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Former Bishops of the Diocese

  • Most Reverend Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.

    DATES SERVED: 2011–2020
    Pax et Bonum (Peace and All Good)

    Gregory John Hartmayer was born in Buffalo, New York, one of four children of John and Sally Hartmayer. He was raised in nearby Tonawanda, where he received his early education at St. Amelia School. He graduated from Cardinal O'Hara High School in 1969.

    In 1969, Hartmayer joined the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, commonly known as the Conventual Franciscans, at the St. Joseph Cupertino Friary in Ellicott City, Maryland. He took his simple vows as a Conventual Franciscan friar on August 15, 1970, before making his solemn profession on August 15, 1973. He also studied at St. Hyacinth College and Seminary in Granby, Massachusetts, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in philosophy in 1974. From 1974 to 1975, he taught at Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore. He then returned to New York to study theology at St. Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in Rensselaer, receiving a Master of Theology degree in 1979.

    Bishop Hartmayer was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard on May 5, 1979, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, NY. He then returned to Archbishop Curley High School, where he served as a guidance counselor and teacher (1979-1985) and principal (1985-1988). In 1980, he earned a Master of Arts degree in pastoral counseling from Emmanuel College in Boston. He served as principal of his alma mater of Cardinal O'Hara High School in Tonawanda from 1988 to 1989, when he became principal of St. Francis High School in Athol Springs. He received a Master of Education degree in Secondary Catholic School Administration from Boston College in 1992.

    Following a three-month sabbatical at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California, Bishop Hartmayer briefly served as an instructor at John Carroll Catholic High School in Fort Pierce, Florida, in 1995. In August of that year, he was named pastor of St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, Georgia. He became pastor of St. John Vianney Church in Lithia Springs, in July 2010.

    On July 19, 2011, Bishop J. Kevin Boland of the Diocese of Savannah announced his retirement and Pope Benedict XVI appointed Hartmayer as the fourteenth bishop of the diocese. His consecration took place on October 18, 2011, at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia.

    Highlights of his Episcopate

    • The five missionary Franciscan friars who were martyred on the coast of Georgia in the late 16th century were an inspiration to Archbishop-Elect Hartmayer. A Franciscan friar himself, he enthusiastically promoted their cause towards canonization throughout the Diocese and in Rome.
    • Catholic education being close to his heart and experience, this former counselor and principal oversaw the rebuilding of two Parochial primary schools and the creation of a new Parochial high school.
    • Three new churches were built and a new parish was created under his leadership. With the same zeal, he welcomed Franciscan Friars, Missionary Sisters of the Most Blessed Trinity, the Apostles of Jesus, and seminarians from Nigeria, Ghana, Poland, Mexico, and Colombia to serve the people under his care.
    • He traveled extensively through the 90 counties and 38,000 square miles of the Savannah Diocese, visiting parishes and schools nearly every week.

    He was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Atlanta by Pope Francis on March 5, 2020, and installed as Atlanta's seventh archbishop on May 6, 2020.

  • Most Reverend John Kevin Boland, D.D.

    DATES SERVED: 1995–2011
    Motto: Christus in Corde (Christ in the Heart)

    Bishop J. Kevin Boland was appointed the thirteenth Bishop of the Diocese of Savannah by Pope John Paul II on February 7, 1995. He was consecrated and installed on April 18, 1995 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah.

    John Kevin Boland was born in Monkstown, County Cork, Ireland, April 25, 1935. His parents, John Joseph and Gertrude O'Brien, are both deceased. He has three brothers, Frank, Tony and Raymond (deceased) who was the former bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri.

    Bishop Boland attended Christian Brothers College in Cork and All Hallows Seminary in Dublin. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 14, 1959, for the Diocese of Savannah by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin. He was appointed Bishop of Savannah on February 7, 1995, and his episcopal ordination took place on April 18, 1995, at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah. Bishop Boland attended the summer sessions of Catholic University of America in 1962, 1963 and 1964 and Fordham University in 1987, 1988 and 1989, from which he holds a Master's degree. In the spring of 1974, he participated in the Pontifical North American College Continuing Education program.

    Among his assignments in the Diocese of Savannah were

    • Assistant Pastor, St. Mary on the Hill, Augusta (1959-61)
    • Associate Pastor, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah (1961-62)
    • Pastor, St. Michael, Tybee Island (1967-68)
    • Rector, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (1970-72)
    • Pastor, Blessed Sacrament, Savannah (1972-83)
    • Pastor, St. Anne, Columbus (1983-95)

    Bishop Boland’s specialized assignments have been

    • Professor, St. John Vianney Seminary
    • Secretary to Bishop McDonough
    • Notary, Marriage Tribunal
    • Member of the Senate of Priests, Diocesan Consultor
    • Clergy Welfare Board
    • Vocations Director
    • Pro-Synodal Judge

    He was Personnel Advisor for the Diocese of Savannah from 1976 to 1995. He was Vice Chancellor of the Diocese of Savannah from 1965 to 1968, Chancellor from 1978 to 1983 and Vicar General from 1973 to 1995. He served as an ex officio member of the Council of Priests from 1984 to 1995, having served as its Chairman from 1985-87. He was appointed Vicar Forane (Dean) of the Columbus Deanery from 1987-90 and again in 1993. He was a member of the College of Consultors from 1984 to 1995. He was Diocesan Moderator of Pacelli High School from 1994-95.

    Bishop Boland has been a member of the Pastoral Practices Committee of the former National Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has served on the Board of the Southeast Pastoral Institute. He has previously been Region IV representative to the USCCB Administrative Committee and a member of the USCCB Communications Committee. In November 2001 he was elected chairman-elect and then chairman of the Committee on Marriage and Family Life. From 2002-2005 he was a member of the USCCB Budget and Finance Committee. Bishop Boland also served as a board member of the All Hallows Missionary College Fund and has served as a Trustee for Catholic Mutual Group.  In 2006 he became a member of the Bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People and was elected to the Board of Catholic Relief Services.  In January 2008, Bishop Boland became a member of the Subcommittee of the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers and was appointed on February 28, 2008 as the National Bishop Promoter of the Apostleship of the Sea (AOS).  In 2016 he was appointed to the Catholic Relief Services Foundation Board. Bishop Boland currently serves as the President of the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home Board and is the State Chaplain for the Georgia State Knights of Columbus.

    Pope Benedict XVI, on July 18, 2011 accepted the resignation of Bishop Boland as the 13th Bishop of Savannah.  He acted as the Administrator of the Diocese until October 18, 2011 on which date Gregory John Hartmayer was ordained and installed as the 14th Bishop of Savannah.

  • Most Reverend Raymond W. Lessard, D.D.

    † 2016
    DATES SERVED: 1973-1995
    Motto: To Add Joy to Your Faith (Epistle of Saint Paul to the Colossians 1:25)

    Raymond William Lessard was born in Oakwood, North Dakota, December 21, 1930. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Victor A. Lessard, retired from farming to live in the neighboring town of Grafton.

    After graduating from the parish high school in Oakwood and attending business school for one year in Grand Forks, North Dakota, he began studies for the priesthood in 1949 as a college freshman at Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Two years later, he was enrolled at the St. Paul Seminary, where he earned a B.A. degree. In 1953, he was sent to Rome by the Bishop of Fargo, to study theology at the Pontifical North American College. He was ordained a priest in Rome, for service in the Diocese of Fargo, on December 16, 1956, by Archbishop Martin J. O'Connor. In June of 1957, he was graduated from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, with a license in sacred theology.

    Returning to the United States in the summer of 1957, he served for three years as assistant pastor of St. Mary's Cathedral in Fargo. In 1960, he was assigned back to Rome as secretary to Aloisius Cardinal Muench, former Bishop of Fargo and now a member of the Vatican administrative offices (Curia). At the same time, he continued graduate studies in theology and canon law at the Gregorian University. After Cardinal Muench's death in 1962, he was named assistant superior of the North American College Graduate House in Rome.

    During the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), he served as personal advisor to his own Bishop of Fargo and attended many of the Council's sessions. In January of 1964, he was assigned to the staff of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, a position he held until his appointment in 1973 as Bishop of Savannah. Also, from 1969 to 1973, he was director of Villa Stritch, a residence erected in Rome for American priests and bishops working at the Vatican.

    His appointment by Pope Paul VI as Bishop of Savannah was made during a Consistory held on March 5, 1973, at the Vatican. He received episcopal ordination in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah on April 27, 1973.

    As a member of the former National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States, Bishop Lessard served on a number of Conference committees, such as the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and the Committees on Doctrine and on Education. He also served as chairman of the Committee on Pastoral Research and Practices. From 1977 until 1984, he was co-chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the United States. In 1983, he was named a member of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission and of the special commission on Religious Life in the United States. In 1985, he was elected chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, a position he held until November 1988. In November of 1989, he was elected secretary of the NCCB-USCC for a two-year term. Bishop Lessard served as president of the Georgia Christian Council in 1990.

    For nearly 22 years, Bishop Lessard served as chief shepherd of the widely-dispersed Catholics in the 90 southernmost counties of Georgia, the largest state east of the Mississippi River. In 1973, there were 35,275 Catholics in the Savannah Diocese, organized into 42 parishes and 29 missions. By 1995, there were 68,410 Catholics in 53 parishes and 27 missions.

    Among the structures established or strengthened by Bishop Lessard to further collaboration in ministry were the Board of Vicars (senior diocesan staff and vicars forane or deans), Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Senate of Priests (now the Presbyteral Council) and the Council of Religious. He restored the twin towers of the Cathedral and consolidated the diocesan offices in a single pastoral center.

    Bishop Lessard also established the permanent diaconate in the Savannah Diocese, ordaining approximately 35 deacons in 1979 and 1985. He also ordained 30 priests, for the Savannah Diocese and for religious orders.

    Bishop Lessard emphasized religious education at all levels, for many years making a circuit of the diocese for his "mini-retreats" on various aspects of the Church's teaching. One program instituted by Bishop Lessard that had far-reaching effects was A Heart Renewed, a three-year program of spiritual and pastoral renewal that proved to be very popular. Some parish groups continued to meet for years. The later Fullness of Time program, devised by many of the diocesan staff people, built on A Heart Renewed.

    On February 7, 1995, Bishop Lessard's resignation, for reasons of health, was accepted by Pope John Paul II. Since his retirement, he has taught theology at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, Boynton Beach, Florida.

    Bishop Lessard died on January 3, 2016 at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida.

  • Most Reverend Gerard L. Frey, D.D.

    † 2007
    DATES SERVED: 1967–1972
    Motto: Serviam (I serve)

    The 11th bishop, the Most Reverend Gerard Louis Frey, succeeded Bishop McDonough on the latter’s promotion. Father Frey was ordained a priest on April 2, 1938. His appointment as Bishop of Savannah came on May 31, 1967, with ordination the following August 8.

    Under his leadership, all parishes of the diocese were asked to establish pastoral councils. Deanery pastoral councils and a diocesan council were formed. Bishop Frey presided over a transitional period in which the renewal of the Church’s life and ministry, decreed by the Second Vatican Council, was implemented, while integration accelerated after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bishop Frey remained in Savannah only five years before Pope Paul VI transferred him to Lafayette, Louisiana, on November 7, 1972. He retired on May 13, 1989. Bishop Frey died on August 16, 2007.

  • Most Reverend Thomas J. McDonough, D.D.

    † 1998
    DATES SERVED: 1960–1967
    Motto: Nihil Sine Deo (Nothing Without God)

    On May 26, 1938, Father Thomas J. McDonough was ordained a priest. Pope Pius XII appointed him Titular Bishop of Thaenae and Auxiliary Bishop of St. Augustine on March 10, 1947. He was consecrated on April 30, 1947, the youngest American bishop at that time.

    Ten years later, on January 2, 1957, Bishop McDonough was transferred to Savannah as Auxiliary to Archbishop Gerald P. O’Hara, Bishop of Savannah and Apostolic Delegate to England and Wales. Bishop McDonough was installed on February 20, 1957. When Archbishop O’Hara resigned in 1959, Bishop McDonough served as diocesan administrator until he was appointed 10th Bishop of Savannah on March 2, 1960. He was installed April 27, 1960. His great priority was cultivating seminarians and priests, so he established Saint John Vianney Minor Seminary and arranged for about 30 Irish priests to come to the diocese.

    Bishop McDonough attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and helped weather the storms of the civil rights movement. On March 1, 1967, Pope Paul VI promoted Bishop McDonough to head the Archdiocese of Louisville, where he remained until his resignation on September 29, 1981. Archbishop McDonough died on August 4, 1998.

  • Most Reverend Francis E. Hyland, D.D.

    † 1968
    DATES SERVED: 1949–1956

    On October 15, 1949, Pope Pius XII appointed Father Francis E. Hyland Titular Bishop of Gomphi and Auxiliary Bishop of Savannah, to minister to Bishop O’Hara’s flock in his absence.

    Bishop Hyland was consecrated on December 21, 1949. Pope Pius XII established the Diocese of Atlanta on July 17, 1956, with Bishop Hyland as its first bishop. The southern portion of Georgia was redesignated the “Diocese of Savannah.” Bishop Hyland was installed in Atlanta on November 8, 1956. He resigned on October 11, 1961 and Pope John XXIII appointed him Titular Bishop of Bisica, a title he held until his death on January 31, 1968.

  • Most Reverend Gerald P. O'Hara

    † 1963
    DATES SERVED: 1935–1959
    Motto: Vitam Impendere Christo (Life for Christ)

    On April 26, 1929, Pope Pius XI appointed Father Gerald P. O’Hara Titular Bishop of Heliopolis and Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia. On May 20, 1929, the Most Reverend Gerald P. O’Hara was ordained a bishop. At age 34, he was the youngest bishop in the world at that time.

    Bishop O’Hara was appointed by Pope Pius XI on November 16, 1935, as Bishop of Savannah. Within the first year, Bishop O’Hara established several new parishes. He petitioned Pope Pius XI to designate the diocese “Savannah-Atlanta,” in recognition of the growing importance of Atlanta. The decree was authorized on January 5, 1937. After World War II, Bishop O’Hara was made an archbishop and served as papal representative to Romania, Ireland, and England and Wales, while remaining Bishop of Savannah. Archbishop O’Hara also played a major role in establishing Catholic schools around Georgia and created the Catholic Youth Organization. The name “Diocese of Savannah” was restored to the 88 counties in south Georgia in 1956. Archbishop O’Hara resigned as Bishop of Savannah on November 11, 1959. He was appointed Titular Archbishop of Pessinus that same year and died on July 16, 1963.

  • Right Reverend Michael J. Keyes, S.M., D.D.

    † 1959
    DATES SERVED: 1922–1935
    Motto: Ave Maris Stella (Hail Star of the Sea, from a hymn composed by Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers)

    Bishop Michael J. Keyes was appointed to the See of Savannah on July 8, 1922. He was consecrated on October 18, 1922 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah.

    He adopted a conservative financial policy, which enabled him to leave a substantial reserve fund to his successor. He fostered the aims and work of the Catholic Laymen’s Association of Georgia. Bishop Keyes resigned the See of Savannah on September 23, 1935 due to ill health. The reigning pontiff, Pius XI, in accepting his resignation, appointed him Titular Bishop of Areopolis in Palestine and Assistant to the Pontifical Throne. In the ensuing years, Bishop Keyes’ health improved enough for him to resume teaching moral theology at Marist College, Washington, D.C., where he remained active until 1958. On July 31, 1959, Bishop Keyes died.

  • Right Reverend Benjamin J. Keiley, D.D.

    † 1925
    DATES SERVED: 1900–1922
    Motto: Dominus Meus et Deus Meus (My Lord and my God, John 20:28)

    Father Benjamin J. Keiley came to Savannah in 1886 with Bishop Thomas A. Becker. As rector, Father Keiley celebrated the first Mass in the rebuilt Cathedral on December 24, 1899. He was appointed seventh Bishop of Savannah and was consecrated on June 3, 1900.

    The rebuilt Cathedral was dedicated on October 28, 1900. Bishop Keiley achieved a long-desired wish when he presided over the solemn consecration of the Cathedral in 1920. Concerned about the welfare of African-American Catholics in the Diocese of Savannah, Bishop Keiley entrusted their spiritual care to the Society of African Missions. Bishop Keiley resigned on account of health on February 13, 1922. On March 24, 1922, Pope Pius XI appointed him Titular Bishop of Scillium. Bishop Keiley died on June 17, 1925.

  • Right Reverend Thomas A. Becker, D.D.

    † 1899
    DATES SERVED: 1886–1899
    Motto: Ora pro Nobis (Pray for us)

    The Right Reverend Thomas Andrew Becker, sixth Bishop of Savannah, a convert from Protestantism, was consecrated first Bishop of Wilmington, Delaware, on August 16, 1868.

    Bishop Becker was regarded as one of the most accomplished bishops in the United States. His series of articles on the idea of a Catholic university attracted wide attention. He was devoted to the temperance movement. Pope Leo XIII transferred Bishop Becker from Wilmington to Savannah on March 26, 1886. Before he completed the Cathedral with the building of spires in 1896, he had added the episcopal residence adjoining the Cathedral in 1889. On February 6, 1898, the Cathedral caught fire and was nearly destroyed. Savannah Catholics threw themselves into rebuilding the Cathedral. Bishop Becker solicited funds from his brother bishops. The work of rebuilding went on, despite a delay caused by the Spanish-American War. Bishop Becker died on July 29, 1899.

  • Right Reverend William H. Gross, C.Ss.R., D.D.

    † 1898
    DATES SERVED: 1873–1885
    Motto: Sentiant Omnes Tuum Juvamen (May all experience your aid)

    Bishop Persico’s successor, the Right Reverend William H. Gross, C.Ss.R., was consecrated fifth Bishop of Savannah April 27, 1873.

    Bishop Gross laid the cornerstone of the new Cathedral on November 19, 1873. The new structure was dedicated to “Our Lady of Perpetual Help,” a name the Cathedral retained for about 10 years. Bishop Gross was the last of the bishops of Savannah to use the old Cathedral on Drayton Street and the first to occupy the new one on Lafayette Square. On February 1, 1885, Pope Leo XIII promoted Bishop Gross to Archbishop of Oregon City (later Portland in Oregon). He died in Baltimore on November 14, 1898.

  • Right Reverend Ignatius Persico, D.D.

    † 1895
    DATES SERVED: 1870–1872
    Motto: Cruce Quid Securius (What is safer than the Cross?)

    In March 1870, Pope Pius IX appointed the Right Reverend Ignatius Persico, a learned and devout Italian missionary bishop who had been Vicar Apostolic of Bombay and Agra in British India, as fourth Bishop of Savannah. His new diocese, covering the state of Georgia, now had 20,000 Catholics and 30 churches. Bishop Persico inaugurated plans for building a new Cathedral, but he resigned the see for reasons of health in 1872 and returned to Italy. He was created cardinal by Pope Leo XIII on January 16, 1893, and died on December 7, 1895. He was the only Bishop of Savannah raised to the College of Cardinals. 

  • Right Reverend Augustin Marcellin Verot, S.S., D.D.

    † 1876
    DATES SERVED: 1861–1870
    Motto: Fide et Virtute (By Faith and Virtue)

    The “Rebel Bishop,” Frenchman Augustin Marcellin Verot, was consecrated a bishop on April 25, 1858. On July 14, 1861, Pope Pius IX appointed Bishop Verot to the See of Savannah, vacant since the 1859 death of Bishop John Barry.

    The bishop was outspoken in his defense of Southern “rights,” and guided the 8,000 Catholic of the diocese during the difficult days of the Civil War. Bishop Verot sought to moderate the worst aspects of slavery and to institute “social, moral and religious improvement” for slaves. He stated forcefully that the abolition of slavery offered an unprecedented opportunity for the Catholic Church to reach out to a large bloc of people who had formerly been strangers to the Church’s teachings. Perhaps Bishop Verot’s greatest achievement was the incorporation of the Catholic schools in Savannah into the public school system, while retaining their religious character. Bishop Augustin Verot died in St. Augustine in June 1876.

  • Right Reverend John Barry, D.D

    † 1859
    DATES SERVED: 1857-1859

    Irish-born Father John Barry was elected diocesan administrator on Bishop Gartland’s death in 1854 and governed the diocese in that capacity for three years, before Pope Pius IX appointed him second Bishop of Savannah on January 9, 1857. He was consecrated on August 2 of that year. Faced with a clergy diminished by the yellow fever epidemic and with a depleted treasury, Bishop Barry sailed for Europe, seeking funds and priests for the diocese. Apparently ill before he left, he died in Paris in November 1859. He was 69 years old. 

  • Right Reverend Francis X. Gartland, D.D.

    † 1854
    DATES SERVED: 1850–1854
    Motto: Vincit Veritas (Truth conquers)

    On July 19, 1850, Pope Pius IX erected the Diocese of Savannah. At its creation, the new diocese included all of Georgia and most of Florida, with a total Catholic population of 5,500. The pope appointed Father Francis Xavier Gartland to the new See of Savannah in July 1850, though he would not be consecrated bishop until November 10.

    With the money he had solicited in Ireland and other countries, the bishop began new projects: the building of three churches and enlarging and repairing the old Cathedral. Bishop Gartland presided at the rededication of the Cathedral on June 26, 1853. He died on September 20, 1854, during a yellow fever epidemic. He was 49 years old.

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