By JEAN DRISKELL, Special Contributor | Published March 11, 2004
“I give thanks to God for the blessings he has bestowed upon me,” Iretha Allen, a parishioner at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur, said, “for the works I have done have not been for recognition but to add any small tribute I can to assist in building up the kingdom of God.”
Allen was among 55 women and 36 teens honored at the Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women’s Recognition Day held Feb. 21 at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
Allen, a convert to Catholicism, participates in her parish’s evangelization committee by welcoming newcomers to the parish and helps prepare the Seder meal on Holy Thursday. She also helps in preparing the Emmaus Supper, which is a dinner and skit that reenacts Jesus meeting with two of his disciples on the way to Emmaus after his resurrection.
She is actively involved with the parish women’s council and the children’s choir and participates in her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., a national service organization. She is on the mental health committee and works with the sorority at the annual health fair at Greenbriar Mall in southwest Atlanta.
“This is a joyous occasion. My wife made me promise two things when we married. The first was not to stop her from working, and the second was not to stop her from going to church. The rest is history,” Charles Allen, Iretha’s husband, said.
Sponsored by the Northwest Deanery of the AACCW this year, the annual event recognizes women and teens who are outstanding in their church and community service. The honorees are selected by participating parishes in the archdiocese.
“We are just proud to be able to honor the women and youth of the year for all of their work for both parish and community,” Joan Brown, president of the Northwest Deanery, said. Each year the three deaneries rotate as host for this event. Brown said their main responsibility was providing the program for the Mass, catering the food for an estimated 700 people and providing the volunteers to help work at the event.
Archbishop John F. Donoghue and several priests of the archdiocese celebrated the Mass. The Cathedral was filled to capacity with honorees, their families and friends. The music was provided by the St. Andrew Church Life Teen Band, Roswell.
“We thank you all for coming to celebrate with us and to honor all these women and high school seniors that have done so much for their parishes, and communities, and our Lord Jesus Christ,” Brown said in her opening remarks. “We congratulate each of you and pray that God will continue blessing you with His love. Our Mass this morning is in honor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, our council’s patron saint.”
Basing his homily on the Gospel reading at Mass, John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana, Archbishop Donoghue said that the first lesson to be revealed from this miracle of water being turned into wine is the lesson of cooperation.
It took Mary’s prompting for Jesus to request that the servants fill the jars with water, and for the headwaiter, bridegroom and bride to taste the wine.
“Only when all these participants were in place did Christ show His great power to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, by changing water into the most excellent of wines,” he said.
He continued by saying that this cooperation “is a lesson for the church at all levels and in every location.”
“And it is well exemplified by the way the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women have worked and continue to work with their bishop, with their priests, with institutions of charity, and with all elements of the church’s family,” Archbishop Donoghue said. “We celebrate the many particulars of your cooperation with this Mass. We bring them together in one vessel, one jar, as it were, and we present them to Jesus Christ.”
He also said that by uniting our love with Christ “we take the wine Jesus has made of our water, in the form of grace, back into our work so that the Council of Catholic Women and all who serve may continue to bring about good for the church, for her people, and for our entire society.”
“This relationship of guidance and trust, of obedience and learning, is very well exemplified in the Council of Catholic Women’s annual desire to acknowledge not only the good work of women,” Archbishop Donoghue said, “but also the good inclinations of our young people who seek, who follow, and who are grateful for the experience that you so generously impart. This is the meaning of the awards we present today.”
Following the Mass, Father Paul W. Berny, spiritual moderator for the AACCW and pastor of St. Joseph Church in Marietta, said, “Every year it is a wonderful event, and it is a privilege to be a part of it.”
“This is one event I always look forward to,” Celeste Ganey, president of AACCW, said. “As always, it was beautiful. The parishes were well represented by the priests, pastors and honorees. The support was outstanding.”
“We are so grateful to our honorees for their hard work and dedication. Joan Brown and the Northwest Deanery did a superb job,” she said.
Ganey also said that this year’s council theme, “Shining Our Light for All To See,” was well represented in this year’s honorees.
Jennifer Kaeser, a high school senior from St. Michael the Archangel Church in Woodstock, said, “It’s such a great honor. The ceremony was really beautiful.”
Kaeser is involved with the leadership team for the parish youth program and with the program Get Togethers, which plans social events for the teens. She participates each year in the Living Stations of the Cross, a still performance by individuals depicting each Station. Her service projects include helping at the St. Francis Table, a soup kitchen at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Atlanta, and putting together Thanksgiving baskets for the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society to deliver to others in need.
“Wonderful child. We are so proud of her,” Lynn Kaeser, Jennifer’s mother, said. “We are honored she got chosen for this beautiful honor.”
“It is overwhelming,” Kristin Hannon, woman of the year from Queen of Angels Church in Thomson, said. “We are all a church and it takes everyone. It is an honor to think my parish thinks so much of me. I’ve learned well from the women of my parish.”
Hannon is involved with her parish Council of Catholic Women, substitutes for the CCD program, works with the youth of the parish, and helps with food and clothing drives.
“This is a great honor for her,” Allen Hannon, Kristin’s husband, said. “She has a heart for service. She loves to serve.”
Nathaniel Dash, a member of the parish Umoja (Unity) Youth and lector at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur, said, “I feel very honored. I am glad they chose me. It was a surprise. I was not expecting it.”
As an Umoja Youth teen, Dash helps out within the parish. The group recently provided dinner to honor the elderly of the parish.
Being a member of this youth group has “helped me to interact with people better and to meet different people around the parish,” he said. “It has also given me the chance to go to different places across the country.”
He attended the National Catholic Youth Conference in Houston, Texas, last November and a Catholic convention in Birmingham, Ala., three years ago.
“I’m very proud (of my son), not only to be honored by the parish but also by the archdiocese,” Michael Dash, Nathaniel’s father, said.
Fern Bergeron, a parishioner at St. Peter Church in LaGrange, said she felt honored when she found out she was chosen woman of the year from her parish. “I was on Christmas vacation and the way I found out I was chosen was when I came home and the letter from the archdiocese had been mailed to me.”
Bergeron leads an adult Bible study group every Tuesday morning and teaches eighth-grade religious education. She is also actively involved with Habitat for Humanity. She was volunteer coordinator for the Jimmy Carter work project in which 1,000 volunteers, both national and international, came to LaGrange to build 22 houses.
“St. Peter’s Church also sponsored and built a house for a family,” she said. “I love that the Catholic Church is involved in the community. I like representing the Catholic Church in the community.”
Christina Kim, a senior and parishioner from Korean Martyrs Church in Doraville, is actively involved in music ministry with the Praise Team, “which provides music for services, retreats and other occasions,” she said.
“I feel really special and respected. It is a good feeling,” Kim said.
She is also a Youth Council Member. This council represents the youth group as a whole to the youth minister and youth counselors. She said they also plan social events and activities for the retreats.
Honoree Patricia Jondle, of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sharpsburg, said, “This is very humbling, especially from our church. Many women are active in our parish. It’s just been a humbling experience.”
Jondle is on the advisory board of her women’s guild, a eucharistic minister and lector. She also chairs the pro-life group with her husband, who was at home taking care of their new baby.
“We are making the parish aware of what is needed in the archdiocese and what is going on in the legislature,” she said. “And we are also involved in the pregnancy crisis center in our area.”
She said it was important not only to prevent abortions, but to also help support the women with their pregnancies in order to have healthy babies.
“This is quite an honor, much more than I expected. I’m in awe here,” Cheri Goehmann, of St. Monica Church in Duluth, said. “This is a wonderful place and wonderful people.”
Goehmann helps out in the parish office and she tells stories with puppets to children at summer camp. She also belongs to a group called Monica’s Menuettes where a group of women from the parish share recipes and help provide dinner for visiting priests who come to participate in the reconciliation services.
“Wonderful. There are a lot of things that go on in the parish that she is involved in. This is a wonderful day to show recognition,” Carl Goehmann, Cheri’s husband, said.