By JEAN DRISKELL, Special to the Bulletin | Published April 16, 2020
ATLANTA—“I was overwhelmed, excited and just feeling blessed, not so much for the recognition, but just the opportunity to serve our church,” said Phyllis Edwards-Daniel, woman of the year from Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur.
Edwards-Daniel was one of 60 women and 52 youth recognized for their faith and service to their church, family and community at the 43rd annual Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women Recognition Day held March 7.
Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, celebrated the Mass at Holy Cross Church, Atlanta, with archdiocesan priests as concelebrants. The honorees were each given a certificate by the bishop, Father Timothy Gadziala, AACCW spiritual advisor, and Cynthia Simien, AACCW president. About 700 people attended the Mass.
Chosen by their individual parishes, the honorees typically volunteer both at church and locally in their community.
Edwards-Daniel, a teacher and administrator in the DeKalb County School System for over 37 years, serves at Sts. Peter and Paul Church as a lector and Eucharistic minister bringing Communion to people in nursing and personal care homes. She mentors children and youth in parish religious education, preparing them to receive the Eucharist and confirmation.
She believes working with young people helps keep the church alive by having them “educated in the faith and also instilling in them to be active members of the church.”
Her son, Avery, is a seminarian of the archdiocese, studying theology in Rome, Italy.
As a member of the service-oriented Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, she helps supply Pearl’s Closet at McNair High School, Atlanta, with clothing, food and toiletries, and makes clothes for children in Africa and the Caribbean.
“My mantra is to give back,” she said. “It’s all about the service—what would Christ do or what would he want us to do.”
Despite health issues with cancer and lupus, “none of that has kept me from doing what I believe I’m called to do and that’s to be a servant-leader,” she said.
‘Imitate God’s goodness’
In his homily, Bishop Konzen said the honorees’ acts of service really reflect the bottomless wellspring of Christ’s love.
“This day is his before it is ours. … In his love we will proceed in doing his work and in radiating the love and mercy of God the Father in all our future endeavors,” the bishop said.
In the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus said we must love our enemies.
Bishop Konzen said, “We heard some of the steepest challenges that we have ever heard from our Lord. We need undaunted faith.”
“Take up the challenge that Jesus lays before us; love and pray for those who are even difficult to like. That’s the kind of exceptional striving Jesus means when he says that we should be perfect, be extraordinary, as the Father is,” the bishop said.
He also said that Christians should do what Jesus asked: Pray in private, offer sacrifice in fasting and aid the poor.
“Christ is telling us that the way, the truth, the life is to be found in how we pursue sharing, partaking, in the life of God, to be made perfect by the merits, by the love, by the death on the cross of Jesus Christ.”
“On the day of the Lord, he will judge just how much we have sought the perfection, the image of the God who made us,” Bishop Konzen said. “He sent his Son to show us his mercy that we might imitate his goodness.”
Ordinary people who help
Young people chosen by their parishes included Grace Gant, from Good Shepherd Church, Cumming, and Robert J. Williams, from St. Anthony of Padua Church, Atlanta.
“I felt truly blessed,” said Williams. “It was really humbling to me.”
In the parish, he is an altar server and is involved with teen ministry.
“We grow in our faith and learn more about our inner selves,” Williams said.
He is in the Junior Knights division of the Knights of Peter Claver and participates in their Brown Bag Project, collecting toiletries and food for the homeless. He volunteered for a Lions Club project making Thanksgiving cards for families. At St. Pius X High School, Atlanta, he helps the annual school blood drive.
Gant is a volunteer at Forsyth Central High School, particularly through National Honor Society projects, and in the city of Cumming, where she serves on the beautification committee of the Youth City Council.
At Good Shepherd Church, Grant is a member of Life Teen and is a small group leader of girls, answering their questions about the Catholic faith.
“We read Scripture and help them along their journey. Most of the girls are going through confirmation so we guide them through the experience,” Gant said.
She also helps a parish ministry that recycles used plastic bags and weaves them into sleeping mats for the homeless.
Honoree Anthonia Okonkwo, woman of the year from St. John Vianney Church, Lithia Springs, is profoundly grateful for the faith community she and her family have found in the parish.
“I am from Nigeria. I came to St. John Vianney in 1997 and have been blessed to belong to this church community,” she said. “They accept me as one of them. I am so blessed to have them as my family. My children grew up here. I am grateful to God.”
She is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and brings Communion to the homebound. As a catechist, she helps children prepare for their first Eucharist. She is a member of the parish hospitality team and staffs the Alpha Gift Shop.
“I volunteer for everything the Lord gives me the opportunity to do,” Okonkwo said.
To be recognized by her parish is unexpected, she said.
“I am most unworthy, but God found me worthy to give me this honor.”