Published November 23, 2006
I took a nostalgic trip last Sunday when I went to visit the Mission of St. Elizabeth Seton in Warm Springs for the first time and to celebrate their 10th anniversary as a community. Although I had not visited Warm Springs previously, the trip was so reminiscent of my travels throughout the Diocese of Belleville that I could not help but recall the many small communities that were the typical experience of Catholicism in southern Illinois. Once I left the urban and suburban region of Atlanta, I traveled through rural Georgia with its many small towns and farmland scenery.
My heart took me back to the scores of trips that brought me to those same scenes in the Diocese of Belleville.
While the majority of our Atlanta area parishes are large, bustling, expanding, multilingual and cultural in composition, we also have small assemblies of Faith like St. Elizabeth Seton’s where everyone knows everyone else. Catholics are few in number but rich in Faith in those church communities.
St. Elizabeth Seton’s has pictures of its heritage proudly displayed on its walls. Some of those pictures show a younger-looking Father John Kieran helping the folks of the parish actually building the parish center.
The mission serves a very large territory, and people commonly must travel great distances to come to Mass. They usually linger after Sunday Eucharist to chat with each other and on Sundays like this past one, they push the church pews forward, set up tables and enjoy a meal together.
Catholicism under those conditions rejoices in the neighborliness of friendship and closeness that most of our larger parishes have long ago outgrown.
We have a number of smaller parishes and missions just like St. Elizabeth Seton’s, and some of our now-bustling urban parishes were once small communities like that. The Church in North Georgia exists in many different contexts, and each setting is a blessing. Whether we belong to huge urban and suburban communities with multi-Masses on Sunday that are offered in several different languages or small intimate communities that have but one weekend Eucharist, the Church’s Faith and worship are the same. Ours is a diocese that enjoys the blessings of both types of communities, and neither one is superior—although they can be noticeably different in composition.
Warm Springs is famous as the place where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. It is now also important for the Archdiocese of Atlanta as the location where a small but vibrant group of Catholics gather proudly to celebrate our Faith. In 10 years, the number of parishioners has gradually increased but not nearly as rapidly as in other areas of the Archdiocese—yet the people could not be prouder of their community and all that they have achieved during this past decade.
Father Balappa Selvaraj serves them as the mission community of St. Peter’s in LaGrange. He faithfully makes the 30-plus mile trip from LaGrange to pray with them a couple of times each week, to visit the sick in the community and to encourage them in their identity as a Catholic family of Faith. He graciously invited me to preside at the 10th anniversary Mass along with Father Kieran, and it was obvious that the people at St. Elizabeth Seton’s find him to be a devoted and faithful minister and a dear friend—but that is the way life is in communities like that.