By SUZANNE HAUGH, Staff Writer | Published January 20, 2005
People from across the Atlanta Archdiocese and beyond gathered at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park, joyful to be present to witness the beginning of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory’s ministry as shepherd to North Georgia Catholics.
Dressed in the regalia of the Knights of Peter Claver, Thomas M. Brito, a parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua, expressed his happiness in welcoming a fellow Knight of Peter Claver, Archbishop Gregory, to the Atlanta Archdiocese.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “I’ve been associated with Archbishop Gregory through the Black Catholic Congress and through the Knights of Peter Claver. I’m elated he’s here. He’s a boon for the archdiocese and because of his experience as president of the bishops, he brings a whole lot to the table … People will come to know him and love him.”
Brito assured the archbishop of his prayers and hopes he will help to enhance the growth of the Knights of Peter Claver in Atlanta.
An amicable group of other Knights of Peter Claver was saying their goodbyes before traveling back to their hometowns. Two of them, Leonard Stiell of Mobile, Ala., and Jackie Elly of Moss Point, Miss., found the installation Mass of Archbishop Gregory very moving.
“It’s the first installation Mass I’ve attended,” Stiell said. “The archbishop’s a wonderful fellow. He’s done a lot for Catholics and the Knights of Peter Claver and the United States. He had a really trying time administering during the (sex abuse) scandal and he handled it very well.”
Elly added, “(Archbishop) Gregory has a lot of charisma and will take the church to new heights. He has reaffirmed our faith in the hierarchy of the church. With his drive and stamina, he will lead, not just the Catholic Church in Atlanta, but also the church in Atlanta. He’s that kind of leader.”
Elly has faith in divine providence and pointed to Archbishop Gregory’s desire to be installed on the day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I believe God puts people in certain places at certain times.”
Sir Knight Charles T. Smoot traveled to the installation from his home in Huntsville, Ala. He is a fourth-degree knight of the Knights of Peter Claver, Council 286. Smoot shared, “This was my first archbishop installation. I was impressed and inspired with the pomp and circumstance of the whole affair. It was very well-organized.”
Obviously affected by the experience, he said, “I was moved by the Spirit … and I still feel that way.”
Deacon Loris Sinanian, director of diaconal formation for the archdiocese, was pleased to welcome the new archbishop.
“The Lord has given us a new shepherd, one that we look forward to working with in the formation of the future deacons for our wonderful archdiocese,” he said. “His experience and background will be invaluable. I join all of us associated with diaconal formation in welcoming him.”
Jackie Owens-Sadie, a parishioner at the Cathedral of Christ the King Church, Atlanta, was filled with excitement following the Mass. She said, “I am just so thankful that we were able to get Archbishop Gregory. We’re so blessed.”
Eleven-year-old Erika Fasselt came with her family, parishioners at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw, to the installation Mass.
“I thought it was really interesting,” she said. “He seems like a very nice bishop, I think.”
Her 8-year-old sister, Rachel, also thought the Mass was “a lot of fun.”
“I wasn’t bored at all,” she said. “I liked seeing all the priests and waving to them as they walked in. I think (Archbishop Gregory) is going to be a very good bishop.”
Erika and Rachel’s friend, Laramie Sims, 9, who attends St. Francis de Sales Church in Mableton, wore a red and black plaid dress to the installation. The Mass, she said, was “very cool.”
“I really liked seeing everybody, all the priests and bishops from different countries,” she said. “The archbishop is important because he’s one step below the pope. That’s a really nice honor.”
Family members of the late Archbishop Eugene A. Marino, SSJ, Atlanta’s third archbishop, expressed happiness as they awaited the start of the installation Mass.
“We are happy to be here and we are so proud the church is going forward. We know he will do a wonderful job,” said Clare Rhodeman of Biloxi, Miss., sister of the late archbishop, who came with her husband, Thomas, and her nephew and his wife, Michael and Esther Patterson of Fayetteville, N.C.
“We told him how excited we are to be in his Province (of Atlanta),” Patterson said.
Michelle Garriott, a religion teacher at Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell, videotaped the pageantry as the procession began to form prior to the Mass.
Her classroom was one of those visited by Archbishop Gregory when he took a tour of the archdiocese on Dec. 10, 2004, the day after his appointment was announced.
“My students were very honored he took the time to come in. They were very excited to be noticed by the new archbishop,” she said, adding that she hopes Archbishop Gregory will continue to strengthen Catholic education in the archdiocese.
“Archbishop (John F.) Donoghue was so supportive of Catholic education,” she said. “I hope there could be maybe a further development of Catholic education in the archdiocese, just making it financially accessible for all, but not sacrificing the quality of education.”
“The kids have such an opportunity to be leaven in the world,” Garriott said. “They need to be taught how to be lay ministers of the faithful and contributing members of the society, linking the secular and sacred world.”
Msgr. Joseph Roth, vicar general of the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., expressed his gratitude to the people of the archdiocese for making every aspect of the installation gracious and welcoming and well run.
“Thank you to the people of the Archdiocese of Atlanta,” Msgr. Roth said. “It was heartwarming, it was sacred and it was pleasant. Everything was beautiful.”
Erika Anderson, Mary Anne Castranio and Gretchen Keiser also contributed to this report.