By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published June 11, 2018
ATLANTA—It’s home again for Andrew “Andy” W. Lichtenwalner, Ph.D., the new director of the Office of Formation and Discipleship (OFD) for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory announced Lichtenwalner’s appointment in March, and he officially started in his new role May 21. He joins the Secretariat, replacing Amy Daniels, who transferred to the Diocese of Raleigh in the same role. Lichtenwalner was most recently the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. He had worked at the USCCB in Washington, D.C., since 2006.
Raised in the Atlanta area, Lichtenwalner attended Our Lady of the Assumption School and graduated from St. Pius X High School in 1997. He earned his undergraduate degree in religion and philosophy from the University of Georgia, Athens.
Lichtenwalner and his wife, Kristen, have three children—Philip, 7, Julia, 5, and Cecilia, 2.
“I grew up in the Norcross area. My wife grew up in Augusta,” he said.
Lichtenwalner is one of six siblings, most of whom still live in the area. His children are looking forward to being able to spend more time with their cousins.
“They’re super excited. It’s really a blessing,” he said
He said his senior year at St. Pius X coincided with Archbishop John F. Donoghue’s renewed focus on the Eucharist.
“That was really meaningful,” he said of the impact. It was a great time for the young man in figuring out the next step in life.
His faith life, said Lichtenwalner, is “largely due to my parents and just the love they passed on.” His education in Catholic schools was strong affirmation of his family’s beliefs.
After high school graduation, it was on to Athens for Lichtenwalner.
“My major was physics. My minor was music,” he said.
A calculus theory class helped spur a change of his major to religion and philosophy.
“If you can do the problems, you can a get a B. If you can show how you did the problems, you get an A,” he recalled.
Showing how he arrived at the solutions was a struggle, and as a guitar player, he began to focus more on music.
“I was praying about it, thinking about it,” he said. “What am I really passionate about? I felt then I would either be a teacher or discern a vocation to the priesthood.”
In his sophomore year, Lichtenwalner began discerning a vocation more seriously.
He said thankfully that his then-girlfriend, now wife, was open to him taking that time.
“My wife was initially more involved than I was” at the UGA Catholic Center, he said.
He would play music for the liturgies and being involved in the center “became a source of great support,” said Lichtenwalner. “That was a great community.”
He eventually realized he was being called to marriage and also to teaching.
“I had greater clarity,” he said.
Lichtenwalner received his master of arts in theology from the University of Dallas, in Irving, Texas, in what proved a formative time period. He then earned a Ph.D. in systematic theology from The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
“I had a friend who was working for the bishop’s office,” said Lichtenwalner about how he came on board at the USCCB.
His friend mentioned a job available as a catechism specialist. Lichtenwalner worked in that capacity for three years, reviewing catechetical texts for conformity and consistency with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
He later served as a program specialist for the promotion and defense of marriage and ultimately as executive director for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. The director and staff assist the bishops in administering the conference’s mission and priorities in these areas.
“I became more focused on marriage, and marriage and family,” he said of his work at the USCCB. “It’s been a beautiful experience working for the bishops. In terms of the day-to-day work—it is done by laypeople. The bishops really appreciate that.”
Lichtenwalner has extensive leadership experience including media, strategic planning and comprehensive knowledge of Catholic faith, theology and ministry at all levels.
Although Lichtenwalner did not pursue a career in academia, he still teaches just “in ways I would’ve never expected.”
In Atlanta, the Office of Formation and Discipleship is responsible for facilitating evangelization across the archdiocese and includes initiation into the Catholic faith and catechesis in its mission.
It’s part evangelization but also formation of those who are already Catholic.
“Catholics are called to be leaders in the church,” said Lichtenwalner.
Atlanta’s OFD incorporates professional development, pastoral care, as well as catechist support and more. In other dioceses, those areas are often split between offices or ministries.
“I think that’s a unique combination. Atlanta is well staffed to look at those areas,” and how they are interrelated, he said.
In his spare time, Lichtenwalner’s three children keep him busy and provide him with lots of exercise.
“I love being with our family. That’s priority number one,” he said.
He also enjoys reading theology and still plays the guitar.
“That’s something I’ve been doing since the eighth grade,” he said.
At high school Masses, he shared his musical gifts but also found time to run cross-country and play baseball at St. Pius X.
“I stopped my senior year to focus on music,” he said.
He attended his 20th class reunion in 2017.
“Obviously I have a lot of rich connections there,” he said of returning home.
Yet Lichtenwalner also knows that the archdiocese has grown and changed over the 16 years he has lived elsewhere. His first on-the-job priorities are to listen, learn and “to get to know more about the local church and how we can grow.”