By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published September 29, 2005
After serving for over 17 years as a director in the diaconate program, promoting the permanent diaconate throughout the archdiocese and the nation, Deacon Alfred Mitchell will retire at the end of this year.
Deacon Mitchell, who was ordained in 1987, serves as a permanent deacon at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur and is widely known for his great commitment to his ministry and for his gift of storytelling. He will continue to serve the community of the Decatur parish.
In a letter sent to employees of the archdiocesan Catholic Center, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory praised Deacon Mitchell for his dedication to the diaconate.
“We all know and can appreciate his years of service and commitment to the diaconate program at the Catholic Center and which is on display in your own parish communities through the many deacons who have gone through their formation programs during his tenure and now minister there,” the archbishop wrote. “He has won the affection and praise of us all.”
Deacon Mitchell, 72, has been serving in the archdiocesan Office for the Permanent Diaconate since 1990. Prior to his official appointment, he served as an unpaid director of the program for over two years. As the director of deacon personnel, he oversees the 176 deacons in the archdiocese. Deacon Loris Sinanian is the director of deacon formation and oversees the candidates for the permanent diaconate.
Deacon Mitchell said he has enjoyed his leadership position but feels it is time to pass the torch.
“My basic philosophy about retirement is that it has to be the right time and you have to be in the right frame of mind,” he said. “I feel I meet both of those requirements so I think it’s time to give someone else an opportunity. This has been a rewarding and pleasing experience for me, and I have had the chance to meet deacons from all across the country.”
Deacon Mitchell has also served in leadership roles in the National Association of Diaconate Directors, serving on the executive board from 2002-2005 as president-elect, president and past president. This year the NADD awarded Deacon Mitchell the William Philbin Award in recognition of his leadership in ensuring the quality and growth of the permanent diaconate. In 1998, Deacon Mitchell also served as president of the National Diaconate Institution for Continuing Education, the oldest organization for continuing education for deacons.
Deacon Sam Anzalone is the director of diaconate formation for the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala., but was ordained in 1987, along with Deacon Mitchell, for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He knew Deacon Mitchell even before formation through Cursillo, as well as both of their leadership roles on the archdiocesan Board of Education.
“Deacon Mitchell has always been conscientious and committed very much, not only to his own diaconal service but to the growth of the diaconate in the archdiocese and throughout the country,” Deacon Anzalone said.
Since he has known him, Deacon Mitchell has always been “ready, willing and able” to assist fellow deacons, Deacon Anzalone said.
“He is very steady. His leadership role brought him to the attention of other diocesan directors, and he is certainly well known around the nation,” he said. “We are very fortunate to have Deacon Mitchell among our numbers. His leadership abilities are clear.”
Deacon Walt Bedard of St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceville was the director of the diaconate program when Deacon Mitchell was ordained and said he has remained a consistent presence among the deacons.
“He is as stable as they come,” he said. “He’s just a straight shooter down the line.”
He praised Deacon Mitchell for helping to nurture the growth of the diaconate program in Atlanta.
“He’s done a good job and has made our program known far and wide,” he said. “If you asked a lot of leaders from the various dioceses around the country, they’d know who he is, and that’s a good thing.”
Deacon Jerry Lett, who serves at Sts. Peter and Paul with Deacon Mitchell, said that his fellow deacon there is a “person of great compassion and wisdom.” Deacon Lett, who was ordained in 1990, said he often looks to Deacon Mitchell for knowledge.
“Anytime I need information, I turn to him, anything about the sacraments or the rubrics of the church,” he said. “He’s a role model for me. I really look up to him, and he inspires me to be the best I can be. He’s definitely one of the best deacons I know.”
A professional storyteller who often leads workshops on storytelling around the country, Deacon Mitchell said he plans to spend his retirement devoting more time to story writing and hopes to one day publish his stories.
Archbishop Gregory said he plans to appoint a successor to Deacon Mitchell prior to his retirement so the two can work together on the transition for at least two months. Deacons and priests of the archdiocese interested in serving in the position have been invited to respond to Msgr. Paul Reynolds, vicar general, by Oct. 5.