Louisville priest is new bishop of Nashville

Bishop-designate J. Mark Spalding is the 12th shepherd in the history of Middle Tennessee’s diocese

By Catholic News Service

Pope Francis has named Father J. Mark Spalding, a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., as the new bishop of Nashville, succeeding Bishop David R. Choby, who died June 3.

The appointment was announced in Washington on Nov. 21 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop-designate Spalding, 52, is vicar general of the Louisville Archdiocese and also pastor of two parishes, Holy Trinity and Holy Name.

He will be the 12th bishop of Nashville and will be installed Feb. 2 during an installation Mass at Sagrado Corazon Church in the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville.

Father Michael Johnston, administrator of the Diocese of Nashville since Bishop Choby’s death, thanked Pope Francis for appointing Father Spalding.

In an interview with The Record, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Bishop-designate Spalding welcomed the appointment, noting, “It’s amazing how God works and uses a humble instrument to build up his church.”

“God has always worked in my life,” he said. “Sometimes I didn’t understand how God was working, but in time I did see his hand guiding me, leading, encouraging, challenging me to be more in the world. I feel like this is one more occasion for God to work in and through me.”

In a statement about his appointment, Bishop-designate Spalding said: “As one whose faith and vocation was nurtured in the ‘Kentucky Holy Land’ in one of the oldest dioceses in the United States, I appreciate the deep legacy of Catholicism in the Diocese of Nashville, the first diocese established in the state of Tennessee and the second oldest diocese in the province of Louisville.”

“I am honored to participate in this legacy and to continue the ministry of Bishop David Choby, whose joyful and humble pastoral leadership graced this diocese for the past decade,” he continued. “I also extend deep thanks to Father Michael Johnston, who has administered the diocese since Bishop Choby’s death in June of this year.”

Both Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and Father Johnston, in separate statements, praised the appointment of Bishop Choby’s successor.

The archbishop said the newly named bishop “brings a wealth of pastoral and administrative experience, a keen intellect, wise judgment, leadership ability, and pastoral zeal” to the Tennessee diocese.

“Archbishop Kurtz and the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville are undergoing the loss of such a fine priest, and we are grateful for their sacrifice,” Father Johnston said. “We assure them that our new bishop will be loved and cared for as he begins his new ministry among us.”

Born Jan. 13, 1965, Bishop-designate Spalding is a native of Fredericktown, Ky., and grew up in Holy Trinity Parish there. He is the eldest of three children raised on the family farm. His childhood, he said, was marked by hard farm work and was centered on family and faith.

He attended St. Meinrad College Seminary in St. Meinrad, Ind., where he studied philosophy. In 1991, he studied at the American College at Louvain in Belgium, where he earned a degree in theology. He later attended the Catholic University of Louvain, where he earned a licentiate of canon law in 1992.

Ordained Aug. 3, 1991, he has been vicar general of the Louisville Archdiocese since 2011.

Father Spalding has served under Archbishop Kurtz since 2007, when Archbishop Kurtz was appointed by Pope St. John Paul II. Archbishop Kurtz had been bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville since 1999.

“It is with great joy that I receive the news of Pope Francis’ appointment of Father J. Mark Spalding as the 12th bishop of Nashville. Bishop-elect Spalding brings a wealth of pastoral and administrative experience, a keen intellect, wise judgment, leadership ability, and pastoral zeal to the Diocese of Nashville – a diocese that has a venerable history and is growing and rich in diversity,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “As both a friend and co-worker, Bishop Spalding has worked closely with me over these past 10 years. I have witnessed firsthand Bishop-elect Spalding’s gifts as a devoted pastor of the faithful, first at Immaculate Conception Parish in LaGrange and most recently at Holy Trinity and Holy Name parishes in Louisville. I also am deeply grateful for his sterling service to the Archdiocese of Louisville, first as judicial vicar and for the past six years as vicar general.”

Archbishop Kurtz noted that 180 years ago another Kentucky native, Bishop Richard Pius Miles of Fairfield, Ky, was appointed the first bishop of Nashville.

“It is with equal joy that I also welcome Bishop-elect Spalding as a bishop of the Province of Louisville, promising him my prayers and support in his years of episcopal service. I pray that he will serve Christ, our Good Shepherd, with the same zeal, humility, and joy that characterized the service of his predecessor and my good friend, Bishop David Choby. Ad multos annos – may he serve for many fruitful years,” Archbishop Kurtz added.

Bishop Richard F. Stika also offered Bishop-designate Spalding congratulations from the Diocese of Knoxville. Bishop Stika attended the formal introduction of the bishop-to-be in Nashville on Nov. 21.

“I welcome Bishop-elect J. Mark Spalding to the state of Tennessee. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis has made an excellent choice to lead the Diocese of Nashville, and I look forward to working with him as I did for many years with the late Bishop David Choby. The Diocese of Nashville holds a special place in the hearts of all Catholics in East Tennessee because the Diocese of Knoxville was created from it in 1988. Cardinal [Justin] Rigali and I look forward to Bishop-elect Spalding’s ordination on Feb. 2 in Nashville,” Bishop Stika said.

Bishop Stika, who was ordained Knoxville’s third bishop on March 19, 2009, is now the senior bishop in the state of Tennessee. Bishop Martin Holly was installed in the Diocese of Memphis in 2016, succeeding Bishop J. Terry Steib, SVD, who retired.

Bishop-designate Spalding’s assignments since his ordination into the priesthood have included parochial vicar, St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral, Bardstown, Ky. (1992-1996); parochial vicar, St. Augustine Parish, Lebanon, Ky. (1996-1998); parochial vicar, St. Margaret Mary Parish, Louisville (1998-1999); pastor, Immaculate Conception Parish, LaGrange, Ky. (1999-2011); and pastor, Holy Trinity Parish, Louisville (2011-present).

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