By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published October 26, 2006
As Atlanta marked its 50th year as a diocese this year, a number of special events and Masses have been held for various ministries and groups of North Georgia.
At each of the jubilee events, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory addressed his congregation and thanked them for their ongoing, faithful contributions to the archdiocese. Recent events heralded the contributions of youth ministry, consecrated men and women, and those serving in the permanent diaconate.
A Youthful Approach To The Jubilee
In mid-September, the youth of the archdiocese gathered to celebrate a jubilee Mass with Archbishop Gregory. Teenagers from parishes all over North Georgia congregated at the Church of St. Ann in Marietta as the archbishop celebrated the 5 p.m. LIFE TEEN Mass on Sunday, Sept. 17.
The walls of St. Ann’s were decorated with T-shirts bearing the names of retreats held at St. Ann’s in the past decade, and teenagers filled the pews and overflowed to stand in the back of the packed church.
The archbishop noted that most of the teens will be alive for the diocese’s 100th anniversary in 2056, and he prayed that many of them will still be residents of North Georgia and will bring their “own children to special events like this Mass that will then recall that happy moment.”
Some of the teens may be priests and deacons, though most will be married men and women with children and grandchildren, the archbishop said, as he continued to look ahead to the future. But even when looking ahead, it’s important to look to the past.
“Fifty years ago, it probably would have been unlikely that the Catholic Church would be such a strong and vital presence in North Georgia,” he said. “It would have been unimaginable to have so many parishes and schools serving people in this vibrant community of Atlanta. It would have been unthinkable to envision an African-American leading the Archdiocese of Atlanta or celebrating Mass in English with an enthusiastic group of young Catholics in Marietta, but the unthinkable is reality today because of God’s grace.”
“That same Grace of God will transform you into men and women of greatness of heart, of courage, of generosity of spirit, and of love,” he continued. “The archbishop has great confidence in our young people and even greater trust in God’s Grace so operative in the lives of our young people. This Jubilee Mass is another opportunity for me to tell all of you how much you mean to all of us and to me in particular.”
The Mass was punctuated by praise and worship music provided by the St. Ann’s LIFE TEEN band, as well as youthful exuberance.
Barb Garvin, director of youth ministry for the archdiocese, said that youth ministry is the “young church in action.”
“Over the 50 years of history in our archdiocese, we have seen our youth share their faith in their parishes, on retreats and in the many hours of community service they have performed. Our young church is our present as well as our future, and many of the adults that lead the church today came from our rich history of youth ministry programs,” Garvin said, adding that the popular “Search for Christian Maturity” has just completed its 112th retreat and that the Christian Leadership Institute held each summer has graduated more than 20 groups in over 20 years of leadership training.
“I am very proud of the young church and the gifts, talents and dedication it has displayed,” she said. “(I hope that) the next 50 years continue to recognize the youth as vibrant members of the community and embrace their enthusiasm and love of the Catholic faith.”
Jonathan Flowers, a young adult who spent his teenage years involved in the St. Ann’s LIFE TEEN program, is grateful for the ways youth ministry helped to shape his adult life. The eldest of five children, Flowers, 29, said that involvement in youth ministry programs, particularly at St. Ann’s, helped to bring his entire family together.
“We went from being a family that only went to church on Christmas and Easter to one that was at church more days than we were not,” he said. “Coming to this Mass as a family has enriched our lives in ways we never thought of and has brought us closer together and stronger in our faith than we ever thought. I can’t imagine my life or my family if we’d never come to this Mass and made it a part of our lives.”
Religious Orders Worked To Build Diocese
Priests and religious brothers and sisters from various orders gathered together in one of the archdiocese’s oldest churches—Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta—as Archbishop Gregory celebrated Mass for the consecrated men and women of the archdiocese on Sept. 12.
In his homily, the archbishop gave special thanks to the religious orders who helped to build North Georgia into a thriving diocese.
“We could not observe this Jubilee Year without spending a few moments giving thanks and praising God for the hundreds of men and women in Consecrated Life and the unique contribution that you have made for the life of this local Church in living your vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience in our midst,” he said. “You make us more perfectly the People that God calls us to be in providing the witness of the primacy of the Love of God before and above all else that we may do or say.”
The men and women in consecrated life, Archbishop Gregory said, have sacrificed to make the archdiocese a success.
“You have been the pastors, teachers, medical care and social service providers that our people have so desperately needed,” he said. “As many of our neighbors and friends from other religious traditions have observed the Catholic Church in North Georgia, they cannot fail to have been inspired by the dedication and the faith of the men and women in Consecrated Life who have given a face and a heart to the Church that others simply cannot impart.”
Calling the consecrated men and women “pioneers,” Archbishop Gregory compared the various religious orders to the apostles. Jesus chose 12 men of varying backgrounds, much like the different charisms represented by the orders.
“…You complete the face of the Church for us all and you bring to perfection the desire of Christ for His Church that we live in the world as its servants and continually call all of society to an awareness of the value of the world that will be made perfect in God’s Kingdom and in His time.”
A luncheon was held following the Mass in Sacred Heart’s parish hall.
Marist Father Paul Hachey was celebrating his own jubilee at the special Mass. The following day, the priest, judicial vicar for the Court of Appeals, celebrated his 50th birthday.
“It’s a real blessing to represent the Marists and those who have come before us who have done so much for this archdiocese,” Father Hachey said.
Sister Sally White, GNSH, who grew up in Atlanta and has served in the archdiocese for almost 40 years, recalled growing up as a Catholic, by far the minority in Atlanta at the time.
“Those were hard times,” she said. “But something was instilled in us to love the church, and something happens with God’s grace. We grow up and we mature and we still have that gift of the Eucharist. It’s what makes people love their church. (The growth of the church) today is just exciting.”
Diaconate Jubilee Celebrates Service
At a jubilee Mass Sept. 23 for members of the permanent diaconate, hundreds of deacons joined together with Archbishop Gregory at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta.
The deacons greeted each other with hugs, patting each other on the back as they embraced before Mass, while inside the church their wives sat chatting with each other.
In his homily, the archbishop spoke of the many challenges faced by deacons in their ministry.
“You deacons are called to be witnesses of the triumph of God’s Mercy and Justice even in the face of suffering and fear,” he said. “Since so many of you often find yourselves caring for the poor, the sick, the neglected, you must remind yourselves constantly of the Good News of Christ whose herald you are as the very reason for all the works of charity that you perform.”
“The Archdiocese of Atlanta needs its deacons to be men who are resilient in hope and trust even in the face of the sadness that seems so prevalent and formidable,” the archbishop continued. “Each year the deacons of this local Church gather together to renew their commitment to be men of hope and men of service. You gather today to listen to the story of the seeds that God has planted throughout creation that will produce a harvest according to God’s own design and plan. Renew your own promise to work for the fulfillment of God’s justice and of His Will for creation.”
The simple Mass was concelebrated by 10 priests and was followed by a reception in the parish hall.
In 1969, Atlanta Archbishop Thomas Donnellan asked Father Frank Ruff, a Glenmary priest, to investigate establishing the diaconate. For the next several years, priests and other church leaders pondered the role that deacons would play in the life of the church of Atlanta.
Finally, in 1977, the first deacons, Deacon Tom Zaworski and the late Deacon Charles Moore, completed their formation and were ordained.
Today there are hundreds of permanent deacons serving at parishes, prisons and in other ministerial capacities through the archdiocese.
Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor of the archdiocese and director of deacon personnel, reflected on the many years of service given by the deacons and the changes that have taken place since the diocese was founded.
“The call for the renewal of the permanent diaconate had not even occurred in the universal church at that time,” he said. “Today we are a significant part of the life of the church, and our men are serving in parishes and ministries throughout the archdiocese. This is surely something to be celebrated during our jubilee.”
Deacon Dorner also expressed his hopes for the future of the diaconate ministry.
“In the coming years it is my sincere hope that the diaconate community continues to identify and address the charitable needs of God’s people here in North Georgia,” he said. “This will happen when men respond to God’s call for them to emulate his Son in ministry, as true servant leaders of all those in need.”