Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Lithia Springs

Father Morales begins first pastorate, ‘a privilege’ he is grateful to embrace

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published September 4, 2015

LITHIA SPRINGS—Three years after his ordination, Father Ignacio Morales respectfully declined an invitation to accept his first pastorate, continuing instead to labor joyfully in ministry as a parochial vicar at Good Shepherd Church in Cumming.

Father Ignacio Morales Photo By Michael Alexander

Father Ignacio Morales
Photo By Michael Alexander

“I said, no, I wasn’t ready,” Father Morales recalled.

“I was kind of enjoying my assignment at Good Shepherd. … You try to get to know the community and do things for the community. (But) it goes both ways. The community teaches you to be a leader, a pastor. It was good for me to stay there,” he said. “It was wonderful work on integrating the Hispanic and Anglo communities. We did a good job. … The community has grown for the last five years in Good Shepherd, a lot of new people and new families.”

But this year the archdiocese called anew and Father Morales felt ready to accept. After five years at Good Shepherd, the native of Mexico, sometimes affectionately called Father “Nacho,” accepted the invitation to become pastor of St. John Vianney Church in Lithia Springs.

“I felt really confident and I knew I had something to offer. I want to be a pastor, a leader, and take more responsibility and ownership being a pastor. It means a lot. It’s a privilege,” he said.

With Father Morales’ appointment, the archdiocese assumes pastoral care of the parish that was staffed for over 25 years by priests of the Conventual Franciscan order. He will now work to build on that legacy as he identifies parish leaders, assembles the parish council, studies ministries and works to implement the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan.

“I know it has not been easy for them, not having the Franciscans among them,” Father Morales said in a telephone interview.

“We are in transition. My job is just to be present for them, caring about them and do the best I can to minister. Like any other parish, we have work to do. Every single priest is focused on the Pastoral Plan. I know what to do,” he said.

Father Morales is embracing his international flock of over 1,500 families. Four Masses in English draw parishioners from Kenya, Nigeria and across Africa, Vietnam, and the Philippines in addition to African-Americans and Anglos, while the two Spanish Masses draw Mexicans as well as Colombians, Venezuelans, Salvadorans and other Latin Americans.

“At Good Shepherd, 80 to 90 percent of the (Hispanic) community was from Mexico. Over here our Hispanic community is very diverse, which is beautiful,” he said.

The 38-year-old son of a Mexican farmer has experienced a surprising journey of faith, having originally aspired to serve as a Latin American missionary or, if not that, “anywhere but the USA.”

The youngest of nine, he grew up in a rural town in the state of Guanajuato in northern Mexico. While a student at the Diocesan Seminary of Morelia he attended a vocational event where he wandered over to a booth with glossy photos manned by Msgr. Frank Giusta, who invited him to consider the Atlanta Archdiocese.

He experienced jarring culture shock on a two-week visit to Georgia in 2001, starting with knowing “zero English.” Yet after visiting Our Lady of the Americas Mission, then in Doraville, he decided the next year to study to be a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

After studying English, he attended St. Joseph Seminary College in Louisiana before completing his theology degree at the Pontifical University of Mexico. The great need of the immigrant community in Doraville touched him.

“Here was this Anglo priest serving the community in Spanish. I saw the need, the huge crowd in Doraville. … I came back to Mexico and said I’m going to give it a try,” said Father Morales, whose siblings live in Mexico.

“I’m a priest for everyone”

Father Morales feels blessed to have served first as a transitional deacon at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Dallas and then in his first priestly assignment of 11 months at Prince of Peace Church in Flowery Branch before transferring to Good Shepherd. And he studies the messages of and draws inspiration from Pope Francis with his clear expectations for priests. With that foundation, Father Morales strives to serve the entire church.

“I’m a priest for everyone, regardless of language,” said Father Morales. “I do have an accent, and I love it. People who have an accent and are speaking different languages, it’s part of their education, experiencing and getting better.”

While at Good Shepherd he learned valuable skills from his admired comrade, pastor Father Frank Richardson.

“If I could live with this Irish priest, is there anything harder than that?” he joked. “If he did something bad, I would just announce it the next weekend. We got along so well. I’ll really miss that—being five years with a community,” said Father Morales.

“This is part of our lives, to start everything from scratch with a new community.”

And Father Richardson will miss the well-loved priest, who was nicknamed “NASCAR Nacho” for his penchant for fast driving.

“We had great fun not being too serious about our priestly life. We laughed a lot. I’d say something funny at the end of Mass about him,” he said.

“He’s very talented, very committed, and he just got our Hispanic community so organized it’s now set in place. … He did a tremendous job not just with Hispanics but with everybody,” Father Richardson said.

He added that he never once got a home-cooked meal out of Father Morales after their first week together, despite the Mexican priest’s claim to love cooking and watch the Food Network.

“He never cooked for me. I saw no proof he was cooking!” Father Richardson mused.

Good Shepherd’s administrative assistant Terry Duffey described him as a very confident people-person.

“He has a lot of energy and a lot of great innovative ideas,” she said. “He and Father Frank are both very holy and attentive to the people and it makes you want to do better yourself.”

Now Father Morales works joyfully to forge new relationships at St. John Vianney and collaborate with staff and volunteers to build God’s kingdom, pay the bills and take care of administration.

“I don’t find myself lonely or thinking ‘what am I going to do?’ I have a very good community and team of volunteers working to help me on areas. I don’t have to be good at everything. I’m going to worry about the area I’m good at, which is being a priest,” he said. “I am loving this assignment!”

He often retreats at night to the church’s chapel to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. “It’s a way I can have ‘me time.’”

Above all, he begins anew with a sense of gratitude that he has been called to pastor St John Vianney Church.

“They gave me this opportunity to keep growing, to put into practice what I know and learn about things I don’t know. There is always room to improve and allowing the community to teach me and keep growing together,” he said. “We are placed on the same journey together, working shoulder to shoulder to see what Christ is calling us to be.”