By FATHER EDWARD BRANCH, Commentary | Published May 1, 2008
Where were you on May 5, 1988? So many of us remember, quite clearly, our joy and excitement on that sunny day at the convention center here in Atlanta. We remember the scampering about and wheeling and dealing to get precious tickets for the historic event—the installation of America’s first African-American archbishop, Most Reverend Eugene A. Marino, SSJ.
It was yet another milestone for us who were children of the civil rights movement. What Father Augustus Tolton could not dream of and Daniel Rudd would only hypothesize was taking place before our eyes.
None who could at all help it would miss this seating of America’s first African-American archbishop. It was all happening in the See city of the New South. Folk came from across the world. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, notorious for leaving things Catholic out of the local equation, was caught up in the spirit of anticipation and hope. A full front-page picture announced the historic event. Even the then-emerging Eternal Word Television Network and its founder, Mother Angelica, did not want to miss the moment.
The atmosphere was electric with hope. That he was black said more to us than any document. A change was about to come in church and society, and he was its bellwether. We remember so well because he was so special to all of us. He was so unassuming and yet so powerful a presence in his gentleness and generosity. It was so difficult to refuse any request of his because he so rarely refused anyone else’s.
He was an archbishop of his own style. He was a welcoming man, engaging to young and old alike. The Catholics couldn’t get near him because the Protestants wanted to reach out and touch and be touched.
We here in the Atlanta University Center remember and celebrate because it was he who proclaimed the construction of a Newman Center for the Atlanta University Center.
We remember because we have the fruit of Archbishop Marino’s pastoral, gentle, forward-looking, caring ministry as shepherd of this local church.
We cannot forget him because we experienced in his pastoral way the change in church and society that we now see taking place in our midst. The world church had come to Atlanta.
Archbishop Marino’s kindness and patience and self-giving will create of us all the brothers and sisters we must be to eliminate racism and classism in our day.
May he live forever in our hearts as he does in God’s.
Father Edward B. Branch is the chaplain of the Lyke House Catholic Center—Atlanta University Center.