By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published April 15, 2010 | En Español
The small voice behind me quietly proclaimed to me: “I’m from Atlanta!”
Michael, a third-grader from St. Catherine of Siena School in Kennesaw, introduced himself to me as we were lined up just about to begin Mass at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) Convention that was held in Minneapolis during Easter Week. He was obviously there with a parent or two in attendance at this annual gathering of Catholic teachers and catechists.
When his big grin revealed those shiny braces and his obvious joy at finding his Archbishop, I understood, once again, what a great privilege and responsibility that all those of us who are engaged in Catholic education assume in caring for our youngsters.
Michael also reminded me of an earlier visit that I had with a delegation of primary grade students from St. Catherine’s School soon after I arrived as the Archbishop of Atlanta. They brought me gifts—a statue of St. Catherine and a flock of cards all shaped like lambs since they wanted me to remember that they were the lambs that had been entrusted to me as their new Archbishop. I have never forgotten that initial visit, and now that those delegates of that early visit are themselves junior high students, I want them to know that I still treasure their prior visit to my office and their reminder to me to care for them as the lambs of this local Church that they were and still are.
Each year during Easter week, the NCEA holds an annual convention (it was held here in Atlanta in 2006) that brings together thousands of teachers, catechists and religious educators who serve the Church’s mission of Christian formation and education throughout our country. These fine women and men take very seriously the obligations that they have to pass on the Catholic faith to our students. They build upon the witness of faith that children must first find in their own homes and through the lives of their parents and relatives.
The convention has a huge display of vendors whose merchandise ranges from school uniforms, to educational computer programs, to religious education texts, to resources for fundraising and accounting. But even more importantly, the convention brings together men and women who have given their lives to educating young people in the Catholic faith in a professional setting of mutual support and encouragement. These religious and laity who serve in our schools and parishes and who train and form the next generation of Catholics are a valuable resource in each community.
As we are nearing the end of the academic year, I would like to offer a special word of thanks to the administrators, teachers, catechists and youth ministers who serve the youngsters of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. They are a generous and dedicated cohort of individuals who work very hard and who fulfill their responsibilities with exceptional competence. They care for the lambs of this community, and we are all deeply grateful for the good things that they do for our children and for the parents who entrust their lambs to them.