By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published August 18, 2005
Catholic educators from across the archdiocese came together at St. Brigid Church Aug. 8 to kick off the new school year with a special blessing from the Holy Spirit.
Teachers, principals, faculty and staff gathered for the Mass with the excitement of children on their first day of school. They talked excitedly, greeting their colleagues and inquiring about one another’s summer. However, much like a teacher walking into a classroom, when Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory processed into the church, the chatter immediately turned into reverence.
Wearing deep crimson vestments, the archbishop was accompanied by nearly 20 concelebrating priests, including Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue. Five Catholic schools were built and opened during Archbishop Donoghue’s years of leadership in the archdiocese.
“I especially want to thank Archbishop Donoghue, who in so many ways has been kind of a godfather to Catholic schools here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta,” Archbishop Gregory said as he began the Mass by thanking his brother priests, especially the retired archbishop.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said this Mass was traditionally called the Red Mass and is held at the beginning of the judicial year as well as the new school year to beg guidance and blessings from the Holy Spirit. And because of the great responsibility shouldered by educators, it is especially important to seek the blessings of God.
“Teachers work wonders in the lives of their students in all circumstances. Teachers open young minds to the marvels of the world around us. Teachers inspire youngsters to think, to explore, to value, and to grasp the mysteries of life. Teachers, as the adage goes, really do shape the future,” Archbishop Gregory said.
Teachers in Catholic schools have a mission unique to their circumstances, the archbishop said, and it is perhaps the most important role of all.
“Catholic school teachers also touch the spirits of youngsters and help to develop within them the gift of faith,” he said. “For that noble task, you surely do need the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.”
“You teach math and science, reading and social studies, you teach art and physical education, you teach biology and history, but above all you teach Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead,” he continued. “It is that mission that distinguishes you from all of your colleagues in other educational institutions. You help youngsters to see and to behold the finger of God in creation. Catholic school teachers are witnesses to the light and life of Jesus.”
As he concluded his homily, he thanked the teachers and principals for their endless devotion to their students and offered a prayer that they would have a successful year.
“The Red Mass is a sure indication that summer is just about to come to an end. The legal world begins its new judicial calendar and teachers everywhere – perhaps with even more melancholy than their very own students – return to the classroom,” he said. “May this be the best year ever for our students and their parents, for our parishes and archdiocesan agencies, and this night in Eucharist I pray that it will also be the best for our teachers–who are, after all, themselves among the best that there are.”
Following the Mass, the educators gathered across the parking lot at Holy Redeemer School for a reception.
Shealyn Batley, a teacher at Pinecrest Academy in Cumming, said that it was “encouraging” to be together as a group with one mission.
“It was just really touching being here with everyone, and everyone’s voice being one,” she said. “It’s a great way to renew the mission.”
Laura Gallinari taught in public schools for nine years. This year, she will begin a new chapter in her life at St. Catherine of Siena School in Kennesaw.
“I just really felt the desire to serve God, and I felt that he wanted me to be in a Catholic environment so I could integrate my faith and my work.”
Fellow St. Catherine teacher Christina Behne just moved to the Atlanta area from Cleveland, Ohio, where she also taught in a Catholic school.
“I taught in an inner city Catholic school, where 90 percent of the students were Baptist,” she said. “None of my students were Catholic (so working at St. Catherine’s) will be a new experience.”
Behne added that her former school was named Archbishop Lyke School, after the late Archbishop James P. Lyke, OFM, Atlanta’s fourth archbishop.
“It’s really neat to come down here since I have that connection,” she said.
Brian Blasick began teaching at St. Joseph’s School in Marietta during the middle of the last school year. He is looking forward to his first full year at the elementary school and said he enjoyed the Mass.
“I felt a lot of solidarity in prayer,” he said. “We have to pray all the time, and as teachers a lot of it is out of desperation, but a lot of it is out of thankfulness. It’s so important to pray for your students and to pray for other teachers. It’s amazing to come here and to see so many people so committed. It makes me want to be more rooted in Scripture and in the Eucharist and in everything that makes up our Catholic faith.”