By GRETCHEN KEISER and PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writers | Published July 6, 2006
FATHER AUSTIN FOGARTY
Irish-born Father Austin Fogarty studied at All Hallows Seminary in Dublin and St. Peter’s College in Wexford before coming to the United States. An invitation from a Texas bishop brought him across the Atlantic where he completed his studies at Assumption-St. John’s Seminary in San Antonio, Texas.
In 1976 he was accepted as a seminarian for the Atlanta Archdiocese. He was ordained at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Dublin, Ireland, on July 11, 1981.
His first priestly assignment was as a parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta, in 1981. He then was assigned as a parochial vicar to St. John the Evangelist Church in Hapeville in 1985 and to St. Jude the Apostle Church, Sandy Springs, in 1989. When the pastor, Father Dan O’Connor, was called to active military duty, he served as priest-in-charge of St. Jude’s.
His first pastorate began in 1991 at Christ Our Hope Church, Lithonia. In 1998 he became a parochial vicar at St. James Church, McDonough, and in 2002 he was assigned as pastor of St. George Church, Newnan.
In this jubilee year, Father Fogarty has been overwhelmed by the letters he’s received from current and past parishioners, thanking and affirming him for his ministry and encouraging him. His parish is throwing him a big party July 7.
“It’s nice to have people tell you that in spite of what you might think, you did have a good impact,” he said. “What sustains you is the spiritual support, with parishioners reaching out to one another and affirming you.”
He reflected on how as a young priest learning the ropes seemed “very functional,” but now he feels “priesthood is a fun thing” and he has a sense of unity with his flock. And he feels a deep sense of gratitude for the support that he has received throughout his ministry from parishioners, priests and all the archbishops he’s served; it has sustained him to carry on.
“I’m so grateful to be a priest. I’ve had storms in my life, but by the grace of God they’ve been conquered or calmed. I don’t feel any different than the day I got ordained when it comes to praying the Mass or responding to someone who needs me. I’m not jaded. God has been very good to me,” he said. “I am a priest of God’s people, and we are one.”
Father Fogarty has also been active in prison ministry since the early 1990s and has served for several years at the maximum security Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson where he has celebrated Mass for Death Row inmates and others, offered spiritual counseling and administered the sacrament of reconciliation.
In addition, he spoke a press conference in 2005 of the Georgia Moratorium Campaign, a coalition that called for a moratorium on executions and a state-commissioned study of inequities in the application of the death penalty.
“With prison ministry, it’s not the fact that I go. It’s the fact that I go consistently,” he said. “They look forward to that familiar face of a person they know.”
In the same way, with such a transient society “it’s important the church has some kind of stability for people and that they know the priest will be there for them, to marry them, to baptize their kids.”
FATHER NORBERTO MATEUS
Father Norberto Mateus, a native of Caicedonia Valle, Colombia, South America, was ordained on Dec. 8, 1981 by Bishop Libardo Ramirez Gomez of Armenia, Colombia.
He has served in the Archdiocese of Atlanta since June 1991 and has ministered in various communities, serving as a parochial vicar at St. Michael Church, Gainesville, from 1991 to 1996 and as priest-in-charge of San Felipe de Jesus Mission in the Grant Park neighborhood of Atlanta from 1996 to 2000.
He served as a parochial vicar at St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn, from 2000 until 2003 when he was assigned to St. Pius X Church, Conyers.
The oldest in a family of 12 children, he has also worked on a project in his native city of Armenia, Colombia, entitled Villa de Buen Jesus, for the indigent elderly. He was incardinated as a priest of the Atlanta Archdiocese on June 1, 2000.
On the 22nd anniversary of his ordination, he was seriously injured Dec. 8, 2003 in a car accident in Loganville. He has made remarkable progress in his recovery, but remains on medical leave.
FATHER JOHN O’BRIEN, OCSO
Father John O’Brien, OCSO, grew up in Somerville, Mass., an industrial suburb of Boston, and after school entered the U.S. Marine Corps. When he left the Corps as a sergeant, he attended American University and then began a career as an auditor for commercial banks, based in Washington, D.C.
He would travel and regularly visit clients, including one in Atlanta. Over five or six years, he combined business trips with visits to the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers and gradually became familiar with the Trappist community and its lifestyle. He was particularly attracted to the community because of its openness and the variety of work performed by the monks.
At the age of 37, he entered the Conyers monastery in 1973. He was surprised and relieved to find that he was not immediately assigned accounting to do. He discovered he liked working in the bakery and cooking. “I couldn’t boil water when I came in,” he said in 1981, “but it’s surprising how much I like it.”
Over the years, he has been the chief cook and interior cellarer, purchasing all the food for the monastery and retreat house although, in recent years, the priest who is known for a love of Shakespeare has been a part of the monastery’s bookkeeping team.
He says that his ordination as a priest in May 1981 by Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan came in response to his abbot’s call.
In remarks to fellow jubilarians and other priests at a luncheon following the jubilee Mass, Father O’Brien said when he came to the monastery he “never had the intention of being a priest. I just wanted to be a simple monk and work on my own spiritual issues and honor the Lord through our liturgical services. But after a number of years, our abbot at that time, Dom Augustine, tapped me on the shoulder and said that the monastery needed more priests, and I would begin my studies the next day.”
After a few years serving as a priest among his brother monks, the abbot again asked him to take a new role, ministering to the continuous flow of guests at the monastery guesthouse seeking spiritual advice or sacraments.
In this ministry, Father O’Brien said, he has found himself sharing the burdens of many people needing solace and peace, and it has given him a new understanding of his role as a priest.
“Many come with a heavy burden on their shoulders, a pain in their heart, or a wound in their souls, and they are all looking for some kind of healing,” he related. “Early on in this ministry I saw that it was my job to ease their burden, soften their pain, or heal their wound as much as I could, and if I couldn’t accomplish this, I wasn’t doing my job. … There were times I felt totally overwhelmed, so much so that I was on the verge of going to the abbot and asking to be replaced; until one day I finally realized that I was going about it all in the wrong way.”
He had to learn how to carry this weight and what God required of him, he said.
“Subconsciously I was trying to be some kind of Freudian psychoanalyst, and that’s not what the people who come to our guesthouse are looking for; no matter who they are, people of faith or people of no faith, they are not looking for psychotherapy. They know that this is a Catholic monastery, and they looking for me to present to them the message of Christ as it is bequeathed to us through the Gospels in such a way that they can incorporate it into their own life’s challenges.”
“I like to think of it as planting a seed in their soul, and how that seed germinates and flourishes is not my responsibility, but the responsibility of the Holy Spirit. … Not … that their difficulties and pain will vanish overnight, but hopefully they will see them with new eyes within the eternal mystery that we are all involved in, and hope and courage will grow in their hearts.”
FATHER BRUCE WILKINSON
A Chicago native with Baptist roots, Father Bruce Wilkinson became a Catholic in college. Although his childhood neighborhood was Catholic, his attraction to the church began while he was attending Purdue University and deepened when he enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta and began visiting nearby St. Anthony’s Church. He was instructed in the faith there and received into the Catholic Church at St. Anthony on Easter 1974 by the pastor at the time, Msgr. Eusebius Beltran, who is now the archbishop of Oklahoma City, Okla.
Growing up dreaming of becoming a classical pianist or an architect, he started thinking about the priesthood shortly after entering the church and, with the encouragement of Msgr. Beltran and the vocations office, he completed college at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana. He studied theology at the Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.
He was ordained June 27, 1981 by Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
In addition to parish ministry, Father Wilkinson was part of a group of laity and clergy who began meeting in 1981 to foster an official outreach to black Catholics in the archdiocese. This led to the establishment of a Commission for Black Catholic Concerns by Archbishop Donnellan in 1982 and that was succeeded by the Office for Black Catholic Ministry in 1985. Father Wilkinson was head of the Black Catholic Commission and then director of the office and priest-secretary of black Catholic ministry for many years, stepping down in 1994. He helped black Catholic youth in the archdiocese link up with peers from around the country through national caucuses and meetings, helped host national black Catholic meetings in Atlanta, and facilitated local involvement in events such as the National Black Catholic Congress. Through the Office for Black Catholic Ministry the tradition of an annual prayer service or Mass remembering the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was established. Father Wilkinson has also been involved in AIDS ministry and education at parishes where he served. The emphasis of the OBCM is to evangelize through all parishes to the unchurched in the African-American community as well as to strengthen black Catholics and bring their gifts into service to the whole archdiocese.
In 2002 the Father Bruce Wilkinson Founders Award was established by the OBCM and he was the inaugural recipient. It is given each year by the OBCM to honor an individual who has made an outstanding contribution in the ministry of evangelization.
He is credited with helping to establish the first council of the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary in the archdiocese at St. Anthony Church 20 years ago in 1986. He has been pastor of St. Anthony Church and Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Atlanta, where he currently serves, and has also served as associate pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur.
FATHER RICHARD WISE
Father Richard Wise has been a priest for 25 years, but counting his preceding 11 years as a Religious brother in the Society of the Precious Blood he has been in parish ministry over 36 years.
At the jubilee luncheon for priests he says he “was just overwhelmed with the whole thing—overwhelmed with what the Lord has done in my life and through my life, the various gifts that people have received through the priesthood God has given me.”
It has brought him to every segment of society “from Death Row through parish life, to working in various cultures and various environments, to being able to speak not only with the movers and shakers, but the outcasts, working with drug-addicted people, the homeless and the poor … that whole gamut.”
“It’s been fantastic,” said the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Blairsville. “To be a priest of God and do everything God has called me to do—wow!”
Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, who ordained him in 1981, “was truly a spiritual father,” Father Wise said. “Young priests need to be mentored, they need to be pastored. Archbishop Donnellan did that for me. He would just take me under his wing and make the corrections that were necessary. I never had an experience with him where I felt he was using his power. … He really set the tone for my priesthood.”
Two keys to his priesthood, he says, have been prayer and a sense of humor.
“You have to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus,” Father Wise said. “If you look at the faults and foibles of the church, the scandals, the politics, you can lose heart. But if you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, you can handle all that. You learn to repent of your own sinfulness and inadequacies. The more you experience that (forgiveness), the more you are able to share that forgiveness with other people.”
“The other thing is being able to maintain a sense of humor, to see the irony, to see humor all around you, not to take yourself too seriously.”
For example, the pastor, who has made it through 10 surgeries in the last four years, says it’s helped him to relate better to the culture of a retirement area.
“When you recognize your own weaknesses you see why God chose you to be a priest. God doesn’t choose the perfect; he chooses the weakest so his glory can shine through.”
There was humor even in his call to priesthood. He went to Rome in 1975 for the Holy Year.
“There were some kids in my parish I thought might have vocations to the priesthood,” he recalled. “I went to the tomb of St. Pius X and prayed for them. Within a year, I began to get drawn to the priesthood. I came to the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the irony is I found out that this diocese is under the secondary patronage of St. Pius X. I was assigned as a deacon to St. Pius X Parish and celebrated my first Mass at St. Pius X so he really played a role in my vocation to the diocesan priesthood.”
He has served at St. Oliver Plunkett Church in Snellville, St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, and Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain, and was pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur from 1988 until 2003 when he was assigned in Blairsville.
Quietly during those years he served as a foster father to three young men from Ethiopia, who were in danger of being conscripted into the communist army or grabbed by rebel forces in their homeland. With the permission of the archbishops at the time, he accepted what he clearly felt was a call from God to help the family. Although he knew and admired Chicago priest Father George Clements, who served as a foster father and started a church-based program to place foster children, Father Wise says he doesn’t think it is something priests are frequently called to do.
But in his situation, he says, he went directly from prayer before the Blessed Sacrament about being a foster father to meeting a woman on the steps of his church who pleaded for his help to save the lives of her cousins in Ethiopia. “This is something I did in response to God’s call,” he said.
Yamlak, Selam and Agegnehu Tsega, who came to the United States as teenagers, went to St. Pius X High School in Atlanta, while living first with a local family and later at the parish. All three graduated from Xavier University in New Orleans. All three have achieved graduate degrees, Father Wise said. They were exceptional youths, he said, and the parish housekeeper at the time, Lily Turnipseed, helped him enormously.
He also reflects on the fact that in his 36 years of ministry, 25 have been spent in African-American parishes.
“It was always a response to a request by the church. That was what God gave me to do,” Father Wise said. “But I can tell you that serving in a culture that was not my own, and embracing a spirituality that was not my own, has added a depth to my priesthood.”
Whether a mountain parish or an African-American community near Atlanta he said he has tried to “embrace the spirituality that was here, make it my own, and serve.”
“God is developing me even more. I am not so much getting older as getting richer—in the richness of God’s grace,” Father Wise said. “I am just happy being a priest. I really love it.”