By ERIKA ANDERSON, Special To The Bulletin | Published October 25, 2012
ATLANTA–A celebration of the Eucharist, a keynote speech from an Atlanta legend, and a major announcement that will continue a legacy of caring for this city’s poor were among the highlights of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia’s 2012 Evening for Hope Gala.
FOX-5 News anchor, Russ Spencer, served as the emcee for the night, which was punctuated by a major announcement by John Berry, executive director and chief executive officer of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia. Berry told the delighted crowd that SVdP and the Sullivan Center, a prominent organization in Atlanta whose mission is to help people become and remain self-sufficient, will merge.
Founded 30 years ago by Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Marie Sullivan, the Sullivan Center has been a staple in the Atlanta community, caring for the homeless, hungry and those needing financial assistance. The merger will allow the Sullivan Center to continue Sister Marie’s legacy of service.
In their tuxedos and floor-length dresses, those who attended the gala started the night with their priorities in order, as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated Mass to kick off the Oct. 6 event at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel and Convention Center.
In his homily, the archbishop spoke of children who are unashamedly excited to receive gifts. Those who are poor also receive gifts with humility, he said.
“The poor also abandon self-importance when they receive a gift,” he said. “The poor among us continue to depend on the good of others.”
Telling the Vincentians that he was “profoundly grateful for their witness of faith and charity,” the archbishop thanked those in attendance for their commitment to serving others.
“Members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society recognize the dignity of those they serve and they know they must never be made to feel unimportant or humiliated because they need someone else’s help.”
Following Mass, attendees gathered in the ballroom for dinner, which featured music from the Ladue Strolling Strings, an orchestra of string musicians who made their way throughout the tables playing old standards and show tunes.
Another highlight of the evening was the keynote speech from Ambassador Andrew Young, who served as mayor of Atlanta from 1982 to 1990 and is known throughout the world for his great humanitarian efforts. As a top aide to Martin Luther King Jr., during the civil rights movement, Young shared stories of his experiences during those trying times.
He spoke of his childhood in New Orleans, when he ran into a fellow classmate who later became a drug addict. Though his classmate had the same opportunities as Young did, he took a different path. That interaction made Young realize his potential.
“I realized how blessed I was. And that has to be the beginning of all our hopes—that no matter how bad things are, how difficult our situations may be, there are so many people in this world who are in worse shape,” he said. “As we look at the rest of God’s children, we have to realize that there but for the grace of God go I.”
He talked about his beginnings with Dr. King and their efforts to integrate Birmingham, Ala.
“When I started with Martin Luther King, we didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance in hell of changing Birmingham, Alabama. But when 16 homes got bombed and no one got arrested, when a young man was castrated just for fun and nothing happened … all we could see was people getting angry and getting frustrated, and Martin thought we needed to go and keep whatever he could nonviolent,” Young recalled.
He spoke of Dr. King’s commitment to peaceful change, and talked of a profound moment when the civil rights leader was having routine tests done at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta. One of Dr. King’s first visitors was Paul J. Hallinan, the first archbishop of Atlanta, who asked if he could give Dr. King his blessing.
“And then he proceeded to do whatever it is you bishops do,” Young said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “But then he did something I never would have believed. He got down on his knees next to his bed and said to a black Baptist preacher, ‘May I receive yours?’ It was like something had unified us in this city that was bigger than 500,000 years of church history. And that’s continued. And that’s where my hope lies.”
While Young was the mayor of Atlanta, he helped attract 1,100 new businesses, $70 billion in private investments and 1 million new jobs. He encouraged those in attendance to stay committed to service and believe that anything is possible.
“We used to say we don’t know what we’re doing, but we know someone who knows what He’s doing. And we don’t know what the future may hold, but we know who holds the future,” he said. “And as long as we place our hope in God … the possible, the difficult we’ll do immediately. The impossible will just take us a little time.”
The gala, which brought in more than $217,000 in sponsorship funds, also featured a silent auction and celebrated the Society’s jubilarians, those who have been serving for 40 years.
The 2012 jubilarians include Raymond Gansereit and John Halligan, members of Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Atlanta; Tammy Thomas, a member of St. James the Apostle Church in McDonough; and Jane Walker, a member of Holy Cross Church in Atlanta.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia empowers people, regardless of their background, ethnicity, or faith, to achieve self-sufficiency by offering financial, material, educational and spiritual support and by collaborating with others to develop and deliver programs and services that help those in need. Part of an international organization, the Society has operated in North and Middle Georgia since 1903.