By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 23, 2007
Ed Konieczny has a big tent vision as the new president for the Atlanta’s St. Thomas More Society, an organization for Catholics lawyers.
“My STMS colleagues are good and honorable people. Spending time with them strengthens my faith by strengthening my connection to community. I learn from them and am inspired by them, and together, I believe, we reinforce positive values in each other,” said Konieczny in an e-mail.
In a time when bare-knuckled politics is the name of the game, Konieczny wants the group to be inviting to Catholics of all political persuasions.
In a largely Protestant community, Catholics in the law profession are raising their profile by honoring the achievements of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Its most public event is the annual Red Mass, a medieval tradition commemorating the opening of the law courts.
The lawyer guild here in Atlanta aims to make the event a highlight of the legal community’s calendar, much like it is in Washington, D.C., where the stately event is attended by cabinet officials, members of Congress and Supreme Court justices.
At last year’s Red Mass, more than 50 judges in Atlanta’s state and federal courts wearing red stoles, along with clergy in scarlet vestments, marched into historic Sacred Heart Church in downtown Atlanta.
Lawyers are reviving the St. Thomas More Society, which had been a low-key group in metro Atlanta for years. The patron saint of lawyers and politicians, More was martyred during the Protestant Reformation when he held refused to recognize King Henry VIII as the head of the church.
The Catholic lawyer group intrigued Konieczny, who was raised a Catholic but explored other Christian traditions before arriving in Atlanta 15 years ago. “I didn’t even know about it. It was literally three or four people. I went to the first meeting, and I was on the board.”
The 43-year-old Konieczny said the group debates political, religious and ethical issues.
He joked that the meetings are often held in area restaurants after hours. “And here’s the beauty of this: I’m out having fun while my wife thinks I’m attending another boring bar meeting,” he said.
A Philadelphia-native, Konieczny started his tenure as president this summer. His goal is to grow the St. Thomas More Society into a vibrant organization that appeals to Catholic lawyers of all political stripes and draws women and men alike.
“We want everyone to feel welcome and involved. It is not a conservative Republican organization. We have conservative Republicans. We have liberal Democrats. We have people who don’t know what they are,” said Konieczny, who is an attorney at Smith, Gambrell, & Russell. He is a member of Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta.
The Red Mass will continue to be the highlight of the organization. Officially a Solemn Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, the annual church service dates to the 13th century and gets its name from the color of vestments worn in the service and the red robes worn by judges in the Middle Ages. The church traditionally celebrates the Mass to commemorate the beginning of the judicial year and to call on God’s guidance in the administration of justice. The first Red Mass in the United States took place in New York in 1928.
The group is making a concerted effort to reach out to leaders of other religious faiths to participate in this year’s event.
“Our goal is to bring together the entire legal community, Catholic and non-Catholic, by focusing on the good we have in common,” Konieczny said.
Faith leaders from Protestant churches and the Jewish and Muslim communities have been invited to attend and are expected to participate in the Mass, which will be celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
This year’s event is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 27, at 11 a.m. at Sacred Heart Church.
A reception following the Mass is planned at the Capital City Club.
This year, some 300 people are expected to attend the Mass and the luncheon to honor leaders in the law community.
Honorees this year are former Gov. Roy Barnes, for his leadership in removing the Confederate emblem from the state flag; Frank B. Strickland, for his service as chairman of Legal Services Corp., which provides legal services to the poor; and Judge Doris Downs, the chief judge of the Fulton County Superior Court, for her role in leading the court after a triple shooting in the courthouse and developing a drug court to deal with offenders.
Along with the fall church service, Konieczny said he wants the society to host social events on a regular basis for lawyers to socialize and understand issues of faith as they relate to law issues. In the past, the group tackled immigration issues and the death penalty in light of the church’s teaching.
Those planning to attend the Mass or the luncheon should send an R.S.V.P. to email@example.com. For more information about the St. Thomas More Society, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.