By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published July 18, 2016
ATLANTA—Msgr. Frank Giusta was known for celebrating. A slideshow of photos that played during the priest’s memorial service showed him celebrating Mass, graduations, weddings, baptisms, birthdays, church occasions and even just dinner with friends.
“I think 90 percent of the photos we found showed him having some sort of party or celebration. He loved to celebrate the life of the church,” said Deacon Chester Griffin. “He instilled a sense of church and family and showed you that regardless of what you look like, what you think like, or what you are like, we are family.”
Bishop David P. Talley celebrated the funeral Mass for Msgr. Giusta, who died June 13, at Our Lady of Lourdes Church July 9. Nearly 20 priests joined the bishop to concelebrate.
The church, where Msgr. Giusta served as pastor for many years, was filled with a diverse crowd from many of the priest’s assignments. In his homily, Bishop Talley, who was a close friend of Msgr. Giusta, spoke of the recent violence in the U.S., and the way people’s spirits have become downtrodden and overwhelmed with sadness. But gathering at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, attendees were “bathing in another reality … a reality that brings us our shared humanity—a peace and a justice and a wholeness that our hearts crave.”
“This reality—the power and presence of a living and creative love. This reality is what brought our friend and our brother—Gianfranco Giusta—to us,” Bishop Talley said.
Bishop Talley called Msgr. Giusta “an instrument of God’s peace” and spoke of how as a child growing up in Italy, Msgr. Giusta had seen the horrors of World War II.
“As a boy, he feared for his life. But along with those memories of the soldiers and the hard times, Frank told me that it began to develop in him another reality—an interior reality—that kept him alive, afloat,” the bishop said. “It was faith—a way of seeing the world that is different. A way of seeing the world that gave Frank a sense of who he was.”
A year after he was ordained, Msgr. Giusta came to the United States, eventually ending up in Atlanta.
“Living through the chaos and excitement and struggles of the ‘60s in this new land of many cultures, Frank took his longing for love and family to his academic study in cultural anthropology,” he said. “He saw the need way back to build bridges, not walls—bridges between cultures. And he was given the heart to love within the messy, confusing diversity of the times.”
Bishop Talley spoke of the many connections Msgr. Giusta made among communities in Atlanta—friends who become family. That family grew when he came to Our Lady of Lourdes and served as the pastor twice in 13 years.
“In his role as shepherd, Father Frank sought to serve as a catalyst, a bridge-builder. This northern Italian immigrant learned first to appreciate and then to love the many cultural families in Atlanta,” he said. “Even though he was a pastor in several parishes, this parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, the mother church, was closest to his heart.”
Bishop Talley said that as he neared the end of his difficult battle with cancer, Msgr. Giusta asked him to make sure his funeral was celebrated at Our Lady of Lourdes, with Lourdes music.
Following the funeral Mass, attendees gathered in the parish hall for refreshments and reflections about their dear friend. Agnès Miller is a part of the Catholic Center at Emory University. Msgr. Giusta served as chaplain for the Emory University Hospital System.
“He was always so humble and simple,” she said. “We would all have parties and drink wine, and he just fit in everywhere. I just loved him.”
Carl Hug, a parishioner of Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain, and an Emory anesthesiologist, said it was important for him to come to the Mass to pray for Msgr. Giusta, with whom he’d shared many ethical and philosophical discussions.
“He was always a very gracious guy and always had a smile on his face,” he said. “He was always enthusiastic and I really enjoyed that.”
At the reception, the Rev. Ricardo Bailey, an Episcopal priest who grew up at Our Lady of Lourdes, spoke of his special relationship with Msgr. Guista and the way the priest transformed the parish.
“One of the legacies that Our Lady of Lourdes has is a very welcoming community that has a very strong musical tradition. It’s known nationally, throughout the Roman Church, even outside the Roman Church,” he said, adding that these days the music brings a crowd to the church. “It was not always that way. We remember that at one point, if a bomb would have gone off on a Sunday, everyone would have survived. No one came to church. Our choir was nothing like the choir you all are familiar with on a Sunday basis. (Msgr. Giusta) thought it was a travesty that a black church did not have a choir that sang music in the African-American tradition.”
So the priest encouraged a new way of music for the church and would even don a choir robe and sing with the choir after Communion.
“Now I love myself some Frank J. Giusta. But the brother could not sing,” Father Bailey said, as the crowd laughed. “But he had the heart to sing. He was the architect of what Our Lady of Lourdes is known for today—not just for the choir, but for the welcoming community that it is right now.”
Msgr. Giusta embraced the African-American culture of Our Lady of Lourdes, Father Bailey said.
“Frank Giusta made it known that black Catholic lives matter. He stepped out in faith, took an assignment that many other priests did not want to be bothered with, and allowed himself to become an incarnational entity with the people who were here.”
He said Msgr. Giusta remains a strong influence in his ministry. “If I could be even 10 percent of the priest that Father Frank was, I pray to God that Jesus would be happy with me,” Father Bailey said.
He said that he will miss Msgr. Giusta, but his legacy will continue.
“I come here today, somewhat sad, because I miss my friend. But I come here grateful. Because when I look in this room, I see black, I see white. I see folks from overseas, I see folks who are from right here in Georgia and the rest of this nation,” he said. “We thank God for Frank Giusta because he told us in the name of Jesus that all of our lives matter.”
Bridget Blair, whose family embraced Msgr. Giusta when he first came to Atlanta, emotionally thanked everyone for coming and told them that as he neared the end of his life, Msgr. Giusta was touched by those who had expressed their gratitude to him.
“He was conscious, at the end, of the fact that he had touched so many lives,” she said. “There was a tremendous outpouring of love from so many people across the globe. He was overwhelmed by that realization. And that tells you how much he served from the heart.”