Bishop Stephen Parkes asks for prayers as he begins ministry in Savannah

Bishop Stephen D. Parkes processes down the center aisle at the end of his installation Mass as the new bishop of Savannah, Ga., Sept. 23, 2020, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. John in Savannah. (CNS photo/Paul H. Camp via Southern Cross)

SAVANNAH, Ga.—As he became the new bishop of Savannah, Bishop Stephen D. Parkes said prayers from the faithful of the diocese will help.

“I ask you for your prayers each day,” he told the congregation near the end of his two-and-half-hour ordination ceremony at the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist Sept. 23.

“Please whisper my name to the Almighty so I can be the shepherd the diocese deserves,” he said.

Ordained and installed as the 15th bishop of the diocese that covers 90 counties of southern Georgia, Bishop Parkes said he was inspired by the life of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, the Franciscan priest who received the stigmata and was canonized in 2002. The ceremony took place on the saint’s feast day.

Bishop Parkes, 55, also said he always looked up to his older brother, Bishop Gregory L. Parkes, 56, of St. Petersburg, Florida, and not just because his sibling stands 6 feet 8 inches tall.

The younger bishop, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall, thanked his brother for his “model of brotherhood.”

“Not only as a sibling but as a brother priest and now as a brother bishop. I’ve always looked up to you physically, obviously,” he said to a few laughs, “but also I admired your example, your witness of faith, your service to the church. I assure you, you will always be the highest priest in our family.”

The brothers are the 11th set to become bishops in the United States. The most recent pair of brothers to serve congruently were Bishop J. Kevin Boland and Bishop Raymond J. Boland. Bishop J. Kevin Boland retired as bishop of Savannah in 2011 after 16 years, and Bishop Raymond J. Boland was bishop of Birmingham, Alabama, from 1988 until 1993, when he was named bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri. He served until his retirement in 2005.

Bishop J. Kevin Boland, 85, attended Bishop Parkes’ ordination. Bishop Raymond J. Boland died in his native Ireland in 2014.

The new bishop said he was given the ring worn by Bishop Francis X. Gartland, the first bishop of Savannah, who was installed in 1850, and he felt privileged to continue the work of the 14 bishops and hundreds of priests who built the church in the diocese for 170 years.

“I realize that I am called not to fill their shoes, for that is not possible, but rather to stand on their shoulders so that together with our presbyterate today we move forward with hope and trust in God,” he said.

The new bishop delivered a brief message in Spanish to Latinos of the diocese during his comments.

The ceremony opened with a procession of priests of the diocese and bishops from Georgia and Florida in a cathedral partially filled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

As metropolitan of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of Atlanta, introduced Bishop Parkes and served as the principal consecrator. Until his appointment to Atlanta in March, Archbishop Hartmayer was the bishop of Savannah.

Joining the archbishop as co-consecrators were the elder Bishop Parkes and Bishop John G. Noonan of Orlando, Florida.

During his homily, the archbishop said Bishop Parkes, the church and society faces numerous challenges because of the pandemic, racial disharmony and economic upheaval.

“The pandemic has worn us down and made us fearful of the way forward,” he said. “Sisters and brothers are facing immense suffering as they are plunged once again into the agony of suspending public life. Racial turmoil rends our nation and demands that we confront our long history of racial and ethnic prejudice.

“It would be a mistake of this local church to see these challenges as temporary or as limited in their implication for the life of the local church of the Diocese of Savannah,” Archbishop Hartmayer said.

The pandemic will permanently change “patterns of pastoral action and evangelization,” he said, cautioning that “there is a danger that the pandemic is creating a culture of increased disengagement that will continue long after a vaccine is found.”

Calling on Bishop Parkes to remember to address the exclusion of people because of their race or ethnic background, Archbishop Hartmayer said it was time to build “a true solidarity in the community of the church” by recognizing “the sinfulness that lies in all the structures and action of exclusion and exclusivity.”

“In banishing that sinfulness, we move toward justice and heal ourselves,” he said.

Prior to his appointment, Bishop Parkes served in priestly ministry in his home Diocese of Orlando, Florida, for 22 years. He was pastor to 3,700 families at Annunciation Church north Orlando for nine years.

Born in Mineola, New York, in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Bishop Parkes has a background in education and business and marketing. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration/marketing from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

In addition, he served as spiritual director for Catholic campus ministry at the University of Central Florida in Orlando for seven years and also in the same capacity for the Catholic Foundation of Central Florida.

The elder Bishop Parkes tweeted after the ceremony that attending the episcopal ordination of his brother was “One of the great joys of my life! … Very proud of him and grateful that we now serve together as brother Bishops.”

Contributing to this report were Donnell Suggs and Robin Wright Gunn in Savannah.