Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Deacons By The Numbers: How Odd Similarities Even Out Life For New Deacons

By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published March 18, 2004

Just as the sports photojournalist goes from season to season covering different sporting events, my job as a photographer for the archdiocesan newspaper is to cover the seasonal events of the church. February is usually the season for permanent diaconate ordinations, and the numbers behind the 2004 ordinations reflect a group of men, each of whom is unique, but who as a group share some surprising similarities.

Each of the two ordinations this year had 11 men, the equivalent of a football team’s starting lineup. Of the 22 men ordained, 12 made a Cursillo weekend in Atlanta and three made one out of state. The numbers also show how closely these men were linked by their pasts before they fulfilled their destiny of becoming permanent deacons. For example, three of the deacons were born in Ohio, while four others were born in New York. Four deacons were educated at Jesuit high schools. One of the Ohio deacons attended St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, two of the New York deacons attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, and yet another attended Regis High School, a rival Jesuit high school of Xavier.

The number that intrigued me the most, however, was that five of the men were from my own hometown of Louisville, Ky.: Ronald Carr, Leo Gahafer, Joseph Patrick Rhodes, Joseph Reynolds and George Smith. Four of these Louisvillians were raised in the Catholic Church.

Reynolds was baptized at St. Cecilia Church before his family moved to Fresno, Calif., at the age of four. Reynolds said he and his family would return to Louisville for visits every other year by train or car. His father’s side of the family was Catholic.

“I remember walking to church on Sunday and how excited I was to go to the same parish where my dad had attended church and school.”

The poverty confronting Louisville’s Portland neighborhood, where St. Cecilia was established in 1873, called for some hard sacrifices.

“But the church was an important part of their lives, and no matter how poor or little cash they had, it was their faith, their church and their Catholic education that made them rich beyond money,” Reynolds said.

For these men, their families had a major impact in planting the seed of servitude to the church. Gahafer grew up in the Crescent Hill area of Louisville and attended St. Leonard Church. Gahafer recalls, “My mother was the first real influence in my faith development.” He also credits his wife of 27 years, Carol, who was his first and only girlfriend. The two met at a youth group function at St. Joseph Church, which is located in neighboring Butchertown. “She was God’s early blessing to me. Together we have journeyed in faith, hope and love in Christ.”

Smith cites the nurturing of his faith by his grandfather, Clarence Smith, and “consistent parental influence” as key attributes. His grandfather adopted the Catholic faith from a family he worked for in Springfield, Ky., before moving to Louisville around 1914.

“The root core of his faith and the faith he shared with me was one of a personal relationship with God,” Smith said.

Although Smith and his family lived on the outskirts of the city in the Newburg community, Smith’s grandfather was the janitor for an apartment building in the city, so during his preteen years his family went downtown for 5:30 a.m. Mass at St. Louis Bertrand Church, a church run by the Dominican Friars. In later years they attended St. Bartholomew Church.

Rhodes was raised in the city’s West End. He attended Christ the King Church and the parish grade school, where he was taught by Sisters of Loretto. He also attended the neighborhood Catholic high school, Flaget, which was under the leadership of the Xaverian Brothers until it closed in 1972. Rhodes’ father was the janitor for his high school. He said, “We were always surrounded by people of faith.”

Rhodes said his faith and spiritual life were shaped and influenced by his mother and Flaget principal Father McMann.

For Carr, the path to the permanent diaconate, and Catholicism for that matter, was different from the other Louisville natives. Carr was born in a Catholic hospital; yet for nearly 25 years of his life he grew up in a variety of denominations. He was working at General Electric Appliance Park when he met and eventually married his wife, Bonnie, another Louisville native and a “cradle Catholic.” It was during trips to and from work that he would pass Holy Name Church.

“I often wondered what kind of people would go to church at 7 a.m.,” he said.

One day he found the courage to follow three old ladies into the church’s side entrance and observe Mass. Once inside Carr said, “I saw a Checker Cab driver on his knees and three nurses intently praying. I also saw Asians, African-Americans and Hispanics, and I thought to myself, ‘the world is in here this morning.’”

Carr says he liked the service, and he felt comfortable. “The homily was meant for me because the priest spoke of God’s love,” he added.

It was his moment of conversion. “After Mass I didn’t understand, but I knew I wanted to be Catholic.”

After his instruction and baptism, Carr was confirmed during the Easter Vigil on May 29, 1966, at the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville. To this day when Carr goes back to Louisville, he always pays a visit to Holy Name Church.

Most people struggle to even pronounce the name Louisville. The obvious choice would seem to be “Lewisville” since the city is named after King Louis XVI of France, but that’s the least likely choice among natives. Carr and Rhodes say “Looavull,” Gahafer says “Luhvul,” Reynolds says “Looeyville” and Smith goes between “Looeyville” and “Looavull.” Gahafer quipped, “It’s a hometown thing.”

Little is known about Louisville beyond the fact that it has held the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday of May every year since 1875. Some of its notable natives include former boxing champ Muhammad Ali, Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, local Atlanta news anchor Monica Kaufman, and former University of Notre Dame and Green Bay Packer running back Paul Hornung. Inducted into the professional football Hall of Fame in 1985, Hornung was also a graduate of Flaget High School. Louisville is also home to Hillerich and Bradsby, makers of the Louisville Slugger baseball bats.

But one of the most interesting facts about Louisville is the strong presence of the Catholic Church there, a history that dates back to the early 1790s. According to the Archdiocese of Louisville, today there are over 200,000 Catholics among 123 parishes and missions, along with nine Catholic high schools and 57 elementary schools serving over 24,000 students.

Each of these Louisville natives found his way to Atlanta for different reasons. Reynolds came to attend college; Smith came to attend graduate school following military service in Vietnam; and Carr, Gahafer and Rhodes came here for job-related reasons. A sense of pride is shared for the “home boys” from Louisville, as they join their other 17 permanent diaconate brothers to bring the total number of permanent deacons (active and inactive) serving the Archdiocese of Atlanta to 184. In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah the voice of the Lord says, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” These men have answered emphatically, “Here I am, send me!”