Bishop-elect Stephen Parkes smiles as he shares some of his experiences in ministry to the faithful of the Diocese of Orlando. A video of this interview is found at the Florida Catholic Youtube page or by clicking the inset button. (SCREENSHOT | VIDEO BY MAURICE BEAULIEU)

Orlando priest looks to the future as bishop of Savannah

ORLANDO  |  After serving in the Catholic ministry in the Diocese of Orlando for 22 years, Father Stephen Parkes will greet the parishioners of the Diocese of Savannah as their new bishop Sept. 23, 2020. 

It was in July that Bishop-Elect Parkes received a life-changing phone call from Archbishop Christophe Pierre. The apostolic nuncio to the United States informed him the Holy Father was appointing me as the 15th bishop of the Diocese of Savannah.

Before leaving the Sunshine State for the 90-county diocese in south Georgia, Bishop-Elect Parkes sat with the Florida Catholic newspaper for video interview  that is posted on the publication’s Youtube channel (click here to view video). In the 10-minute video, Bishop-Elect Parkes answers several questions about his appointment, his ministry in central Florida, those who inspire him and his hopes for his new appointment.

Priestly and episcopal ordinations run in the Parkes’ family. Both Stephen and older brother Gregory were ordained as priests of the Orlando Diocese — Stephen in 1998 and Gregory in 1999. In 2012, the older Parkes was ordained and installed as bishop of the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese in Florida’s panhandle, and then was installed as bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg in 2017.

“It’s really a blessing to have that bond together, to be able to share in ministry,” Father Parkes said of his connection with his brother in the honor of Christ. “Our family is important in the way that we are people of faith, and who we are formed to be, who we have grown up to be, and we continue to look to the future to share the experiences together.” 

And while his devotion to his faith has been eternally paramount, his mission to practice Catholic ministry wasn’t his primary objective in life. Always wanting to help others, Father Parkes originally wanted to pursue a career in the medical field as “a doctor, a physician of some sort…but just wasn’t sure, something was nudging me that maybe that wasn’t for me.” During his time working and majoring in business administration and marketing, he “started feeling the call to priesthood and that God was inviting me and asking me to do this.” Although the seed to practice Catholic ministry had been planted, it took a while for Father Parkes to accept the call and change his studies to theology, recalling his path to the priesthood “was drawn with some crooked lines.” Inevitably, he accepted God’s invitation and began applying the proper steps towards becoming a priest. 

Father Parkes credit mentors, such as St. Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis with inspiring him to help others know Jesus through the Gospel. “Each one of them also brings a writing style, they bring gifts, and charisms to their ministry that we as priests can learn from and that I know I will look to emulate as a bishop in the Catholic Church,” Father Parkes said. 

His departure from the Diocese of Orlando is bittersweet, but necessary to spread the Good News to another group of parishioners. Still, Father Parkes hopes he has left a positive mark on his Orlando parishioners by providing them with hope. “I hope that I would be remembered for helping people grow in faith,” he said. “I think of all the baptisms, weddings, funerals, confessions, Masses, all of the beautiful Sacramental life of the Church that we have celebrated—that I have celebrated together with people — and I hope somewhere along the line I know God’s grace has been imparted.” 

For the parishioners of the Diocese of Savannah, Father Parkes wants them to know he is eager to learn more about the great history of Savannah that dates back nearly 200 years, consists of 90 counties, and spans 37,000 miles. “I am looking forward to being a part of their diocesan family and shepherding the Diocese of Savannah…I am going to be very busy making sure I am going to meet the people of Savannah to find out their hopes and dreams.” 

Recognizing the current times in this nation, Father Parkes wants his fellow Catholics to know that the Church is forever-existent in the Lord and will help guide them, always. “It more important than ever that we as a Church proclaim the Good News, that we as a Church are present, that we are here with people,” he said. Maintaining hope and faith is vital to the Bishop-elect’s mission. He wants his parishioners to know they are never alone, even though it may seem bleak at times. “The Lord is near at all times, in the positive times, in the times of challenge, times of joy, the times of sadness, God is near.”