Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Priests Rejoice In Rich Ministries To God’s People

By GRETCHEN KEISER and PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writers | Published July 6, 2006


Golden jubilarian Father Joseph Fahy, CP, has been ministering in Georgia for most of the last 20 years, particularly by extending the sacraments and the pastoral care of the church to Hispanic immigrants.

The Passionist priest, a native of Washington, D.C., was invited to come to the archdiocese in 1983 by then-Father Bill Hoffman to help celebrate Masses in Spanish as the growing need could not be met by local priests alone.

He brought the Spanish Mass across North Georgia, initiating the native-language liturgy in 17 parishes or missions on a traveling circuit with Father Hoffman until resident Spanish-speaking priests could be installed permanently in those communities. Parishes in Carrollton, Canton, Jasper, Hartwell, Gainesville and LaGrange are a few of those where Father Fahy began the Mass in Spanish.

The plight of an estimated 2,500 Cuban men incarcerated in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in the 1980s also captured his concern. They ended up in the penitentiary after being pushed out of Cuba by Fidel Castro in the Mariel boatlift and then being ill-equipped for life in the United States, either mentally unstable or in legal trouble.

Father Fahy visited them in prison and wrote about their situation in over 50 letters to the editor published in national newspapers. He also testified twice before Congress on their behalf.

“I worked (among the prison population) from about 1983 to 1985. They (prison officials) were not too keen about the letters I wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There were suicides and homicides and self-mutilation (among the prisoners). I tried to be as responsible as possible, but point out the difficulties. … I went to the Congress twice pleading for a true hearing where the defendant has the opportunity to ventilate in a true manner his difficulties and his grievances.”

“The overwhelming majority of that 2,500 were not real brutal criminals but those who could not adapt too well to the United States,” he said. “Some were sent back to Cuba, some were still detained or incarcerated. They were scattered to other prisons.”

He was serving in Honduras when, several years later, there was a riot at the penitentiary and Miami Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman, a Cuban native, was brought in at the request of the prisoners to help negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis.

For the graduate of Georgetown University, who was attracted to the Passionist order because of its unique blend of contemplative prayer and apostolic work, there has been a call to serve the Hispanic immigrant community that began when he was in seminary.

“I studied Spanish at Georgetown,” he recalled, “and then in the late ‘50s some of our priests suggested that those of us interested in languages learn Spanish because Puerto Ricans were flocking into New York and the church was not too prepared. I studied it on my own for the last two years of theology and then they sent me to Puerto Rico for a year and a half.”

Ordained in Union City, N.J., on April 28, 1956, he spent the 1960s ministering in the Union City parish of St. Michael’s, an area he says was home to the second largest Cuban community in the United States after Florida. He remembers going out into neighborhoods once or twice a week at the invitation of active parishioners to bring filmstrips on the faith and to visit people and talk about Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph. He remembers gratefully times when women would later tell him that because of these instructions in the faith they had chosen to carry a pregnancy to term and not to have an abortion.

He would tell those who had invited him into their neighborhoods, “If nothing else happens, we should be very grateful and very pleased that this happened.”

He went to New York University at night to earn a master’s degree in Latin American history with a specialty in Cuban history “because I was working with (Cubans) and wanted a more specialized knowledge of the people.”

He later earned a master’s degree in theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and a doctorate in theology from Harvard University. He has published articles in The Georgia Bulletin and taught in the archdiocesan formation program for permanent deacons.

The Passionists were founded “by a great mystic,” St. Paul of the Cross, and their emphasis upon hours of daily prayer has sustained him in ministry, Father Fahy said. He has also been inspired by the perseverance of people who immigrate here.

“I think awareness, too, of trying to serve these people who don’t know the language, the culture, (who are) trying to get jobs, raise their children, make a life for themselves, trying to help such worthy people,” has been inspiring, he said. “If they are making such sacrifices, the little sacrifices we are called upon to make in comparison don’t seem too serious.”

He comes from a family that is notable in Catholic and American history. His aunt and godmother, Sister Peter Claver, MSBT, (Hannah Fahy) came from Rome, Ga., and devoted her religious life to serving the poor until she was 105. In her 90s she was still ministering in prisons in Pennsylvania. An uncle, Charles Fahy, solicitor general under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was outspoken on behalf of Native Americans in the Southwest and labor rights and was named by President Harry Truman to head the commission guiding him on desegregating the armed services.

Father Fahy says his own vocation among Hispanic immigrants, offering the Mass in their native language and trying to preserve their “treasure” of the faith, comes “in part from certain traditions in the (Fahy) family” and then from “God’s grace.”

“I have always been so grateful to the Lord to be able to preach the Gospel in another language,” he said.

In the Gospel of Luke it speaks of being anointed by the Spirit “to bring good news to the poor,” he said. “I think that is an enormous privilege.”

He is now studying Portuguese in hopes of offering Mass and doing some preaching “in that lovely language” for the growing number of Brazilian people living in the archdiocese.


Father Niel Jarreau, SJ, entered the Jesuit religious order after high school in 1943 and after years of study and teaching was ordained a priest on June 13, 1956, at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., where he completed his training.

“Three years ago I celebrated 60 years with the Jesuits, and I have had enough jubilation since then,” said the 79-year-old priest from New Orleans on the occasion of his golden jubilee of priesthood.

Father Jarreau was aware of his calling to the priesthood at the age of 7. Through the priests who taught him in high school, he was attracted to the Jesuit order with its community life, apostolic opportunities, and 15 years of training, including study of philosophy, the classics and theology and three years of teaching. His decades of ministry have centered on giving spiritual direction and leading retreats.

“I cannot imagine anything better than this kind of life for me,” he said.

After completing seminary he taught Latin and English at a Jesuit high school in Shreveport, La., and later served as a dean for a Jesuit House of Studies in Mobile. From 1966 to 1982 he practiced spiritual counseling in Dallas and Tampa, Fla., and has given workshops on topics including personal growth, spiritual direction, psychology and religion, and assertiveness. He has striven to help people to get their thoughts, emotions and behavior in order and to help them grow into the persons they want to become, as human problems, whether a sense of feeling unloved or forgotten, affect one’s relationships with other people and with God.

“It’s a great consolation to work with people in retreats and counseling. It has been exciting and deeply moving, very joyful,” Father Jarreau said. “It’s been extremely consoling and fulfilling to see the work of God in people’s souls and to walk with people who are in need of spiritual assistance.”

He served from 1982 to 1990 and from 2000 through the present at the Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center in Atlanta, which his older brother, Father Martin Jarreau, SJ, who died in 1998, founded after the land and the home on it were donated in 1957 by Suzanne Spalding Schroder, the mother of a Jesuit.

From 1990 to 1997 Father Jarreau served at St. Rita’s Church in Lake Dallas, Texas, and from 1997 to 2000 he served at the Montserrat Retreat House in Lake Dallas, before returning to Ignatius House.

At the retreat center he now primarily gives spiritual counseling, but still leads some retreats based on Scripture and the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, a 16th century Spanish nobleman and soldier who founded the Jesuits in 1540 after a conversion experience during a long recovery from a battle wound. The retreat goal is to help one experience and more clearly hear God and to be more attuned to his presence in daily life.

In 2005 Ignatius House added to its facility a chapel with large windows and Tennessee fieldstone walls harmonizing with the surrounding paths and fountain on the 22 acres of wooded grounds overlooking the Chattahoochee River. A new dining room and kitchen were built and the former conference room was converted into a library with large windows.

The chapel “really suits all our needs and people love it. The seats are comfortable, and it was just magnificently done,” Father Jarreau happily reported. “The future (of the center) has never looked so good. … The action of God in this place is profound; the experience of God is profound here. This is what makes it all worthwhile. People experience the Divine.”


Father Matthew Torpey, OCSO, celebrated 50 years as a priest on June 9. He was ordained in 1956 in the Trappist monastery in Gethsemani, Ky., which he entered in September 1950 and where he made his solemn profession as a brother five years later on All Saints Day.

He has lived in three Trappist monasteries—Gethsemani, and two monasteries founded by monks from Gethsemani—Our Lady of New Clairvaux in Vina, Calif., where he lived from 1957 to 1967 and Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, where he has been for the last 39 years.

Born in Jersey City, N.J., the 78-year-old reflected in a golden jubilee homily to his Conyers brothers that he felt called to the priesthood three times. The first time he was 17.

“It seemed that Jesus was asking me to be a Jesuit, (while) what I wanted to do was to join the Navy and become a torpedo-bomber pilot,” Father Matt recalled. “World War II was on. So, with the call, came the stigma of ‘draft dodger.’”

He overcame his resistance to the call, but the first Jesuit community he applied to did not accept his application, so he did join the Navy, although in electronics school, “not in a bomber.”

Later at 22, “out of college and in love,” he felt called to the diocesan priesthood.

“I decidedly was not looking to be ordained at that time, but the call came with power,” he said.

Again, he responded, but while preparing to enter the seminary for the Newark, N.J., Archdiocese he read a pamphlet on the subway to work one day entitled “The Powerhouse of Prayer.” It was written by an anonymous monk, who, he later learned, was Dom Robert McGann, the novice master in Gethsemani and later the abbot in Conyers.

“If I hadn’t ‘wanted’ to become a priest, I most emphatically did not want to become a Trappist monk. But the Fisherman had a strong hand on that reel. I simply had to do it,” Father Matt recalled.

Now he sees that underneath each call and underneath each “beckoning life ambition of my youth was one aching desire of my heart that began to gel in my early teens.”

“I went from wanting to be a doctor, a surgeon, to wanting to be a psychiatrist to—by the time I joined the Navy—not knowing what I wanted to be. … Under all these career attractions was this aching desire to touch the sadness in people—to show people the plenty they lived in and were starving for. To show them the beauty and goodness of God, of this world and especially of themselves as God’s cherished creations, sacraments of His divine goodness.”

“The pamphlet said that the best thing I could do for that cause was to enter Gethsemani Abbey—which I thought of as ‘entering that Kentucky prison.’ Only it turned out to be the joy of my life. And there, contented to be simply a monk, I heard the call for the third time and gladly accepted ordination as a happy enhancement of my ability to touch the world with Christ’s healing grace.”

As do all monks, Father Matt has always worked within his monastic community to keep it self-sustaining, whether by plowing behind a mule, cutting hay, or tending orchards. He has been the electrician in all three monasteries where he’s lived.

From the practical to the spiritual, he is a cantor and after receiving a licentiate in philosophy in Rome, Italy, in 1962 has served as a philosophy teacher and assisted in vocations screening and ministry.

His ministry as a spiritual director he describes as “a beautiful thing to be allowed to do. I’ve had a lot of very fine people.”

He is passionate, perhaps, he says, even obsessed with “trying to change the (flawed) image of God that too many people had invested in them” so they can encounter the God who is Divine Love.

He summarized it in a homily he gave at the Conyers monastery on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 22.

“Mercy is love’s justice. … Human justice aims at evening things up. Divine justice moves to fill things up—with life—to each one’s fullness—and to overflowing. … This is the good news of Easter. Love’s justice is mercy.”