By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special To The Bulletin | Published April 12, 2007
The new Archdiocesan Pastoral Council will have “the ear” of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory as he shepherds the Atlanta Archdiocese in the days ahead.
The recent commissioning of the 23-member council fulfills the archbishop’s desire to assemble a consultative group of laity, which falls in line with canon law and further establishes “the rightful role” of the laity in today’s church.
“We’re delighted to be at this point,” said Chancellor Deacon Dennis Dorner. “The archbishop wants the opportunity to listen to the laity … who represent the whole archdiocese.”
For new APC member Susan Burroughs, a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist Church in Hapeville, the commissioning on Palm Sunday at the Saturday vigil Mass on March 31 at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, was part of a daylong journey she has since dubbed as “E-Day.”
“I was energized, enlightened and really engaged. … There was a lot of emotion, too.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, Burroughs, along with 19 other people, including a permanent deacon and woman Religious, were commissioned as members of the first pastoral council for the Atlanta Archdiocese. The full council will be comprised of 23 people, including two priests, Father Victor Galier, pastor of St. Matthew Church in Tyrone, and Father John Shramko, chaplain at St. Pius X High School in Atlanta, who were not able to attend the commissioning.
“It was a nice culmination to the day,” said APC member John Schiavone. At the end of Mass he came forward to the front of the church as did the other council members.
“It then hit home that this is something special,” recalled the parishioner from St. Brigid Church in Alpharetta.
“It may sound corny, but really, (the archbishop) had us come up toward the altar and we stood between the archbishop and everyone else in the church to be the bridge between the lay people of our parishes and the archbishop. It’s our responsibility to help with the communication between the archbishop and the church.”
The APC consists of 12 deanery representatives (two from each deanery), seven discretionary representatives appointed by Archbishop Gregory, two priests, one deacon and one woman Religious. Deacon Dorner will also participate as a representative of the archdiocesan staff and as facilitator for the APC.
With the establishment of this council, the Atlanta Archdiocese joins the ranks of the approximately 60 percent of all U.S. dioceses that have created pastoral councils as a method of involving the laity as consultants in the decisions of the church at the diocesan level. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its March 2004 “Laity Report on Diocesan and Parish Pastoral Councils,” noted that “in locations where diocesan parish councils have been established, the bishops are directly involved in the work of the councils and believe DPCs provide fairly effective consultation and representative feedback that is of benefit in their episcopal leadership role.”
In addition, the majority of bishops look to DPCs for “long-range planning and visioning,” while many bishops find that these councils are useful for “short-term, task-oriented project implementation … considering diocesan policy changes, implementing diocesan goals, serving as an integral voice with clergy and Religious, and being a general sounding board for various issues.” Statistics reported by the USCCB suggest that these councils “can be and are a helpful resource.”
Representatives who were chosen by their pastors convened in February for a general orientation to the APC. After meeting in groups by deaneries—the archdiocese consists of the six deaneries of Northwest Metro, Northeast Metro, South Metro, Northwest, Northeast and South—those gathered participated in a discernment process to select two representatives and two alternates from each deanery. This followed the prescriptions for the formation of pastoral councils as is outlined in canon law.
“We had representatives from just about every parish,” Deacon Dorner said of the initial meeting, at which those gathered came to understand that the APC would be a consultative body of laity to aid the archbishop.
“It’s not a democratic body,” Deacon Dorner explained. “There will be times when a recommendation to the archbishop will be turned down.” The archbishop, however, should then provide the group with “sound reasons” explaining his decision.
Participants “literally voted” to select who would represent their deanery, the chancellor said.
“The archbishop made additional appointments to the group so that it would represent the whole archdiocese by being ethnically diverse and also diverse by age, economically and geographically,” Deacon Dorner added. “We’ve ended up with a good group.”
A “formation day” was held March 31 followed by the commissioning Mass. It was also the first time council members met.
Alan Talley, a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Carrollton, comes to the APC with nine years of experience in church ministry, five of them serving as parish director of religious education. He has a master’s degree in religious education from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Now a stay-at-home dad, Talley looks forward to serving the church “in a different way.”
He excitedly admitted that he has “a lot to process” after the commissioning. “It’s humbling to be a part of this very spiritual group,” he shared. “It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.”
New APC member Shirley Towle, a parishioner at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sharpsburg, has been involved in the Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women.
“Now we start at Block A,” she said, adding that she sees herself as an “access route to the council.” She has already been approached by others with their “issues, concerns, wants and desires.”
“One of the things I really hope is that the people of the Atlanta Archdiocese and this archbishop have a very open conversation about the needs and wants of this diocese. … It’s a wonderful avenue for everyday parishioners who sit in the pews to tell how they feel about certain issues, where their concerns are.”
Towle has been impressed when attending events with the archbishop. “I feel so much that God … and the Holy Spirit are working through this man. He’s truly a gracious leader, and I’m looking forward to getting to know him better.”
She hopes not “to fret over” the responsibility as she strives to be a “true servant.”
“It’s certainly all for God’s glory and not for the glory of Shirley or my parish,” she said.
St. John the Evangelist parishioner Burroughs was “called to Catholicism” in college, she said. The Hapeville parishioner really took to heart the discernment process for the APC.
“I prayed throughout the day and before going,” she confided. “I said, ‘If you want me to do this, Lord, let me do it with complete humility. Let me be the ears and voice of the people.’”
Believing that there are no coincidences and that “God put in place” those needed, she may feel a bit “hesitant” about how best to approach the new responsibility but remains undaunted.
“I don’t like the word fear; it shows a lack of faith,” she explained.
She hopes to “give all I have to do my best at the task put before me,” by not only voicing the concerns of others but also sharing what she hears is good about the archdiocese.
Schiavone, a “cradle Catholic,” commented on the number of converts to Catholicism, like Burroughs, who will serve on the APC and shared that “it’s interesting because they have such strong sentiments in their love for the church … and how excited they were about the church.”
He added that while the group is small, the backgrounds of those involved are diverse. “We should have a really neat perspective, the youngest is 24 and the oldest, well, we get up there.”
He looks forward to “good honest communication,” which will help the archbishop minister to the archdiocese.
“It’s a huge job he has, just meeting the tremendous needs of such a diverse group of people.”
He acknowledged that “it’s got to be scary when you open up what you are doing to scrutiny and the potential for criticism, but it usually results in a lot of good.”
That, he said, has been his experience as a businessman.
“The archbishop understands the importance of communication and having people involved in the organization. The Catholic Church isn’t any different from any organization; it has the same problems any organization has except that it affects people in a place so intimate, their spirituality.”
He explained the importance communication has to any organization. “The better the communication, the better the organization. I think that is what this process (hopes to accomplish),” explained Schiavone, who came to Atlanta in 1976 and married a native Atlantan in 1980. He and his wife have two daughters, ages 19 and 21.
“It’s amazing how many are in this archdiocese. What difference can 22 people do? But Christ founded his church with 12. It’s a function of communication. Back then they had word of mouth. Today we have things like the Internet.”
Schiavone recognizes that he’s only seen “the tip of the iceberg” in his understanding of how the laity’s role expanded after Vatican II. His presence on the APC has become the impetus to further study this area of canon law.
Deacon Dorner noted “the advantage” of being 55 when it comes to appreciating the impact Vatican II has had on the laity’s role in the church.
“It really encouraged the laity to take their rightful place in the church. … In canon law it is broken down; the laity is a significant part of the church. While we still have the hierarchy, because any organization needs structure, there’s more openness between the hierarchy and the people, which is so critical to how we grow the church and spread the Good News.”
When serving in the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., then Bishop Gregory convened a pastoral council. Those serving on the council appreciated the opportunity, according to Deacon Dorner.
“The comment I heard over and over again was what a great dialogue they had with Archbishop Gregory. They had the archbishop’s ear, which is really important when you are shepherding the whole archdiocese. The ability to candidly talk, to sit together and talk about a wide range of topics. This is vital to (Archbishop Gregory’s) ministry.”
Deacon Dorner added, “The archbishop understands so intimately how important that relationship is. You can’t do the work of spreading the Good News if you don’t have a good relationship.”
APC members will serve for three years, and for the first term they will be staggered by random selection to serve for two, three or four years, so that members do not rotate off the council all at once.
Meetings will be held four times a year at a daylong event on a Saturday. The agenda for the meetings, which will be reviewed and set by the archbishop and an executive committee, will include items submitted by the archbishop, APC members, the Priests’ Council and parish pastoral councils.
Archbishop Gregory will preside at the APC’s first meeting on April 21.
Archdiocesan Pastoral Council Members:
Father Victor Galier, pastor, St. Matthew Church, Tyrone
Father John Shramko, chaplain, St. Pius X High School, Atlanta
Sister Margaret McAnoy, IHM, Atlanta Conference of Sisters, Our Lady of Lourdes
Deacon Hilliard M. Lee Jr., St. Paul of the Cross Church, Atlanta
Elisabeth Blanton, M.D., St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn
Bruce Bley, St. Anna Church, Monroe
Timothy J. Buckley III, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Atlanta
Susan H. Burroughs, St. John the Evangelist Church, Hapeville
Gwen-Dolyn Cutter, Christ Our Hope Church, Lithonia
Dominic Faraj, St. Patrick Church, Norcross
Barbara Golder, Our Lady of the Mount Church, Lookout Mountain
Joanna Griggs, St. Mary Church, Toccoa
S. Benjamin Houston, Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur
Carmen J. Madero, Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City
Sabrina Mao, Atlanta Chinese Catholic Community
Hung Tien Nguyen, Our Lady of Vietnam Church, Riverdale
Calvin G. Owens, St. Mary Church, Rome
Roderick Padilla, Our Lady of the Americas Church, Lilburn
John F. Schiavone, St. Brigid Church, Alpharetta
Andrew J. Smith, Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta
Rick Stetzer, St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell
Alan J. Talley, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Carrollton
Shirley Towle, St. Mary Magdalene Church, Sharpsburg