By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published September 3, 2009
Before leaving the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1993 to become the bishop of Belleville, Ill., one of the last events in which I participated was a ceremony opening the observance of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Chicago Diocese in 1843. Obviously there were no participants at those events who were alive when the Diocese of Chicago was founded. Upon arriving in Belleville, I had missed by seven years the centennial observance of the foundation of that diocese. Both of these local Churches are well established, and the anniversary observances that were associated with both of them suggest that there was no one living then who could remember their actual beginnings.
Three years ago, the Archdiocese of Atlanta celebrated our 50th anniversary of diocesan foundation, and there were many people who told me of those pioneer moments in our rather brief history. Fifty years is a long enough time to merit celebration, but not so long a period as to lack some people who can recall the very foundation of a diocese or a parish. Indeed last Saturday, Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Decatur celebrated its 50th anniversary, and among the assembly were people who had been founding members of that community of Faith. Several of them received floral tributes as a part of that ceremony, presented to them by the current members of the parish as a way of expressing their thanks and esteem for their pioneering efforts.
On Sunday, I celebrated the 25th anniversary of the foundation of Christ Our Hope Parish, and many more original parishioners and even a couple of the former pastors attended this happy event. In the public reading of the history of the parish, a number of folks were singled out for special recognition and gratitude. A marble plaque was dedicated to the founding pastor, Father John Kieran, and everyone seemed to enjoy the opportunity in the present moment to say thanks to those who were part of the past. Ours is still a quite young diocese, and many of our institutions are of an age when founding members can be honored at special anniversaries and thanked by the current members of a community. That is simply not something that a century or a century and a half community can provide.
Saturday evening I visited St. Pius X High School for their annual donors Mass and banquet. During the reception, a wonderful lady stopped me to invite me personally to a party that the 50th anniversary graduation class will be hosting in October. She was obviously looking forward to seeing her classmates from the 1959 St. Pius graduation class and reliving many happy moments from their high school years.
Anniversary celebrations are very important because they help us all give thanks for the graces of the past and to relive memories from our youth.
As I was leaving the reception, a couple caught up with me and told me that they were celebrating their 28th wedding anniversary, and they asked for a blessing. What they may not have realized was that they were a blessing for me—as I gave thanks for their married life—which was graced with twin daughters and many more blessings than they can probably recall. It is always important to give thanks for the past because it makes us much better prepared to face the futures that God has in store for us all.