By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published September 7, 2006
Pamela Hylton has just begun her first year of teaching in the United States.
A former resource teacher in Jamaica, Hylton followed her son, now a Georgia State University student, to Atlanta. She has found a new home as a resource teacher at St. Peter Claver Regional School and said that as soon as she walked into the Decatur elementary school she knew she was where God wanted her.
“The first thing that struck me, at the very first staff meeting, was that everyone at the school was blessed,” she said. “You could just feel it.”
Hylton and her SPC colleagues gathered with other Catholic school faculty members at St. Brigid Church Aug. 21 for a special Mass celebrating Catholic educators.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the Mass, which also carried a special purpose as an event to commemorate the past 50 years of Catholic education in honor of the archdiocese’s golden jubilee. Ten priests joined Archbishop Gregory to celebrate the Mass, which happened to coincide with the feast day of St. Pius X, the patron saint of the archdiocese.
The congregation shared a knowing laugh as the archbishop spoke in his homily of the joy of ministering to children.
“Those who care for children really are entrusted with a special task and given a privileged ministry—although I am sure on any given day some who work with children such as teachers might find it difficult to identify the specific privilege or great honor that has been bestowed upon them in working with children,” he said with a smile.
Archbishop Gregory said he would be “remiss were (he) not to begin this year with a word of heartfelt thanks to all those of you who teach and work with our youngsters.”
“Teachers—as the saying goes—touch the future, and Catholic school teachers touch the future with Faith,” he said, adding that the Archdiocese of Atlanta has been blessed with gifted teachers in its 50 years of existence.
“Religious and laity, you have cared for the Lord’s young sheep with great tenderness and skill helping them to come to know the Lord Jesus as they developed as young adult men and women of Faith,” he said. “Therefore during this Jubilee Year, I thank not only all of you here assembled but all of those teachers living and deceased who have worked so effectively and so graciously in educating the young people of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.”
Catholic schools are a source of pride to the archdiocese, the archbishop said, and he encouraged the educators gathered to be reminded of their vocation throughout the year.
“As you begin a new year, our 51st year as a local Church, I pray that your hearts will be filled with an enthusiasm that will sustain you all during the sometimes long months of the academic year,” he said. “May Christ Himself be in your home, your hearts and your classrooms this year and always.”
Diane Starkovich, who is beginning her first school year as superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, spoke to the congregation after Communion and said it was a “wonderful sight to see so many Catholic educators gathered together.”
Catholic schools are needed today more than ever, she said, as she expressed her gratitude to all those who work in Catholic education for their commitment to service.
“Thank you for all you do to make quality religious education a reality in this archdiocese.”
A reception following the Mass was held in the parish’s Corbett Hall, where teachers and other staff members greeted each other, laughing, sharing stories of their first weeks of school and enjoying a buffet of hors d’oeuvres and desserts.
Jerri Muré, a fourth-grade instructional aide at St. John Neumann Regional School in Lilburn, said that she’s appreciative of the opportunity to gather with her peers.
“It’s nice to be with everyone, sharing with people who all do the same work you do,” she said. “It’s a good way to start off the school year, having Mass with Archbishop Gregory.”
Hylton, too, called the Mass a “blessing.”
“It helps you to go on with the school year,” she said.
Father Paul Burke, chaplain at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Fairburn, said that the Catholic educators’ Mass helps to “bring faith to life.”
“Our schools are so diverse and so spread out. This gives us an opportunity to gather in a spiritual way rather than in a business meeting type of setting,” he said. “It puts the focus where it needs to be. We need to make sure to have that eucharistic focus for the whole year. That’s the key.”