MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Newly installed Memphis Bishop David Talley used his inaugural homily as head of the West Tennessee diocese to urge local Catholics to be “transformed” by a new spirit and a new heart.
At his installation Mass on Tuesday, the Georgia native sought a conciliatory tone seeking to unify a diocese that only two and a half years ago welcomed another bishop and whose abrupt departure after protest from bishops and priests alike last October left the diocese in turmoil.
During the final moments of his 15-minute homily, Talley stepped down from the pulpit to be on the same level of the people in attendance, recalling the words of the prophet Ezekiel who sought to comfort the Israelites after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
He encouraged them not to forget “the promise of God to always be with his people” — turning to his own episcopal motto taken from Ezekiel and reciting the Lord’s promise that “He will give you a new heart.”
Talley used his homily to encourage a spirit of unity for all members of the diocese, saying, “we each have been called to service.”
“And I have been called as your brother and your bishop to lead us together on pilgrimage,” he said.
He urged particular attention to the sacramental life, saying that through the gifts of the Eucharist and confession, “you and I are organically connected to the risen Lord.”
The 68-year-old bishop, who just two years ago was plucked from serving as an auxiliary bishop in Atlanta to head the diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana, began his homily with a litany of thanks — beginning with that of Pope Francis, whom he said “in simplicity and humility, Francis is the one who points us to the joy of the Gospel” — and then proceeding to pay tribute to the more than a dozen bishops and scores of priests and religious in attendance.
Despite some speculation among local Catholics, former Bishop Martin Holley was not in attendance.
Bishop Terry Steib, who led the diocese for 23 years prior to Holley and whom Talley has been actively consulting during the transition, concelebrated the Mass, along with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky who led the diocese during the interregnum.
Attendees filled the nearly 100-year-old Renaissance style Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to an overflow capacity exceeding 1,000 guests. Whereas recent installations in Memphis have taken place at rented conference venues, Talley is said to have opted for the cathedral as a humbler option.
He received two standing ovations during the installation, one after his homily and the first after he presented the papal bull signed by Pope Francis confirming his appointment.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the pope’s representative to the United States, was on hand for the occasion, where he said that Talley’s task was to bring healing and unity to the diocese.
“You will have your work cut out for you,” Pierre said to laughter from the crowd.
“We are confident in your ability to get things done,” he continued, recalling Talley’s nickname as “Taz,” a reference to the Tasmanian devil, dating back to his service in Atlanta where he was known for operating “full speed ahead” engaged in a “whirlwind of pastoral activity.”
Pierre recalled that Memphis is well known for its connection to the Civil Rights crusader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated just a few miles from the cathedral.
Referencing his famous “I have a dream speech,” which Pope Francis cited during his 2015 address to a joint session of U.S. Congress, Pierre told Talley that he must “help the Church in Memphis dream again.”
“The Holy Father dreams of a bright future for the Church in Memphis,” he added.
The nearly two-hour bi-lingual liturgy concluded with a rapturous applause and Talley recessed out of the Cathedral, with one attendee loudly commenting “that was beautiful, but I hope we don’t have to do this again so soon this time.”
In addition to the installation Mass, the diocese recently announced that over the next two months, Talley will take advantage of confirmation season and visit over 20 parishes within the diocese, with the theme of his introductory tour being “meeting people where they are.”