By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 23, 2016
ATLANTA—Msgr. Frank J. Giusta’s ministry took him from a classroom in Atlanta’s former St. Joseph High School to a parish church on the border of El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. A priest for 52 years, he served people with a focus on life’s practical needs. When hungry people showed up at his church door, he’d have a bologna sandwich ready for them.
The former pastor and Emory Hospital system chaplain, Msgr. Giusta died on Monday, June 13. He was 78.
In an interview in 2013 for his golden jubilee, Msgr. Giusta said, “I did all sorts of ministries just because at the moment, they were needed.”
“My attitude is I get up in the morning and do whatever there is to do,” he said. “My attitude on church is on Sunday mornings, we open the doors and anyone who wants to come in, it’s fine. I am not a very abstract person. I tend to be very practical.”
A native of Italy, the son of Agostino and Elvira Giusta, Msgr. Giusta grew up in Mondovi, a town in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. At the time of his 50th jubilee, he recalled that he had had a desire to be a priest from the age of 10. At his father’s insistence he waited until he was 18 to enter seminary and was ordained in Italy in 1963 as a member of the Consolata Missionaries, a Catholic community of brothers and priests dedicated to sharing the Gospel message with the world. He came to the United States in 1964 and served in Pennsylvania and New York. He moved to Atlanta in 1972 and was incardinated as a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 1977, beginning as an associate pastor at Corpus Christi Church, Stone Mountain.
“It felt very normal to me, despite the times that were some problems, like everyone has in life. I am very happy to be a priest,” he said in the 2013 interview. “I never really thought of anything else.”
His love for Lourdes
Every ministry had its rewards, he said at his golden anniversary, but it was special to serve at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta, where he was the pastor twice, for 13 years. He served as the pastor of the Old Fourth Ward parish from 1979 to 1986. He then went to St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, and St. Mark Church, Clarkesville, but returned to the Atlanta parish in 1994.
“It opened up very big horizons, new horizons for me,” he said about serving at the historically African-American church.
His July 9 funeral Mass is to be celebrated at 11 a.m. at the parish where he was the long-time spiritual leader.
“When he came, he had a very strong Italian accent, but we all got used to it,” said parishioner Karen Allen, laughing at the memory. Allen served in different roles at the parish during Msgr. Giusta’s pastorate, from organizing the weekly bulletins to shepherding newcomers into the church.
Msgr. Giusta imprinted a lot of lessons on her, she recalled. He weekly delivered a large bologna sausage to the parish office. If anyone hungry knocked on the office door, parish staff members were instructed to make the person a sandwich and give him or her a glass of water. Allen said it became so important, the work continued in his absence.
“I caught myself buying bologna because I knew that’s what he wanted,” said Allen, who is 70.
The priest helped knit what was then a small parish together by renting buses to take its members from the concrete surrounding their parish property to the tree-lined lakes of state parks, Allen recalled. In small gestures, he helped people, she said. Childcare was pricey on her teacher’s salary, she said. The priest invited her children after school to do homework in the rectory.
“He was a babysitter. He was a good person. I loved him,” she said.
Allen visited him days before he died. Allen said she thanked him for being a good pastor and a good friend, and told him that God was waiting to reward him for his ministry.
El Paso role helped seminarians
In the summer of 1999, he was tapped to inaugurate an immersion program for seminarians at the Texas-Mexico border by then vocations director, Bishop David P. Talley. Msgr. Giusta served as pastor of Santa Lucia Church, El Paso, Texas, where Atlanta seminarians were based during the summer. The experience gave the future priests immersion in the Spanish language and a taste of the melting pot of Mexican and Texas culture to prepare to serve an ethnically diverse Catholic community in the Atlanta Archdiocese. Within a dozen years, the Catholic community in the archdiocese grew exponentially, fueled largely by Spanish-speakers from Mexico, Central and Latin America.
Bishop Talley said his friendship with Msgr. Giusta was “a wonderful gift of God.” He leaned on the Italian native when he studied in Rome in the 1990s and even visited his family. The bishop said he approached Msgr. Giusta for the unique Texas project because the priest loved cultures, reinforced with a master’s degree from Syracuse University in cultural anthropology.
The project appealed to Msgr. Giusta because he wanted to expand the understanding of future Atlanta priests of what the church would look like and of the culture of the people on the margins they would serve, said Bishop Talley.
“He heard the call of Jesus to go into the hinterlands,” said the bishop.
Father Paul Williams spent two years on the project, with Msgr. Giusta. He said the experience was a springboard to his ministry at one of the largest bilingual parishes in the archdiocese, St. Joseph Church, Dalton.
“Msgr. Giusta was a delightful man, a beautiful priest, and will be greatly missed,” he said.
Father Williams said Msgr. Giusta served as a role model for current and future priests with his affection for Mexico, the Mexican people and their culture. In an extension of his work in the Southwest, Msgr. Giusta was named an assistant vocations director to assist possible seminarian candidates coming from Mexico to the Atlanta Archdiocese.
“He understood them and loved them. When he recruited potential seminarians from Mexico, he would go not only to their seminaries but to their family home, to get to know them,” Father Williams said.
Msgr. Giusta was given the honor of being named a monsignor in 2001 and continued to serve in El Paso until July 2002 when he was called back to Georgia to become pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Atlanta, and then St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn.
Serving patients at Emory
His next place of ministry was serving as the first full-time Catholic chaplain at Emory Healthcare Services, which he took on when he found, after a few months of retirement, that he was anxious to get back into ministry. He took on pastoral care at the medical facilities operated by the Emory Healthcare System, including Emory University and Emory University Midtown hospitals and Wesley Woods Geriatric Center. Although a priest for decades, he knew he could learn more. He brushed up on hospital ministry with courses at the Candler School of Theology at Emory.
In a 2008 interview about this ministry, he said he learned at times the patient could be the teacher to inspire faith. He said, “First of all, you pray fast. More than anything else, I listen.”
For nine years, Robin Brown-Haithco worked with Msgr. Giusta caring for the spiritual needs of patients.
“Father Frank was a priest who was available at all times, literally. Father Frank would want to hold the (emergency) pager. He’d respond to those calls” in the early morning hours to spend time with patients and families, said Brown-Haithco, the director of spiritual help and staff support.
She said hospital staff could see how his focus was on the “care for others” in a very down-to-earth manner. And he wanted the best for staff, too, she said. “He was always willing to challenge us to live our vocational call.”
He is survived by two brothers, both living in Italy.