By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF | Published January 7, 2021
ATLANTA—A year that became synonymous with COVID-19, 2020 will not soon be forgotten. Although it was a year shaped by public health concerns, financial hardships, separation from public worship and isolation from family and friends, it was also a time of Catholics rising to the challenge to serve others.
Amid the difficult news, there were some shining moments—the work of local non-profits to serve families in need, the parish priests and staff who found creative ways to deepen the spirituality of parishioners and the long-awaited news of a new archbishop for Atlanta.
Here is a look at the events that shaped 2020 for the Catholic community:
JANUARY TO APRIL
On Jan. 24, 18,000 teens and young adults gathered in joyful praise and worship, celebrating the sanctity of human life at the Capital One Arena in Washington at the Youth Rally and Mass for Life, the largest annual event sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington. The event, held prior to the national March for Life, was attended by Atlanta teens. On Jan. 22, the Inaugural Rally 4 Life was held at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, following the Mass for the Unborn.
With more than 20 years of working in schools, Jenni Ellis was named the new director of the Office of Safe Environment for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Her work as an educator included time at Marist School, where she was the assistant principal for eight of the 11 years on campus. The office works to keep young people and the vulnerable safe.
Called a “religious brother, a devoted priest, a revered son, a blood brother and uncle, a friend and adventurer and a faithful soul,” Father Walter Wilford Foley, an archdiocesan priest, was laid to rest Friday, Jan. 17. He died Jan. 11 at the age of 91.
Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, ordained eight men to the permanent diaconate on Saturday, Feb. 1 at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
The Spanish-language radio station Nuestra Fe marked 10 years of broadcasting. The station, a project founded by former Atlanta auxiliary, Bishop Luis Zarama, runs entirely on volunteer efforts and is based at Our Lady of the Americas Mission, Lilburn.
John Berry, who led St. Vincent de Paul Georgia for 14 years, announced plans to step down in September. Innovation to the society’s food pantry program was one of the hallmarks of his leadership in service to the poor.
Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, diocesan administrator for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III joined other bishops from the southeastern United States for ad limina visits to the Vatican Feb. 7-15. In addition to a group meeting with Pope Francis for nearly three hours on Feb. 13, the bishops also celebrated special Masses.
Taking COVID-19 precautions
On Tuesday, March 3, Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, updated previous archdiocesan advisories on COVID-19, a coronavirus, and on preventing its transmission. The statement came upon the revelation of two cases in Georgia, and asked parishioners to omit the exchange of peace at Mass.
The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion was held Feb. 29 and March 1 at four parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta for those who were set to enter the Catholic Church at Easter—ultimately a delayed journey for many candidates and catechumens.
On the morning of March 5, Pope Francis named Bishop Gregory John Hartmayer, OFM Conv., as seventh Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He was the Bishop of Savannah and succeeded Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who led Atlanta from January 2005 to May 2019. Bishop Hartmayer had served as pastor of two Atlanta parishes prior to leading the Diocese of Savannah. He said the appointment was like “coming home.”
Due to the grave health concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Vatican closes St. Peter’s Basilica and Square to tourists. In Atlanta Bishop Joel Konzen, then diocesan administrator, granted a Mass dispensation. Archdiocesan schools closed March 16 with home learning plans for students. Bishop Konzen announced a suspension of Masses beginning March 17. The Mass suspension and school closures were later extended.
A reporting system accepting sexual misconduct allegations against U.S. bishops and eparchs was launched. Called the Catholic Bishops Abuse Reporting Service, or CBAR, the system became operational March 16. The mechanism incorporates a website and a toll-free telephone number through which individuals can file reports regarding a bishop.
In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis gave an extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) on Friday, March 27. The formal blessing carried a plenary indulgence. It was broadcast live from an empty St. Peter’s Square. “To the pandemic of the virus we want to respond with the universality of prayer, compassion and tenderness,” he said.
The archdiocese cancelled the annual Eucharistic Congress, set for June, amid the pandemic. The event draws thousands of Catholics from across the Southeast.
Catholic Charities Atlanta and St. Vincent de Paul Georgia began to feel the impact of the coronavirus. Despite adversities, the charities adapt to remain committed to delivering assistance to families and individuals struggling in the pandemic.
The National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) announced that two Atlantans were among the 27 recipients of the NCEA 2020 “Lead, Learn, Proclaim Award.” This award highlights the outstanding work undertaken in Catholic education communities across the country. Ana DeMello, math teacher at Our Lady of Mercy High School, and Father Jim Duffy, SM, pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Church, were among the 2020 recipients.
MAY TO AUGUST
On May 6, Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer was installed as the seventh archbishop of Atlanta. The Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta was livestreamed, with few in-person attendees due to the coronavirus pandemic. About 13,000 watched online.
After parishes closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Atlanta archbishop announced guidelines for resuming in-person Masses. Guidelines included social distancing, wearing masks and no physical contact during the Sign of Peace. Parishes with resources and ability reopened the weekend of May 30-31, when the church celebrated Pentecost.
The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd sparked protests around the world, including in downtown Atlanta for consecutive days. Archbishop Hartmayer released a statement in response to the incidents sparked by racial violence. “Senseless murders will only become more normative in our society until we see each other as a reflection of our Creator and recognize the precious gift of human life from the moment of conception,” said the archbishop.
The Franciscan Friars left the UGA Catholic Center in June after some 60 years of ministry. Current and former students shared memories and reflected on how the friars made the campus center feel like home.
After the retirement of Dr. Diane Starkovich, the Archdiocese of Atlanta welcomed Harry “Hal” Plummer as the new superintendent of schools. His experience includes three years as superintendent of the Diocese of Phoenix and work as a parish catechetical leader, teacher and principal.
On June 11, more than 400 Catholics of all races, ages and nationalities marched for racial justice. The march began at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and ended at Centennial Olympic Park. Stops along the march included prayer and song with a “Say Their Name” litany for those who have died in the fight against racism.
Archbishop Hartmayer ordained three men to serve as priests in the Archdiocese of Atlanta – Father Paul Porter, Father Cristian Cossio and Father Miller Gomez Ruiz. The June 27 ordination Mass was held at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta.
Sister Margarita Martin and Sister Marietta Jansen, members of the Sacred Heart of Jesus religious community, left the Athens community after 18 years of ministry. Sister Barbara Daniel of the Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, retired from the UGA Catholic Center. She served in Georgia for 35 years.
Black young adult Catholics from across the nation started a summer series of prayer, support and listening. Sponsored by the Office of Intercultural Ministries in the Atlanta Archdiocese, the series was in response to the month of protests against racial injustice.
The Georgia Bulletin reached out to Catholic School leaders and families to get their feelings about beginning the new school amidst the coronavirus. Catholic schools moved to online learning in March due to the pandemic.
Jennifer and Greg Willits founded Rosary Army 17 years ago, which shows people how to make an all-twine knotted rosary, say the prayer and give it away to someone in need. Through their YouTube Channel, the couple pray the rosary live nightly.
Archdiocesan schools opened for in-person instruction to begin the 2020-21 school year. Families also had the option to do online only learning. A task force of medical, legal and educational professionals helped the schools reopen and provide ongoing instruction on best practices to keep staff and students safe from the coronavirus.
SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER
One hundred years of ministry were celebrated at the delayed Chrism Mass. Like most large 2020 celebrations, the Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King was livestreamed for believers to watch in the safety of their homes. The four priests honored for their silver anniversaries were Msgr. Joseph Corbett of St. Jude the Apostle Church, Sandy Springs; Father Paul Williams of St. Joseph Church, Dalton; Msgr. Francis McNamee of the Cathedral of Christ the King and Father Lawrence Niese of St. Michael the Archangel Church, Woodstock.
Rising to the challenge of a once-in-a-century health crisis, these parishes connected their communities in creative ways—Good Samaritan Church in Ellijay offered drive-in Masses in a civic center parking lot; a Trappist Monk shared the wisdom from the Conyers monastery with the help of Zoom and the music director of the Shrine of Immaculate Conception repurposed Facebook to share musical highlights, finding spiritual insights in a variety of music genres.
A new 27-week program to educate the whole family on matters of faith was unveiled. Most parish religious education programs switched in March to online learning. This aims to draw together family members, from the youngest to the oldest, together in an innovative way to deepen faith.
For the first time in its history, the nonprofit embarked on its Hope Transformed fundraising campaign to refurbish and improve its resources to help clients, including a community pharmacy. As the coronavirus battered the job market, more people turned to the organization for aid.
Local students studied the mission of Catholic Relief Services globally and how it works to come up with an innovative way to cut carbon dioxide, which is linked to climate change.
In late May, parishes were able to resume in-person worship with safety guidelines, which include social distancing, wearing face masks and disinfecting in between Masses. A Sunday Mass dispensation has been in effect since March and will be until further notice. From outdoor Masses, figuring out livestreams, setting up phone banks to call parishioners and car parades, the efforts to celebrate the faith have continued.
A series of videos guided Catholic voters preparing to cast their ballots in the November election. The Archdiocese of Atlanta began releasing “Faithful Citizenship” videos to support Catholic voters. These videos are inspired by the document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” released by the U.S. Catholic bishops. Pollsters have said President-elect Joe Biden and President Donald Trump nearly split the Catholic vote, with a slight margin to Biden. He will be the second Catholic president in U.S. history.
Pope Francis announced 13 new cardinals Nov. 28, including Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, former Archbishop of Atlanta.
Tony Alonso, the director of the Catholic Studies program at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, has more than 20 collections of music to his name. His newest work honors his Cuban roots and was nominated for a Latin Grammy in the Best Christian Album category.
While many are grieving the loss of loved ones due to other causes, more than 352,000 people in the United States have died from the coronavirus. Of those, more than 10,000 have died in Georgia. Through the ups and downs of grief, Catholics found support in counseling and community organizations, like the GriefShare recovery group at Holy Trinity Church in Peachtree City. GriefShare is a Christian organization for people grieving the death of a close loved one.
The Vatican released its report on the rise of Theodore E. McCarrick through the church ranks to become a cardinal-archbishop. The summary found St. John Paul II likely believed McCarrick’s denials of sexual misconduct in part due to the pope’s past experience in Poland regarding use of false allegations against bishops to degrade the church. In response, Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., said, “These actions represent a real failing in our church.”
Students at Catholic schools were not immune to COVID fatigue. A party attended by some students at St. Pius X High School resulted in 49 cases of COVID-19 as the school implemented a return to online learning. According to the Office of Catholic Schools, only 1.4% of all archdiocesan students and 2.9% of all faculty and staff have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the school year.
The Georgia Bulletin ran two essays reflecting on the past year from people of faith. Leaders of Gregg’s Pantry at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur, wrote about their work serving families in need throughout the pandemic. Michael and Victoria Farmer of St. Jude the Apostle Church, faced delays in entering the church at Easter.
For the second year in a row, the coronavirus forced the cancellation of the largest Eucharistic celebration in the Southeast. Organizers have said close to 30,000 people attend the two-day conference.
Atlanta’s Our Lady of Lourdes parish community recently lost two of its members known for sharing their faith creatively through the arts—Kenya Griffin and Kenneth W. Louis.
On Saturday, Dec. 5, nearly 20 people gathered to pray for more than 50 priests and bishops at the Sandy Springs cemetery. The prayer service was sponsored by the Holy Family parish. Donations were collected for poinsettias to be placed on the graves of the clergy. Any additional donations received went to the pro-life ministry.
Large crowds are notorious for spreading the coronavirus forcing organizers for the annual community celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe to reconsider how to share the festive day. Parish leaders offered believers a drive-through experience of what Latinos call Guadalupano as they broadcasted the event on social media. It attracted tens of thousands of views, said organizers.