling reputation as a good shepherd.”
“It’s a wonderful appointment for the Diocese of Memphis, and I can’t wait to work with him on the issues concerning the state of Tennessee,” Spalding said.
Born Sept. 11, 1950, in Columbus, Georgia, Talley was raised a Southern Baptist and decided to become a Catholic while a student at Auburn University in Alabama. He was received into the church when he was 24. He was ordained a priest of the Atlanta Archdiocese in 1989.
Talley received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Auburn University and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Georgia. He worked as a social worker for several years before becoming a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, studying at St. Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Indiana. He also has a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
He was presiding over confirmations Feb. 9 when he received a call from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio, Talley said at the news conference.
When Pierre informed him of his new appointment, “I was in shock. I said yes immediately to the Holy Father and his nuncio. But I was reeling,” Talley said. “I had been in Alexandria for two-and-a-half years and we were just getting our wings.”
“He heard my shock,” the bishop said, and Pierre suggested he call Kurtz, who is the metropolitan for the province of Louisville, which includes the three dioceses of Tennessee and the four of Kentucky.
“From that day, he’s done everything he can to support me and prepare me for this day. So publicly today I want to thank Archbishop Kurtz,” Talley said.
Talley also thanked Francis and Pierre. “He loves our bishops,” he said of the apostolic nuncio.
The new Memphis bishop said he had not yet visited the Memphis grave of Sister Thea Bowman, who is being considered for sainthood, “But I will.”
He also pledged to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in the Lorraine Hotel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
“From the time I was a tiny little Baptist boy, Dr. King was a hero of mine,” Talley said. “He was then, he is now. He is a mentor for me about how you take the Gospel into the streets to bring about justice.”
Talley takes over a diocese demoralized after the two-year tenure of Holley, who was forced to resign by Francis for mismanagement.
According to a report in the Commercial Appeal, Memphis’s daily newspaper, Talley promised to begin healing the diocese by listening.
The paper quoted him as saying, “Usually, when people have gone under crisis or stress and it’s held in and not expressed, there is tension and stress in that. I don’t come here to fix anything. We have a Savior and he brings us together. My work is to be one instrument of his.”
The Diocese of Memphis comprises 10,682 square miles. Out of a total population of over 1.5 million, about 60,320, or 4 percent, are Catholic.
It was established in 1971, carved out of the Diocese of Nashville, which before then included the entire state of Tennessee. The Diocese of Memphis includes the western third of the state, roughly between the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers.
– – –
Contributing to this story were staff members of the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.