NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bishop David R. Choby of Nashville was a true shepherd to the people of the Diocese of Nashville, recalled his fellow bishop, friend and former student Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon.
He was "the kind of shepherd I would like to be," said the archbishop, who was the homilist at the funeral Mass for Bishop Choby, who died June 3 at age 70 of complications after a fall at his home in February.
The bishop's funeral drew a crowd of nearly 2,000 people to Sagrado Corazon Church at the diocese's Catholic Pastoral Center.
The responsorial psalm for the Mass from Psalm 110 was, "You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek." The line summarizes Bishop Choby's life, Archbishop Sample said. "He was above all a priest ... a sacramental presence of Christ among us."
When both were at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio -- Bishop Choby as a faculty member and Archbishop Sample as a seminarian -- Bishop Choby was the future archbishop's spiritual director and later his canon law professor.
Archbishop Sample asked then-Father Choby to preach at his first Mass and their friendship continued throughout their lives as priests including when they were installed as bishops of their home dioceses within weeks of each other in 2006.
Bishop Choby, who planned his own funeral, had asked Archbishop Sample to preach the homily a while ago, he said. "I've been dreading this day. It's the hardest homily I've ever had to give."
"Bishop Choby was a very patient and a very, very kind man," Archbishop Sample said. "There was no pretense about him. He was so kind. His kindness and care and patience would come through so beautifully. His ministry as a bishop and priest was so personal. ... He always had time for you ... even when he didn't. He would make time."
Archbishop Sample would talk to Bishop Choby often, he said. "He loved being the bishop of Nashville. He absolutely loved it. He loved all of you. He was so proud of you. He was so proud of this local church of Nashville."
"He was at heart a pastor. This was somebody who loved and cared for people with the love of Jesus," Archbishop Sample of Bishop Choby. "He had a way to bring the peace and calm presence of Jesus Christ to every situation."
Bishop Choby "was a man filled with the joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Sample said.
It was hard to watch Bishop Choby's health decline in recent years before the fall at his home left him confined to a bed for the last four months of his life, Archbishop Sample said. "But he kept soldiering on. … Why? Because he loved what he was doing. He loved being your bishop."
Archbishop Sample was one of 12 archbishops and bishops who concelebrated the funeral Mass, along with Cardinal Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia, who now lives in East Tennessee, and about 90 priests.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who was principal celebrant of the funeral Mass, first came to know Bishop Choby when he was bishop of Knoxville, Tennessee, and Bishop Choby was elected administrator of the Nashville Diocese in November 2004.
Bishop Choby "truly loved us as fellow bishops" and was loved by his fellow bishops, Archbishop Kurtz said. "I, and I know many others, will miss Bishop Choby greatly."
The late bishop was only the second native of the diocese to be appointed its bishop. His episcopal ordination and installation as Nashville's 11th bishop was Feb. 27, 2006, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, the church where he was baptized.
Bishop Choby presided over a boon in vocations to the priesthood during his years as priest, ordaining 28 men to the priesthood and 46 as permanent deacons. Bishop Choby was known for his close relationship and love for the seminarians of the diocese and they were prominently involved in his funeral.
Bishop Choby gave his cellphone number to the seminarians and always took their calls. "He loved seminarians. Everybody recognized that," said Father Rodolfo Rivera, associate pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Nashville.
Bishop Choby ordained Father Rivera a priest last year, and Father Rivera noted that he died on the one-year anniversary of that ordination.
"I was very blessed to know him," Father Rivera said. "He's an inspiration to me.
The setting for the funeral, the diocese's Catholic Pastoral Center, reflected another aspect of Bishop Choby's legacy.
Under his leadership, the diocese purchased a former Protestant megachurch and converted it to the Catholic Pastoral Center, bringing under one roof the offices and ministries of the diocese as well as the offices of Catholic Charities of Tennessee and the diocesan Sagrado Corazon Hispanic Ministry Center, which uses the center's 3,300-seat Sagrado Corazon Church.
Bishop Choby planned the funeral before he died, including the readings and the music. In selecting the music, Bishop Choby wanted to make sure it was reverent, traditional and familiar so people could sing along, said Jackson Schoos, music director for the cathedral and diocesan liturgical musical director.
"I have never worked for any bishop who had as much love for music" as Bishop Choby, Schoos told the Tennessee Register, Nashville's diocesan newspaper. "He loved to sing" and had a strong tenor voice.
The funeral Mass was a display of the pageantry and ritual of Catholic liturgies. Fourth-degree Knights of Columbus and Knights of Peter Claver, in their full regalia, lined both sides of the main aisle for the long entrance procession, which included the seminarians of the diocese, deacons, priests, archbishops and bishops, the Knights and Dames of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and the bishop's family and closest friends.
In the congregation were several dignitaries, including Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and U.S. Reps. Jim Cooper and Diane Black. The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, the Sisters of Mercy and other religious also were on hand in force.
After the funeral, Bishop Choby was buried in the Priests Circle at the diocesan-owned Calvary Cemetery. He is the fourth bishop of Nashville to be buried at Calvary, and the graves of the bishops are encircled by the graves of priests of the diocese.