Hundreds of people including priests from throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta and law enforcement officers packed All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody on Jan. 19 for the funeral Mass of Monsignor Donald Kiernan, pastor of the church for 25 years. He died Jan. 9.
The service included several funny stories of the man known for his wit, inspiring and funny homilies, and his love for serving the community.
Dave Fitzgerald delivered the eulogy and recalled having lunch some time ago with Msgr. Kiernan at the Dunwoody Bistro.
“And as usual one of his fans came up to kiss his ring,” Fitzgerald started the story to laughter. “And they were both talking about the past homilies he had given at All Saints, talking about this one and that one. The guest turned to me and asked if I was from All Saints and I said, no, I’m from Christ the King. But clearly you are from All Saints.”
“No, no, I’m Jewish,” Fitzgerald said the guest answered as the crowd erupted in laughter. “I’m a member of Temple Emanu-El over there on Spalding Drive. I just come over to hear the sermons.”
Fitzgerald explained that when Msgr. Kiernan moved to Georgia in 1949, there were only 33 Catholic priests working in the state during a time when many people were unfriendly toward Catholics.
“He used to tell a story of his car breaking down on a Sunday night somewhere in middle Georgia,” Fitzgerald said. “So he went to the closest house, knocking on the door and hoping against hope he would at least find someone who was not profoundly anti-Catholic.
“The door opened, and here was a guy, and behind him was a picture of Pope Pius XII. ‘Thank God, I found the right house,'” the monsignor would say when telling the story, according to Fitzgerald.
“So the monsignor asked this guy, ‘Can you help me?’ The man said, ‘No, I will not help you, there is no way I would help a Catholic priest. Why would I do such a thing?’
“‘Well I don’t understand,” the monsignor said, according to Fitzgerald. “Why do you have this picture of Pope Pius XII on your foyer wall?’ And the man said, ‘That’s Pope Pius?’ The guy who sold it to me told me it was Harry Truman in a Shriners outfit.” And the crowed again erupted in laughter.
Rev. Bill Garrett, a deacon at All Saints, delivered the homily and spoke fondly of the monsignor, including sharing the story of the last time he celebrated mass at All Saints about three months ago. Kiernan had been ill for some time and it was a struggle for him to perform the service because he had trouble seeing the words and following the ritual, Garrett said.
A long-time parishioner came up to him after the mass and said he was honored to be in the monsignor’s presence because he felt that in his suffering he was seeing Christ himself, Garrett remembered.
When Kiernan found something he liked, he stuck with with, such as red wine or Diet Coke, Garrett also shared, and most everyone knew where he would be eating dinner in Dunwoody depending on what night of the week.
“At in April at the end of mass, he was always begging for Masters tickets,” he said to laughter.
“He was a joy-filled man and when traveled to his beloved Jekyll Isand, it was always an eight or 10-hour trip because he had to stop at every police precinct between here and there,” he added.
When Kiernan announced his retirement, there were a lot of tears, Garrett said. After the service, one a young girl approached him and asked him if his retirement meant he would not be able to officiate at her wedding. “Without missing a beat, he responded, no my dear, it just means I will now have more time to pray for you to find the right man,” Garrett said to another round of laughter.
The Principal Celebrant of the funeral mass was the Most Reverend Bernard E. Schlesinger III, auxiliary bishop of Atlanta.
Attorney General Chris Carr, a Dunwoody resident, sat with other law enforcement officials during the service, including Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan.
Kiernan was chaplain for such agencies as the DeKalb County police, the Atlanta Police Department and Georgia State Patrol. He also formed the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police and served as its director and chaplain for 20 years.
Kiernan was born in Taunton, Massachusetts, in 1924. He was ordained in Boston in 1949 and moved to Georgia shortly after. His served in Catholic churches in Savannah, LaGrange, Atlanta and Gainesville. He was also pastor at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church in Sandy Springs from 1968 to 1978 before coming to All Saints in 1985 where he served until he retired in 2011.
Dozens of members of the Knights of Columbus also attended and participated in the ceremony, wearing traditional formal uniforms including ceremonial swords.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, a state trooper played Taps on a bugle.
Photos Dyana Bagby