By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 18, 2010
Father Daniel Stack has spent the fall and winter learning to navigate life in Mexico, figuring out baffling traffic laws, timing when his residence has hot water and reveling in the hospitality.
Like finding himself in a home of strangers in a custom called “cradling the Christ Child” where they put a doll of the baby Jesus to bed. It was two hours of singing, praying and, as always, eating that ended at 10 p.m.
Daily life here during his sabbatical teaches him more about his Mexican parishioners in Cartersville and around the Atlanta Archdiocese.
“If I am to be of the best service to that half of the diocese, it will serve me well to know more about them as a group. Of course, nothing is superior to knowing each as an individual,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Father Stack will be in Mexico until his sabbatical ends around Easter.
Hispanic people, most of whom are Mexican, make up nearly half of the Catholics in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Father Stack has been the pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Church, Cartersville, since 2001. His parish has a large Hispanic community. And he is passionate about serving these newcomers.
“It has been a special privilege to serve the Latino immigrants. The vibrant life, talent and energy that this immigrant community is bringing to our archdiocese has thrilled me over and over again,” Father Stack wrote.
His enthusiasm for serving the Hispanic community comes from a lesson learned at the Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach, Fla., in 1979 about the changing face of the American church with Latinos becoming the driving force in its growth. That’s when Father Stack started to study Spanish. It changed the priesthood for him.
“Our diocese, like most, made no requirements to study or learn the language and still does not,” he commented. “As Frost says, ‘I chose the road not traveled by and that has made all the difference.’”
About one in three Catholics in the United States is Latino, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
His ministry to Hispanic Catholics took root at St. Bernadette Church in Cedartown, when he served as pastor in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. He remembered there were four or five Mexicans for every American in the parish.
“It was there that I had to learn the language and it was very frustrating. Languages come slow and there are lots of pitfalls. I fell into most of them, I think,” he said.
The career of a priest can be extraordinarily vast. Father Stack penned a chapter for a book from a university publishing house about the growth of the Hispanic community in North Georgia. He was arrested for a protest outside an Atlanta abortion clinic in the late 1980s. He hosted a show for a time explaining the church to a largely non-Catholic TV audience.
For him, sharing important moments in people’s lives, from a child’s birth to helping a grieving family bury a loved one, is his favorite part of being a priest.
“The baptism of children, especially firstborns, is such a special moment for a family as is the burial of a stillborn (child) or infant. These are very important events in the lives of our families and individuals, and it is a great honor to be part of that moment,” he wrote.
Father Stack, who is 55, grew up in the snow belt of Buffalo, N.Y. He is the youngest of four children, which meant, he said, he received the least religious education. In fact, he remembered his confirmation education was memorizing questions and answers from the catechism.
“I liked that very much because it is easy for me to memorize. I never had to study the sheets of questions,” he said.
His vocation as a priest was “awakened” during a Cursillo weekend in 1973. The enthusiasm stayed with him as he participated in adult education classes at the University of Florida Catholic Student Center. He later joined the charismatic renewal community at the university.
He graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s in building construction and did a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Spokane, Wash., where he had spiritual mentors to help him discern his vocation as a priest.
He was ordained a priest in 1982. He has served at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, Holy Family Church, Marietta, and St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro. He first became a pastor at St. Bernadette Church, and since then he has been the spiritual leader at St. Joseph Church, Dalton, St. Anna Church, Monroe, and now St. Francis of Assisi.
Father Stack said families have a role in encouraging religious vocations, by promoting such a vocation as a “noble and fulfilling” one.
“I think the most important thing that a family or community can do to encourage vocations is to tell their youth directly: ‘We would be proud of you if you were to serve the church as a sister, brother, deacon or priest. We think it is a noble and fulfilling vocation.’”
“We are doing an excellent job of encouraging other professions in a similar way,” he said.