Bishops of the Archdiocese of Atlanta
Note: Click on the name of the bishop for more information.
Archbishop John F. Donoghue is the first person to welcome Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory as the new archbishop of Atlanta at the 2005 installation. Photo by Michael Alexander, The Georgia Bulletin
During Colonial days the Vicar Apostolic of the London District
held jurisdiction over the American colonies. About thirty priests attended the
faithful who were found chiefly in Maryland and Pennsylvania, hence we find the
beginnings of ecclesiastical organization in Catholic Maryland.
The last Vicar-Apostolic of the London District before the
American Revolution was Dr. Richard Challoner, Bishop of Debra who was
consecrated January 29, 1741. He died in January, 1781. His coadjutor, Right
Rev. James Talbot, consecrated Bishop of Birtha, August 24, 1759, was actively
in charge of the spiritual welfare of the Catholics in the Colonies at the time
of the Revolution. When the Colonies declared their independence of England
communication between the London Vicariate and the Catholic priests and people
of the thirteen colonies ceased.
At the solicitation of the American clergy, after peace had
succeeded war, Pope Pius VI appointed Father John Carroll, a missionary priest
and a native of Maryland, Prefect-Apostolic on July 23, 1785. His jurisdiction
as a Prefect-Apostolic did not include the whole of the United States. Indian
Missions in Maine, New York and the present state of Ohio, and settlements in
the present states of Michigan, Indiana and Illinois were under the charge of
the Bishop of Quebec. Florida, a part of which state was in later years
included in the Diocese of Savannah was not at that time a part of the United
States. It was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Santiago de Cuba.
The clergy of the new Republic, about thirty in number, assembled
at White Marsh under date of March 12, 1788, to send a petition to the Holy
Father asking for the appointment of a Bishop for the new republic and
suggesting Baltimore as the See. The Holy Father received the petition and
granted that the clergy propose the priest for this exalted dignity, the first
bishop for the new republics. Father John Carroll received 24 of the 26 votes.
Pope Pius VI, on November 6, 1789, erected the See of Baltimore and appointed
Father John Carroll the first Bishop. He was consecrated bishop in the chapel
of Lulworth Castle, England, on August 15, 1790.
The See of Baltimore embraced the territory of the new republic,
the church grew rapidly, new Sees were erected. The Catholics in the Southern
states solicited the appointment of a bishop. The Diocese of Charleston,
embracing North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, was erected June 12,
1820. The first Bishop of Charleston was the Right Rev. John England. He was
consecrated September 21, 1820, in the church of St. Finbar, in the City of
Cork, Ireland. The See of Charleston was erected by Pope Pius VII.
The Seventh Provincial Council of Baltimore, during the second
private session of the Council on May 8, 1849, at the request of Bishop
Reynolds, second Bishop of Charleston, petitioned the Holy See to erect the See
of Savannah. Pope Pius IX erected the Diocese of Savannah. The papal document,
Exigit Pastorale Munus, erecting the See of Savannah, is dated July 19,
1850. Right Rev. Francis Xavier Gartland, the first Bishop of Savannah, was
consecrated on September 10, 1850, in Philadelphia. The Diocese of Savannah
then comprised the State of Georgia and Florida east of the Apalachicola River.
It covered an area of about 90,000 square miles. In 1857 the Holy See severed
Florida from the Savannah jurisdiction. The See of Savannah embracing the State
Under date of January 5, 1937, the Holy See changed the name of
the title of the See to the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta. This decree was
solemnly promulgated by Most Rev. Michael J. Curley, Archbishop of Baltimore,
on the night of April 15, 1937, in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in
Savannah, Georgia. Most Rev. Gerald Patrick O'Hara, D. D., J., U. D., became
the first bishop of the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta. Before his appointment as
Bishop of Savannah, he served as auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia. He was
consecrated Titular Bishop of Heliopolis on May 20, 1929, and was installed as
Bishop of Savannah on January 15, 1936. The Savannah-Atlanta Diocese comprised
the same territory as the recent Savannah Diocese, the State of Georgia.
In 1956 the Diocese of Atlanta was established, and in 1962 it was
raised to the status of Archdiocese.
When Terminus, the precursor to the city of Atlanta, was
first definitely located in 1837 it was in the diocese of
Charleston, S.C. This See, established July 12,
1820, included South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. Right Reverend John
England, the first Bishop of Charleston, was still the shepherd of the
Catholics who were scattered through this vast territory. Bishop England died
April 11, 1842, and was succeeded by Right Reverend Ignatius A. Reynolds, who
was Bishop of Charleston until his death on March 9, 1855. In 1839, Bishop
England stated there were but eleven priests in Georgia. There is no record
that Bishop England was ever in our city. But Bishop Reynolds was in Atlanta
and dedicated the first Immaculate Conception Church. On February 22, 1848, he
administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to a class of twelve.
The new Diocese of Savannah was created
in 1850 by Pius IX and its first bishop, Rt. Rev. F. X. Gartland, was
consecrated on September 10, 1850. Atlanta then became a part of the new See of
Savannah. Bishop Gartland was in Atlanta in June, 1854. He confirmed a class of
nineteen on June 28, 1854. Immediately afterwards he returned to Savannah where
an epidemic of yellow fever had broken out and in less than three months he had
succumbed to that dread disease while caring for the members of his flock.
The second Bishop of Savannah was the Right Reverend John Barry.
When Father Barry was performing noble work in the little town of Atlanta he
was pastor of Augusta and the missions attached and he was also Vicar General
of the Diocese of Charleston. After the creation of the new See of Savannah he
was made its Vicar General in 1853. After the death of Bishop Gartland he was
administrator of the diocese and on August 2, 1857, was consecrated Bishop of
Savannah. Bishop Barry was in Atlanta in 1858, and administered the Sacrament
of Confirmation to a class in the first Immaculate conception Church, which he
did much to organize and which he served as a missionary. He only lived two
years after his consecration as bishop. He died November 21, 1859.
Before the completion of the new church three other bishops were
appointed to the See of Savannah. Right Reverend Augustus Verot served from
1861 to 1870 during the trying period of the war. Right Reverend Ignatius
Persico, afterwards cardinal, from 1870 to 1872, and Right Reverend William H.
Gross, C. SS. R., who dedicated the present Immaculate Conception Church was
consecrated April 27, 1873. He was Bishop of Savannah until 1885.