By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published October 28, 2010
When Father John Adamski retired last June, Dominican Father Jeffery Ott, 44, became the new pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta.
He is one of two Dominicans serving the parish—Dominican Father Bruce Schultz serves as associate pastor. Father Schultz, a Milwaukee, Wis., native, converted to Catholicism during his young adult life through the Emory University Catholic Center. Father Schultz was ordained a priest in 1988 by the late Archbishop Eugene Marino at Our Lady of Lourdes Church.
Father Ott served as the university chaplain at his alma mater, Xavier University, New Orleans, La., for the last seven years. He will officially be installed as the new pastor of the downtown parish by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory during a Mass on Sunday, Oct. 31, at 3:30 p.m.
The Georgia Bulletin recently conducted an interview with the new pastor.
GB: The parish was founded in 1912 as an African-American Catholic community, yet you are the first African-American to lead the parish in nearly a century. How significant is that to you and what should it mean for the parish?
Father Ott: Wow, it is amazingly significant for me personally, for my religious community, and for the Lourdes community. In some ways, I feel like I was being prepared to pastor Lourdes since I was taught by St. Katharine Drexel’s sisters (elementary school—St. Peter Claver, New Orleans, and college—Xavier University of Louisiana). As you know St. Katharine Drexel’s generosity built Lourdes church and school. Two of her sisters were the first to suggest to me that I might have a vocation. I believe, too, that the SBS (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament) sought to educate black Catholic leadership so that we could do just that—lead—and so here I am. It’s also quite significant that my pastorate begins on the cusp of our centennial and that as we progress through the 21st century, Lourdes remains a leader in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, not only historically as the mother church for African-American Catholics, but as a vibrant, growing and diverse community of believers on a pilgrimage toward the vision of Christ—justice, mercy, compassion for all peoples. For the friars in my province this occasion marks the return to Atlanta and an answer to many prayers.
GB: You are a member of the Dominican order. Under the leadership of the Dominican order how will things change at Our Lady of Lourdes or what impact does it have on the parish?
Father Ott: We Dominicans bring a distinctive appreciation for the Word of God, for the Gospel, as the Order of Preachers. We’ll continue and build upon the tradition of great and prophetic preaching. We’re also very communitarian, and we hope to enliven, deepen and strengthen the Lourdes community. We’re known for our intellectual tradition and our love of study as an integral part of our lives at every age and every stage of life. So definitely we hope to see greater growth in terms of knowledge of the faith, but more importantly a holistic integration of the Gospel with all the areas of our lives whether we are children or teens or adults.
GB: Will the parish still embark on its capital campaign to build a new church?
Father Ott: Good question. The short answer is yes. When and how is yet to be determined. We need the space! We have the best problem in the world—a growing community and not a lot of room. And I’m not just talking about Sunday Masses either. We’re filled to capacity in our religious education classes for children. Our congregation lives in 160 Georgia ZIP codes.
GB: Where did you study during formation, and when and where were you ordained?
Father Ott: I earned my M.A. in theology and the M.Div. at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. I had the privilege of being taught the art and spirituality of preaching by Dominican Sister Joan Delaplane, who was the first woman to become president of the Academy of Homiletics. I also learned a great deal at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University over the last several years. I was ordained a deacon in St. Louis by the then Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill. I was ordained a priest in San Antonio, Texas, by Archbishop Patrick Flores.
GB: Where were you born and raised?
Father Ott: I’m from New Orleans and attended black Catholic schools there from first grade through college graduation—what an amazing heritage and gift from God.
GB: What was your degree in from Xavier University?
Father Ott: A bachelor of arts in mass communication. I wanted to be a TV broadcaster, then I wanted to be a copy editor, then I just wanted to live somewhere other than New Orleans. I was young and New Orleans felt like too small a town for me then.
GB: If you attended graduate school, where did you attend? When did you finish and what is your master’s degree in?
Father Ott: I graduated from Columbia University in New York with a M.S. in urban planning from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in 1990. That was a total God thing because while I harbored a keen interest in buildings, cities and maps, I never dreamed I could become an urban planner—actually, I didn’t really know there were people who got to do that stuff. It was an amazing experience for me as I got to meet and befriend people from all over the world.
GB: Are you a professional sports fan? If so, who is your favorite team?
Father Ott: I like watching pro sports live—not so much on TV—though I do enjoy the camaraderie and, as is often the case, the great food! I’m a “WHO DAT” fan—the New Orleans Saints, of course.
GB: Since you’re from New Orleans, what type of music do you like?
Father Ott: OK, so I enjoy all types of music, and New Orleans jazz really feeds my soul in a way that other jazz music does not. Wynton Marsalis is amazing, especially live in concert. I feel so proud to be from New Orleans, a place that produces such beautiful music! But I especially like pop, R&B, ballads from the ‘80s and ‘90s—Jeffrey Osborne, Stevie Wonder, Peabo Bryson, Rachelle Farrell, Anita Baker, Patti Labelle. And I’m deeply touched by gospel music, too, and have been known to sing a tune or two on occasion.
GB: What is your favorite Scripture passage?
Father Ott: Philippians 4:4-9 (“Rejoice in the Lord always …”).
GB: Who is your favorite saint and why?
Father Ott: The Dominican, St. Martin de Porres, whose feast is Nov. 3. He was such a powerful healer, and he practiced compassion and love for people as a reflection of his love for Jesus Christ. We’re having a special evening prayer to celebrate St. Martin, Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 7:30 p.m., and everyone is invited.