By REBECCA RAKOCZY, Special To The Bulletin | Published July 5, 2012
In a joyous evening of prayer, storytelling, song and dance, community members from across Atlanta gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Atlanta June 22 to support and celebrate women religious— sisters, whose vocation is to serve others. There are 22 different religious communities represented in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, each offering its own particular charism and ministry of the spirit, body and mind.
“We gather together in God’s name to celebrate the gifts and contributions of our sisters, many present here tonight,” said Princess Davenport Wilson, an Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner, who welcomed the crowd to the service.
Davenport Wilson also paid homage to St. Katharine Drexel, who founded the school at Our Lady of Lourdes a century ago, and to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, her congregation, who taught there. The school closed in 2001.
“I grew up learning at Lourdes,” she said.
Calling out the litany of the works of mercy, Dominican lay associates Cathy Crosby, Cathy Perry and Heidi Tauscher recognized the women religious in metro Atlanta who have made it their life’s work to feed the poor, cloth the naked, give hope to the dying poor, educate the young and shelter the homeless, as well as a host of other service ministries.
Our Lady of Lourdes Church and the women religious who taught generations of students there provided a worthy place of worship and a haven for African-American Catholics, long before the Civil Rights Movement, said Theresa Johnson, who teaches theology at St. Pius X High School in Atlanta. Patrick Josey, one of eight children in his family who attended Lourdes as a child, recounted his education by Sister Mary Allen at the school.
“I learned to hold my tongue and listen to instruction,” Josey said, as the audience laughed in recognition. “But Lourdes was a safe haven in 1962,” he said. “The sisters at Lourdes reinforced the standards set by my parents.”
If the night was a time for telling tales of the influence of the sisters on their education, it also was an evening of remembering the guidance of the women religious who inspired individuals to grow in their faith.
Dominican Father Jeffery Ott, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, also was educated by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in New Orleans, and was taught by the congregation at Xavier University in New Orleans as well. He reflected that despite his own career path, as he studied mass communication and urban design, respectively, his road to the priesthood was first sparked by a sister.
“Right before graduation from Xavier, a sister asked, ‘Have you ever considered being a priest?’” Father Ott said. That thought perplexed him at the time, as he sweated under his cap and gown in the sultry New Orleans heat. But she had planted a seed in his heart that grew and was reinforced by other women religious in his life.
“I am grateful to all the sisters who came before and who are to come,” he said.
As the evening drew to a close, women religious from different communities in metro Atlanta were invited to lead the gathering in prayer. The white-haired women, ranging in age from their mid-60s to 80s—made their way to the front of the church. Sister Margaret McAnoy, IHM, the vicar for religious for the archdiocese, gave thanks to the congregation for the service.
“We are who we are because of you,” she said, choking up with tears. “You enrich our lives.”
Afterwards, everyone gathered in the church reception hall for fellowship and to share stories of special sisters who had touched their lives with their faith and good works.
“So many sisters have supported me over the years, and this was my opportunity to show my support of their ministry,” said Peggy Saunders, a St. Thomas More, Decatur, parishioner who attended the service.
Tauscher, a Dominican lay associate who helped organize the evening’s service, emphasized that the evening prayer service was a reaffirmation of the work of women religious in Georgia, like that of Dominican Sister Marie Sullivan, whose Sullivan Center remains a beacon to the unemployed to learn important job skills.
“Their ministry is so important—they do such important work here, we wanted to show our positive support,” she said.