By JEAN DRISKELL, Special To The Bulletin | Published March 17, 2011
Sixty women and 48 senior high school youth of the Archdiocese of Atlanta were honored for their ministry and service to the church and their communities at the 34th annual Recognition Day, presented by the Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women (AACCW).
The ceremony, consisting of a Mass concelebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and the priests of the archdiocese and a reception, was held at the Cathedral of Christ the King on Saturday, Jan. 22.
Recognition Day was initiated in 1977 by the late AACCW past president Genevieve Jones-Geising as a time to recognize and appreciate women and youth for their contributions.
Archbishop Gregory opened the Mass by saying, “We gather to express our gratitude for the services of the women and young people.”
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said, “Most of us would never dare to suggest that the examples that we have given to people would or should be a model for them to follow, most especially in the area of our faith life.”
Archbishop Gregory said that even though the first Christians faced great challenges, they continued to live the faith by caring for the poor and celebrating the sacramental life of the church.
“Those who saw how they lived were drawn to join them, even if that might lead to their deaths,” he said. “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. People are emboldened when they see good examples, today no less than the past. … We thank the women here who continue to be the very backbone of church life in the many and varied ways they serve our local parishes.”
“These women of faith provide the heart and soul of our communities and their devotion inspires others to follow their good example,” he said.
Archbishop Gregory acknowledged that the ministry of his fellow priests and deacons “would be severely impacted without the support and assistance of the ladies in our parishes and institutions.”
“Equally important is the honor and thanks we offer to our youth,” he said. “These young men and women are also a source of great pride for us. They inspire their friends and classmates with their good examples and their love for their Catholic faith. I thank them for being witnesses of faith and love for all the Church.”
At the recognition ceremony, held at the end of the Mass, the honorees received a plaque and certificate. Following this, Father Timothy Gadziala, spiritual moderator for the AACCW and pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church, gave the closing remarks by quoting Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Love does not measure, it simply gives.” He thanked the honorees and said the “women and youth are the right arms of the Church to carry out God’s work.”
“It was so unexpected to me,” Carole Edouard, representing Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur, said. “I’ve been here at Sts. Peter and Paul for 15 years and have been involved with ministries in my church.”
Edouard is a member of the women’s council, a Lady of the Knights of Peter Claver, a Stephen minister, youth group helper, catechist, extraordinary minister of holy Communion, and welcome minister.
“I think it was an awesome honor, and it was a great experience to be a part of this,” Alexis Stoddard said. She is a high school senior and member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Carrollton. Stoddard is a extraordinary minister of holy Communion, assists catechists in preschool religious education, and leads the youth group whose mission is a soup kitchen. She also helps with the St. Vincent de Paul Society and is involved with a project called Cardboard Campout, where the participants fast all day and spend the night sleeping outside in cardboard boxes.
“It helps us experience what it’s like being homeless,” she said.
“I was embarrassed,” Lisa Biagioni, of St. Andrew Church, Roswell, said. “They sprung it on me at the parish Christmas party. It is an honor.”
She is president of the women’s guild, vice president of the parish council, and she works with a faith-based scouting group as a shepherd for American Heritage Girls. She also volunteers at her daughter’s school, Holy Spirit Preparatory.
“I’m excited. I got to see the archbishop and shake his hand. Very emotional,” said Erick Cardenas of St. Matthew Church, Winder. “My friends were previous honorees, and I feel honored to be one of them.”
This high school senior is a volunteer core member for parish middle school and teen groups.
“We help with Life Teen and Edge group. We teach morals, values, what the Bible means, and we help with retreats,” Cardenas said.
“It’s mind-boggling to be among these women who are such good role models for the church,” said Joan Evaniak, of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta.
She is a co-partner with Pat Gardella of the Shrine’s gift shop. The proceeds help the parish’s budget.
“We do this in order to bring rosaries and religious items to people’s homes,” she said, Catholic articles that are not readily available in Atlanta.
“It’s kind of unexpected. Not many seniors in our church,” Michael Holmer, the outstanding youth from St. Mary Church, Toccoa, said. “I like being involved, especially helping my mom with church activities.”
Holmer is an usher, helps with the Knights of Columbus, and is involved with CCD.
“I’m real proud, and we have a wonderful church,” said Virginia Hedges, of St. Matthew Church, Winder. “So many women work so hard in the church. It was very nice.”
She is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, caseworker for St. Vincent de Paul Society, and bookkeeper for the Carmel Retreat Center.
At the Mass, Shirley Towle, current president of the AACCW, called the honorees good stewards of the church in North Georgia.
“Thank you for all you do,” she said.
She especially remembered Belle Atkinson of St. Mary Church, Toccoa, who died Jan. 2.
“Belle was very active in the church,” said Gerrie Chalk, president of the St. Mary’s Ladies Guild. “She diligently managed a food drive and delivered the food every month.”
“She went quietly doing what needed to be done around the church. She was always right there,” Marion Rice, a close friend of Atkinson, said. “Whatever needed to be done, Belle did it. She was a very faithful member of the church.”
Atkinson had been ill with lymphoma for four years.
“She was always cheerful, even through her treatments,” Rice said. “She also let everyone in the Toccoa community know she was Catholic and proud of it.”