|Bishop James Niedergeses lays his hands upon the head of Bishop David Choby during his ordination and installation as the 11th Bishop of Nashville on Feb. 27, 2006. Bishop Niedergeses was the chaplain at Saint Thomas Hospital on the day Bishop Choby was born and visited his mother in her hospital room that day. Tennessee Register file photo by Theresa Laurence
Ten years ago, family, friends, bishops, priests, seminarians, deacons, sisters, special guests and members of his new diocesan-wide flock packed the Cathedral of the Incarnation to witness the episcopal ordination of Bishop David Choby and his installation as the 11th Bishop of Nashville.
“I remember almost everything from the ordination,” said a smiling Bishop Choby. “The most memorable thing would be the moment of the ordination itself with the laying on of hands” by Archbishop Thomas Kelly of Louisville and Bishop Edward Kmiec and Bishop James Niedergeses, the two men who preceded him as the Bishop of Nashville.
It was especially meaningful that Bishop Niedergeses was among those to ordain him, Bishop Choby said, “since he was the priest chaplain at Saint Thomas Hospital on the day I was born, and he visited my mother on the day I was born.”
In that moment, the joy of the life of a priest was on display, Bishop Choby said. “The life of serving people as a priest, whether in a parish or school or any other circumstance … is enormously rich because of the relationships that develop over time,” he said.
“As a priest for more than 40 years, the children of couples whose marriage I witnessed are now getting married. People I baptized are having their own children baptized. People I have confirmed are taking their place in society and developing their gifts and talents … to make their contributions to the world through those gifts and talents in their career,” Bishop Choby said. “The priesthood offers a wonderful opportunity to be a part of people’s lives … from cradle to the grave.”
“That image of myself and Bishop Niedergeses makes that very concrete,” Bishop Choby said.
“I don’t really find my experience of being a bishop much different than my experience of being a parish priest,” Bishop Choby said. “I’m still involved in people’s lives.”
Bishop Choby will formally mark the 10th anniversary of his ordination by celebrating Mass at 11 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Cathedral. That simple celebration, he said, “makes the connection, in my mind, between my life as a parish priest and as a bishop.”
When Bishop Choby was ordained and installed bishop on Feb. 27, 2006, he became only the second native of the Diocese of Nashville to serve as its bishop, following Bishop Niedergeses. Born and raised in Nashville, he entered the seminary at St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa in 1966, and was ordained a priest on Sept. 6, 1974.
After Bishop Kmiec was appointed as the Bishop of Buffalo in 2004, Bishop Choby was elected as the diocesan administrator. Thirteen months later, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as bishop.
At the time of his election as diocesan administrator, Bishop Choby had been pastor of St. John Vianney Church in Gallatin for 15 years, which he called a “wonderful experience.” But he was contemplating asking for a new assignment.
“When Bishop Kmiec was named Bishop of Buffalo, I had decided that I was going to give the new bishop a year to get settled in and then I was going to ask him for a change,” Bishop Choby recalled. “I got a change, not the one I was expecting.”
Boost in vocations
|Bishop Choby talks to seminarians of the Diocese of Nashville at the conclusion of the Seminarian Education Dinner and Auction last May. During his tenure, Bishop Choby has seen a boost in the number of the diocese’s seminarians and in the number of priestly ordinations. Tennessee Register file photo by Andy Telli
In the last 10 years, Bishop Choby has seen the diocese grow in many ways, including in the number and cultural diversity of Catholics as well as the need for expanded and new ministries. As the diocese has responded to the changes, it has been helped by a boost in vocations. When Bishop Choby became bishop, the diocese had 15 seminarians; today, it has 27. He has ordained 26 new priests in the last 10 years, including at least one every year. In July of 2014, he ordained nine men, the most ever ordained at a single time in the history of the diocese.
Two more seminarians are scheduled to be ordained in June and Bishop Choby expects four or five men to begin seminary studies next fall.
“I’ve always felt very comfortable working in that area,” Bishop Choby said.
“What it reflects is the fact that young men from any number of different cultures and places have the same experience and attitude and regard to the value of the Catholic faith. And they’re attracted to it,” Bishop Choby said of the increase in vocations.
The bishop acknowledged that he has a reputation among the seminarians of this diocese and other dioceses of being close to the seminarians.
“I’ve always been interested in the formation of seminarians,” said Bishop Choby, who taught canon law at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, for five years and later served on its board of trustees.
While teaching at the seminary, “I used to marvel at the changes that were often visible … through the formation process as seminarians’ gifts and abilities developed and matured,” Bishop Choby said. “It’s like the role of a parent … watching one’s own children develop and grow and mature.”
“I believe pretty strongly in providing the seminarians of the diocese every opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills,” Bishop Choby said. Two recently ordained priests, Fathers Andy Bulso and John Hammond, are studying in Rome, working toward advanced degrees, and a third new priest, Father Ben Butler, is working on a master’s degree in spirituality from Duquesne University, he noted. “That’s an important investment in the future, because they are the future of the diocese.”
“The people of the Diocese of Nashville have every reason to be proud of the men studying,” he said. “They are very capable.”
Bishop Choby has also been open to seminarians who grew up outside the Diocese of Nashville and in many cases outside the United States. “I am pleased that the seminarians of the diocese represent the broad ethnic makeup of the Church in the diocese,” Bishop Choby said.
The growing cultural diversity of the seminarians and priests of the diocese reflects the changing demographics in Middle Tennessee.
“The future of the Diocese of Nashville is reflected in the fact that the area is becoming so popular and important as an area to people coming to the United States from around the world,” Bishop Choby said. “So many come with a Catholic heritage and background.”
“The diocese continues to make an effort to provide opportunities for people from different cultures to come together to pray, to worship,” Bishop Choby said.
The diocese is serving its growing Latino population in several ways. During his tenure, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church has been established as parish serving a Spanish-speaking congregation, and the diocesan Hispanic ministry center, Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, has moved to the new Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville.
Not only does a staff of priests and religious sisters from Mexico serve the congregation at Sagrado Corazon, they also serve Spanish-speaking communities at parishes throughout the diocese. And some parishes maintain their own Hispanic ministries.
The diocese also serves communities of other nationalities and ethnic groups, such as the Korean Catholic Community, which recently dedicated its own church in Donelson; the Vietnamese community, which gathers at St. Martha Church in Ashland City; the Coptic Catholic Community, made up of people from Egypt and the Middle East, which meets at St. Patrick; the Syro-Malabar community, made up of people from India, which meets at the Church of the Assumption, the Nigerian Catholic community, which worships at St. Edward; a community of Catholics from Myanmar, and others.
“The nature of the Church is it is addressed to all people,” Bishop Choby said. “The faith has the ability to unite people from all places, all ethnic groups, all cultures.”
|Bishop Choby signs the documents closing the diocese’s purchase in 2014 of the former Two Rivers Baptist Church overlooking Briley Parkway across from the Opryland Hotel. The facility is now the diocese’s Catholic Pastoral Center, housing the diocesan ministry and administrative offices, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, and the Sagrado Corazon Hispanic Ministry Center. Tennessee Register file photo by Rick Musacchio
One of the major developments during Bishop Choby’s tenure was the diocese’s purchase in 2014 of the former Two Rivers Baptist Church on McGavock Pike in Nashville overlooking Briley Parkway across from the Opryland Hotel.
The purchase “has been a great blessing for the Catholic Church in Middle Tennessee,” Bishop Choby said.
In 2015, diocesan administrative offices, Catholic Charities of Tennessee offices, the Catholic Youth Office, the Catholic Schools Office and the Sagrado Corazon Hispanic Ministry all moved into the new Catholic Pastoral Center.
“When I first looked at this building and toured it, what immediately struck me was the capacity it offered for providing a space that would address so many aspects of the life of the diocese,” Bishop Choby said. In the future he would like to see a section of the building dedicated to the history of the diocese, “which is long and rich,” he said. “A Catholic cultural center if you will.”
Individual parishes are also involved in building projects. The Church of the Nativity in Spring Hill, St. Luke in Smyrna, St. Frances Cabrini in Lebanon, and Our Lady of the Lake in Hendersonville are currently building new churches or expanding their facilities, and Holy Family in Lafayette hopes to build a new church soon.
“There is the prospect of creating a couple of new parishes in the not too distant future,” Bishop Choby said. “We’ll probably in this year or next year identify some additional sites for parishes in western Rutherford County and eastern Williamson County. As long as our vocations continue to develop, I’ll be looking to create some new parishes. That’s where the growth is.”
|Cardinal Antonios Naguib, the Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, gives Communion as Bishop David R. Choby of Nashville, Tenn., looks on during Mass at St. Patrick Church in 2011. The Coptic Catholic community in Nashville is one of several ethnic and national communities the diocese serves. Tennessee Register file photo by Theresa Laurence
The Fairview area in western Williamson County is also growing and the diocese owns land next to Camp Marymount that could serve as the site of a new parish if the growth in the area warrants it, Bishop Choby said.
“We’ll continue to do some other things that have been successful, such as housing for the elderly,” Bishop Choby said. The diocese is considering expanding that effort to Murfreesboro because of the continued growth there, he said.
“I’m pleased to see development of a residential building at Aquinas College. It will make a major contribution to their development and growth,” Bishop Choby said. And he praised the strong relationship between the diocese and Saint Thomas Health. “They’ve been magnificent in trying to respond to the needs of Catholic patients” with full-time priest chaplains at all of their hospitals and helping to cover the salary of the chaplain at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“They express another dimension of the ministry of the Catholic Church to the community,” Bishop Choby said of Saint Thomas. “The Church is noted for education, health care and social services. In all of those areas, the diocese if very strong.”
He also noted the growth of the campus ministry at University Catholic, which is expanding beyond Vanderbilt University and is starting to serve students at Belmont and Lipscomb universities as well, under the direction of Fathers John Sims Baker and Michael Fye.
Witnessing a life of faith
But challenges remain. “One of the biggest challenges that the Church universal faces and we face in the Diocese of Nashville is how does one effectively witness to a life of faith in a culture and society that is so deeply secularized,” Bishop Choby said.
“It’s not something that depends simply upon my work as a bishop. It’s something that needs to be shared in by each Catholic in the diocese,” he said. “As they come together in their parishes, they become witnesses to the values of the faith. As they live their Catholic identity and people see that and notice that, they are attracted to it.”
Evidence of that could be seen at the recent Rite of Election for people who will be entering the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass. “St. Henry Church was practically filled with people,” Bishop Choby said. “Much of that is the result of proximity to people living the life of faith … and finding it attractive.”
Bishop Choby is optimistic about the future of the diocese. “There’s a lot for us as Catholic people to be excited about and proud of,” he said. “I feel real good about things.”
The optimism extends to a personal level as well. “I consider myself to be fortunate and blessed to be here,” Bishop Choby said. “The life of a priest, and as a consequence the life of a bishop, is a source of great blessing.”