The following article features Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer. Gregory was the second child of John and Sally Hartmayer. All four Hartmayer children attended Cardinal O’Hara: C. Douglas ’66, Gregory ’69, John ’72 and Mary Jo (Kotacka) ’74.
A Timeline of Events
When Gregory Hartmayer graduated from Cardinal O’Hara in 1969 he had dreams of becoming a Franciscan priest. He pictured himself working in a school setting doing what he believed he was being called to do – work with young people. It would be a quiet, unassuming life, just as he wanted. Today he is the Archbishop of Atlanta, Georgia, home to 1.2 million Catholics. He is in charge of 120 parishes and 30 missions. He supervises bishops in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. “It’s not exactly what I had in mind,” he said smilingly. “If you would have told me I would become an Archbishop in the southeast when I was in high school, I would have told you that you were crazy.”
A timeline of his Gregory’s journey shows an “uneven” path to his current ascendancy. After graduating from COHS in 1969, young Gregory Hartmayer joined the Franciscan Friars at their Novitiate of St. Joseph Cupertino in Maryland. After securing a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy and a Master of Divinty, he was ordained a priest in May, 1979.
For the next 16 years he served in a number of roles within several Catholic high schools. His first position was as guidance counselor at Archbishop Curley in Baltimore, Maryland. That was followed by three principalships: Archbishop Curley, Cardinal O’Hara (Tonawanda), and St. Francis of Athol Springs (Hamburg, NY). In January of 1995, after a brief sabbatical, Father Hartmayer was assigned to teach religion classes to freshman at John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce, Florida.
In August of 1995, Father Hartmayer’s duties shifted dramatically. In that month he was named pastor of St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, Georgia, effectively ending his “run” as a teacher and administrator in Catholic high schools. He was pastor at St. Philip Benizi for 15 years. In July 2010 he was named pastor of St. John Vianney in Lithia Springs, Georgia.
A year later, in July 2011, he was named Bishop of Savannah, Georgia by Pope Benedict. In March of 2020, Pope Francis appointed him Archbishop of Atlanta, one of 32 Archdioceses in the United States.
Archbishop Hartmayer serves on many national Catholic committees and boards. He serves on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the USCCB Committee on Communications and the Committee on National Collections. He serves on the board of directors of the National Catholic Educational Association and The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
While the above timeline may be helpful, it hardly tells the whole story. I had an opportunity recently to speak to Archbishop Hartmayer who provided some insight to the events in his timeline. It’s fascinating story.
Dave: What’s your earliest memory as a COHS student?
Archbishop Hartmayer: I’m not sure this counts but my earliest memory of O’Hara occurred before I was technically a student at O’Hara. It was the day I took the entrance exam for O’Hara. It was a little nerve-wracking. Here I was an 8th grader from St. Amelia’s and even though there were a lot of students at St. Amelia’s I’d be going to a high school with 1200 teenagers. (Laughs) I was concerned I may not pass the exam. I was a good student but not “honors” material.
I remember that Father Ignatius was proctoring the exam and he didn’t look very pleasant. I surmised he was incapable of smiling. Ironically, he would later become one of my closest friends. And then, there was my brother, Doug, who was already a student at O’Hara and he was quite a handful. (Laughs). I didn’t want anyone to know we were related. And he probably felt the same! (Laughs)
My first impression of the school was … ‘they mean business here’. I was concerned I might not get in. And I wondered what my options were if I didn’t. But, somehow, with God’s grace, I did well enough on the exam to get accepted.
Dave: Who were some people that impacted you at O’Hara?
Archbishop Hartmayer: There were some wonderful teachers there. Of course, boys and girls were separated. I was taught by lay teachers and friars. The thing is most of them were young – in their 20s. They were interested in helping us grow as young people.
They could be as mean as hornets in the classroom but they were the nicest guys outside the classroom. They would regularly appear at sporting and social events.
They were able to make a distinction between the serious business in the classroom and the “lighter” activities outside the classroom.
My classmates had a huge impact on me. We are still a very ‘tight’ class. We had our 50th reunion last summer and it was so great to see everyone. I attended all three days and had the honor of celebrating mass with my classmates. There is a core group that still lives in Tonawanda and they make sure we stay connected.
Our class was the biggest class ever at O’Hara. Even with the ‘Iron Curtain’ separating the boys and girls we still managed to do quite a bit of socializing and got to know each other pretty well. I have such fond memories of our proms, dances, homecoming, and athletic events. I feel very close to my classmates still, even after all these years.
Dave: You were involved in quite a few clubs and activities at O’Hara. What are some memories you have of those experiences?
Archbishop Hartmayer: I enjoyed participating in all of them. It was a great chance to meet students who weren’t in your class. I was on the layout team for the O’HaraScope. I worked on the plays with Father Christian. We would do all the lighting and all the sets. Father Christian really knew theatre quite well. He had high standards for us and insisted that we live up to them. He taught us a lot.
Along with being on the O’HaraScope staff and in Drama Club, I was involved in the Third Order of St. Francis, the Booster Club, Chorus, Model U.N. and I played basketball my first year. For a couple of years I was one of three male cheerleaders. My senior year I was voted Most School Spirited.
Dave: Did you ever get detention at O’Hara?
Archbishop Hartmayer: (Laughs) Absolutely! I was not the most well behaved student. I got caught more often than not but to be honest, I got away with some stuff too! The worst part about detention was that I had to find my own way home. We lived on Parkhurst, so it was quite a hike. I’d walk through the back of O’Hara, cross the railroad tracks, and walk down Young Street. From there I’d get to Eggert Road and try to hitch home. If no one picked me up I’d walk the rest of the way.
Dave: When did you begin to contemplate becoming a priest?
Archbishop Hartmayer: It’s really something that evolved. Our family’s parish was St. Amelia’s. There were three priests there who were together 17 years. They were all very involved in the parish and would be at all the activities. There was Father Ochs, Father Kelly and Monsignor McCune. I became close with Father Ochs. I was very involved in CYO at St. Amelia’s. Later I even became CYO President.
When I got to O’Hara I was introduced to the Franciscans. They also made an impression on me. It seemed like they enjoyed what they did and they seemed to have a brotherhood, a fraternity. I wanted to be like they were. In my junior year at O’Hara I went to the Novitiate of St. Joseph Cupertino in Ellicott City, Maryland to see the friary there. A number of O’Hara students went. It was a farm setting. It was a really beautiful place, very peaceful.
After high school graduation, five of us from O’Hara and 19 others from other parts of the country went back to St. Joseph Cupertino to become Franciscans.
A Principal and a Pastor
Dave: You sure have a lot of degrees. You have a B.S. in Philosophy, three Masters degrees (Divinity, Pastoral Counseling, and Secondary Education).
Archbishop Hartmayer: (Laughs) Yes! And all from Catholic schools! I even took two masters programs simultaneously – in Divinity and pastoral counseling.
Dave: For the first 15 years after your ordination you were a teacher and a principal.
Archbishop Hartmayer: Yes. It was what I had envisioned for myself. I liked working with young people, I enjoyed the Franciscan communities where I lived and worked. In 1985 though, I was asked to become the principal at Archbishop Curley I served in that capacity for two years. And then I returned to O’Hara to be the principal for the 1988-89 school year. It was not something I had ever envisioned!
Dave: What was it like to return to COHS as the principal?
Archbishop Hartmayer: It was an honor to return to O’Hara. It was a little different from when I left. There was only one teacher who was still there from my days as a student – June Fuhrmann, a French teacher. The Felician Sisters had replaced the Sisters of Namur.
It took some getting used to because I had been in all-boys schools since I began my work in education. I felt that some things needed to be “tightened up” a little in terms of dress code and other disciplinary things. The biggest “push back” I got was from some of the young ladies who would leave notes under my door saying how much they disagreed with my decisions. The notes were usually folded up into small triangles. I couldn’t have imagined leaving a note under Father Henry’s door! (Laughs)
The biggest challenge that year was working with leadership in the Diocese of Buffalo. There was a small Franciscan contingent in O’Hara at that time. I think there were four or five of us. We (Franciscans) had some conflict with the Diocese on a number of issues. At the end of that year we just decided to move on. That was the last year of a Franciscan presence at O’Hara. We moved to St. Francis in Hamburg and I was principal there for five years.
I really enjoyed being back at O’Hara and was sorry that it was only for one year. The students were great. O’Hara was a wonderful experience for me as a student and as the principal. It was a unique opportunity to be both a student at O’Hara, and principal.
Dave: In 1995 your work as a priest took a sharp turn when you were named pastor of St. Philip Benizi in Jonestown, Georgia. How did that come about?
Archbishop Hartmayer: (Laughs) Well I can tell you it caught me a little bit by surprise!
In late 1994 after a three-month sabbatical, I got a phone call. I was offered a parish assignment. I was told there were two available and was asked if I wanted the one in Connecticut or the one in Jonestown, Georgia. I said, ‘… either one, whatever you think.’ I just assumed the assignment was to be a parochial vicar to assist the pastor. But no, that was the wrong assumption! Each parish needed a new pastor.
Now, I had absolutely no experience as a pastor. My work had all been in a school setting. Ultimately, I was chosen to be the pastor of St. Philip Benizi in Jonesboro, Georgia. Ironically, the pastor I replaced was Patrick Mendola, a 1966 graduate from O’Hara. Father Mendola had passed away unexpectedly.
I learned a lot – and quickly! It was certainly different than being around teenagers all day!
Dave: How different?
Archbishop Hartmayer: As a pastor you deal with life from the very beginning to the very end. You minister to entire families from when they are born to when they die and everything in-between. You baptize your parishioners, give them first communion, you confirm them, marry them, visit them when they are ill, and you bury them. You concern yourself with the needs of the parishioners and the parish. The parish itself was very multicultural. It was a really wonderful experience.
I was there for 15 years. There comes a point where you feel you’ve done all you can. After 15 years, it was time to move on. In 2020 I was transferred to St. John Vianney parish in Lithia Springs, Georgia. I was only there for 11 months before I was named the Bishop of Savannah.
Dave: This isn’t like the business world where you apply for these positions.
Archbishop Hartmayer: (Laughs) No. Not at all.
I didn’t apply to be Bishop of Savannah. I was appointed to the post by Pope Benedict in July, 2011. The Bishop of Savannah, Bishop Boland, had announced that he was retiring and I was selected to take his place. Savannah is a very large diocese in terms of geography. It’s about 38,000 square miles, the size of Ireland. I was on the road a lot – about a third of the time I was there.
There were approximately 100,000 parishioners in the diocese and about 20% of those were undocumented immigrants. Savannah is a “mission diocese”. (*A mission diocese lacks the resources to provide basic pastoral services without outside help. – dl)
We relied quite a bit on international priests but were still stretched pretty thin.
The church in the southeast is ‘alive’ and growing like crazy. It’s tough to keep up. That’s a good thing! We’re building church after church. It’s a joy to celebrate mass and participate in other celebrations in the parishes there.
On a personal note, it was the first time in my life that I lived by myself. It took me a while to get used to that.
Archbishop of Atlanta
Dave: Six months ago you were installed as the Archbishop of Atlanta. Tell me about the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Archbishop Hartmayer: Atlanta is one of 32 Archdioceses in the United States. So that makes me one of 32 Archbishops. There are about 125 parishes and 30 missions in the Archdiocese and they minister to 1.2 million Catholics. We are the fourth fastest growing diocese in the country. We add about 2,000 new Catholics every year through our RICA program and we are seeing people move here from other parts of the country due to the climate and the availability of jobs.
Dave: What are some of your responsibilities?
Archbishop Hartmayer: Well there’s plenty to do! I do have two auxiliary bishops and they are a big help. There’s no shortage of meetings. Before this zoom call with you I was pretty much at meetings all day. It’s a far cry from what I envisioned when I was ordained a Franciscan priest. I took my vows of poverty, abstinence and obedience and imagined working in schools and being part of a community of fellow priests. I never gave any thought to becoming a bishop. These days I am living more like a diocesan priest focused on the needs of the diocese.
I also oversee bishops in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. They are part of my province. If they need something I try to be of service to them.
Dave: What is the biggest challenge you face as Archbishop?
Archbishop Hartmayer: That would have to be my administrative role –specifically dealing with personnel. There are approximately 5,500 employees in the Archdiocese – not that I work directly with all the employees! There are 150 people who work in my chancery. Luckily, I have a great staff. We don’t have an overabundance of priests for sure but with the number of international priests that we have we’re doing well in Atlanta. We have 40 seminarians in the Archdiocese. That bodes well for the future. We’re probably among the youngest presbyteries in the country.
Dave: What brings you joy in your position as Archbishop?
Archbishop Hartmayer: I would say working with the young priests. I love their enthusiasm and like to see how much they enjoy what they are doing. They struggle at times, like we all do. But they bring a youthful enthusiasm to their work. I find them to be genuine and dependable. It also helps that they make me forget how old I am. (Laughs) When I’m with them I feel like I am back in high school when I was among so many younger priests.
Dave: You were installed as the Archbishop to Atlanta during the pandemic. What was that like?
Archbishop Hartmayer: Normally the pope installs bishop at the Vatican. But, due to travel restrictions that didn’t happen. The apostolic nuncio, who is an ambassador from Rome came from Washington and he vested me with the pallium an ecclesiastical vestment that Archbishops wear as a sign that they are shepherds who look after their flock. There were ten people present due to the restrictions brought on by the pandemic.
Dave: How often do you meet with the pope?
Archbishop Hartmayer: I’ve met with Pope Francis three times. The last time I met with him was in February 2020. Every five years bishops and archbishops meet with the pope at the Vatican in a meeting called ad limina. The Church creates what are called ‘regions’ and all the bishops and archbishops of a region meet with the pope in an ad liminia. In February there were 13 of us with Pope Francis. Meetings are about 2½ hours long.
Dave: I’m just curious. Was my name brought up for any reason?
Archbishop Hartmayer: (Laughs) You mean no one has called you yet?
Dave: So what do you talk about?
Archbishop Hartmayer: There really is no set agenda. In these meetings he tells us we can ask or discuss whatever we want and he can do the same. Pope Francis has only been to the United States once. He really doesn’t know the United States like popes that preceded him. And quite frankly, he’s not that interested in knowing the United States as well as the other popes. He has a bigger picture in mind. His interests are global. That’s tough for us to take sometimes because sometimes, we in the United States, think we are the world! (Chuckles) On more than one occasion the Pope Has told us, ’You are not the only ones I care about.’
I tell you this so that when the pope speaks or writes something, it’s important to keep in mind that he is speaking to the citizens of the world – from the most primitive to the most sophisticated. There are 2 billion Catholics on this earth. We speak hundreds of languages and come from such varied cultures. Yet we are all Catholic. Sacraments are conducted the same way wherever you go. It’s one of the things that make us a universal church.
Bills or Falcons?
Dave: Are you a Bills fan or a Falcons fan?
Archbishop Hartmayer: (Laughs) When I was principal at St. Francis it was the years the Bills were in the Super Bowl. I was invited to many games and I’d sit in the boxes. If you ask me that’s the best way to watch a game in Buffalo. (Laughs) We don’t get Bills games much on television down here and I’m usually quite busy on Sunday! (Laughs) The Falcons aren’t very good this year but I never really followed them anyway.
When my mom was living I’d call her every Sunday just to check in on her. If I called during a Bills game she’d say ‘…call me back. The Bills are on.’ (Laughs) I’m very happy that the Bills have a good team and a good record. It gives the Bills fans something to look forward to in what has been a very difficult year.
Dave: Final Question. What is the value of a Catholic education?
Archbishop Hartmayer: I am certainly aware of the challenges facing Catholic schools in the northeast – schools like O’Hara that work very hard to maintain and grow enrollment and to secure financial stability. For the life of me I don’t understand why a Catholic education is not valued today as much as it used to be.
Whether you are talking about Catholic grammar schools or Catholic high schools, they both provide parents with a partnership to a faith-based educational experience in which a child can grow and learn. These are very formative years. You can’t turn the clock back on these years.
Cardinal O’Hara has offered these partnerships for close to 60 years now. And the young people of Western New York and their families have been the beneficiaries.
I’d like to acknowledge and thank Ms. Mardessa Smith, Archbishop Hartmayer’s administrative assistant for her help in arranging the interview with His Excellency.