By JEAN DRISKELL, Special To The Bulletin | Published March 29, 2012
Nominated by their parish communities, 58 women and 54 senior high school youth of the Atlanta Archdiocese were honored March 3 for their ministry and service to the church at the 35th annual Recognition Day, sponsored by the Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women.
AACCW president Dana Lee Willis, speaking at the Recognition Day Mass, said that the organization’s theme for the year—“I have called you by name” from Isaiah 43:1—“could be considered the essence of Recognition Day.”
She said, “We are here to recognize women and youth who have embraced God’s call to serve their parishes and communities—to make a difference.”
The ceremony, consisting of Mass celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and concelebrated by priests of the archdiocese and a reception, was held at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta. The choir from St. Anthony of Padua Church, Atlanta, directed by John Beal, provided the music.
Recognition Day was initiated in 1977 by the late AACCW past president Genevieve Jones-Geising.
Archbishop Gregory acknowledged the honorees at the beginning of Mass for their service to the church.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said, “Loving beyond your comfort zone is the challenge. Jesus tells us that God’s way of loving is always beyond our human expectations and meager limits.”
He said that Christ’s followers are asked not only to embrace those they feel affection for or who love them or like them, “but even those who are most unlike ourselves and those we might even dare to consider an enemy.”
He went on to talk about St. Katharine Drexel, whose feast day was March 3. He talked about how this wealthy woman “chose to love those who are mostly unlike her—Native American and African-American peoples. Her love was heroic and extraordinary.”
Archbishop Gregory said that St. Katharine, over her long life, gave away her fortune of roughly a quarter billion dollars (by today’s standards) “to people who were not like her in most ways, but whose hearts touched hers.”
“Our parishes are fortunate to have many people who love beyond their comfort zone,” he said. “They are the very backbone of our communities, and we would be so much less without them.”
Archbishop Gregory also said that the youth being honored “are a bright promise for tomorrow because even today they are demonstrating the type of leadership qualities that will anchor the church of tomorrow on very solid ground.”
After Communion, the recognition ceremony took place. Father Bill Williams, spiritual moderator for the AACCW, began the ceremony with a blessing, first of the women, asking God to strengthen them and let their examples of faith and love shine forth. He then asked God to guide and sustain the youth with his love and to send the power of the Holy Spirit upon them to help them live their role as leaders among their friends, the church, and community.
Then Archbishop Gregory and Father Williams presented the women and youth with certificates of recognition and several small gifts.
“The women follow the models of the women of Jesus’ time as they minister to his needs and the needs of the early church,” said Father Williams, who is pastor of Queen of Angels Church, Thomson. “The honor we give the women is the greatest honor because we offer the sacrifice of the Mass, this simple yet profound act that we do in asking God to bless them and strengthen them in the work they do and for the teens who are recognized for their roles they currently have as leaders among their peers.”
“I was absolutely overwhelmed. It’s such an honor,” said Midge Garey, of being chosen by her parish, Corpus Christi Church, Stone Mountain. A liver cancer survivor, she started a 12-step, self-help program 18 years ago and continues with it today. She has been an usher, lector, and she’s starred in the parish’s musical productions. She also spends an hour a week as a guardian in the parish adoration chapel.
“I’m trying to be an inspiration to others—to show God loves them. I know God loves me,” Garey said.
“I was shocked, very much so, when they called my name at last Sunday’s 8:30 a.m. Mass,” Freddie Mae Elliott, of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, said. “I feel good because I thought people didn’t notice what I did. I’m very surprised.”
Elliott was the Shrine’s housekeeper for the priests for over 20 years. She made sure that everything was set up and the potluck food was in place for the first Friday lunches that follow the parish’s 12:10 p.m. Mass. She volunteers at the Shrine’s St. Francis Table, a Saturday soup kitchen, and helps take care of the parish’s flowers.
“It’s a great honor, and I’m happy to be a good example to my parish,” said Calvin Wilkinson, the youth chosen by Christ Our Hope Church, Lithonia. “I volunteer at soup kitchens and provide clothes and food for the homeless.”
The high school senior’s other community and outreach services include tutoring children and watching them in after-school programs, being involved in the Hands On Hope program to help the elderly and poor with any aid they need, such as picking up groceries or mowing their lawns.
“I really enjoyed the Mass,” Wilkinson said. “It’s great to be with other youth and providing a strong future for the Catholic Church.”
Jan Drexler, of St. Clement Church, Calhoun, said she too was “very surprised.”
“I do what I do for the church because I enjoy it. I see what needs to be done, and I’m going to do it,” she said.
Drexler helps to coordinate the food pantry as part of her work as secretary of the St. Vincent de Paul Society chapter at her parish. She is in the choir, a cantor, involved with teaching religion to children, on the parish council, and a lector. She has helped coordinate the Christmas and Mardi Gras parish parties, along with other parish social activities.
Along with her husband, Drexler was a group leader with the Catholic Heart Work Camp, a week-long service ministry for teens.
“They come from all over the country to paint houses, clean up peoples’ yards. It was challenging, but I enjoyed working with the teens,” she said.
“I was astounded, fully surprised,” Pat Bendert, of St. Gabriel Church, Fayetteville, said. “St. Gabriel’s is a wonderful parish, and I’m blessed to be a part of it.”
Bendert, upon retiring, volunteered for two years in the parish office. She is president of the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society chapter and helps with the food pantry.
She said that before retiring “I was a registered nurse for 50 years. I inspected nursing homes, hospitals, and home health and hospice programs in eight states. I was also part of a 13-state organ (transplant) procurement program.”
Bendert is currently attending the culinary arts program at Southern Crescent Technological College and will graduate in May.
“I’m thinking of opening up a soup kitchen in Fayetteville,” she said.
“I felt very proud and humble,” said Robin Davis, youth of the year from Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur. “I’m very thankful for the church teaching me everything and raising me up right.”