Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo Courtesy of St. Philip Benizi Church
Susan Baker, the youth minister at St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, is the recipient of the 2021 Companions on the Journey Award, one of the highest honors given to a youth minister. It was presented by the archdiocese's Office of Formation and Discipleship during the Parish Catechetical Leader Awards.


Catechists honored as front line evangelizers

By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published April 1, 2021

ATLANTA—Catechetical leaders from parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta were celebrated for their years of service, dedication and accomplishments on March 15. 

This virtual ceremony, hosted by the Office of Formation and Discipleship, honored the work of those in faith formation, which includes religious education directors, youth ministers and RCIA leaders. 

Andy Litchenwalner, director of the Office of Formation and Discipleship, expressed profound gratitude for their work.

“As catechetical leaders, you are on the front lines of evangelization, striving, as our Holy Father so often reminds us, to keep the kerygma—the proclamation of the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God revealed through Christ—at the center of all you say and do,” he said.

“Your contributions and collaboration as laity are decisive for the ministry and mission of the church,” said Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer OFM, Conv. “And it is a joy for us to pause and give thanks to the Lord for you.”

Retiring honorees

Patricia Tweed, who retired last year, received special recognition for her 15 years of service as a catechetical leader. She began the first special religious education program at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Atlanta and volunteered with Toni’s Camp for nearly 50 years. 

“Pat lives her faith and is always willing to serve and accompany families,” said Maggie Rousseau, director of the Disabilities Ministry for the Atlanta Archdiocese. The ministry also sponsors Toni’s Camp Retreat.  

Barb Garvin is retiring after 33 years of service. Her work began at St. Pius X Church in Conyers before serving as the associate director of youth ministry and later the director of youth ministry for the Atlanta Archdiocese. Garvin later worked at Holy Cross Church in Atlanta and Mary Our Queen Church in Peachtree Corners. 

“Barb has really been a force of leadership and service here,” said Lichtenwalner

Frank DiGiacomo has volunteered at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Newnan for many years and will leave this year due to health concerns. Many catechists and young people wrote notes of gratitude that were shared during the ceremony. 

Nicholas Lopez, one of many youths DiGiacomo worked with over the years, penned a handwritten note. 

Thank you for all your guidance and support,” said Lopez. “I really enjoyed faith formation with you as my teacher.” 

Highest honors

The Companions on the Journey Award is the highest recognition from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry a diocese can confer to an individual. This year’s recipients were Susan Baker from St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro and Krissy Upcraft from St. James the Apostle Church in McDonough. 

Krissy Upcraft, youth minister at St. James Church in McDonough, also received the Companions on the Journey Award.

Baker has been a youth minister for 14 years. 

“I love my ministry,” said Baker. “I love these teens. I want more than anything for these teens to know they have value and worth.”

Father John Koziol, OFM Conv., pastor of the Jonesboro parish, expressed his gratitude for Baker in a surprise video during the ceremony. 

“You have reached thousands of young people and you’ve changed their lives,” he said. 

Upcraft has been the youth minister at St. James the Apostle Church for seven years.

“She has given her heart and soul to the teens and has been a welcoming face to all at her parish,” said Elaine Phillips, associate director of youth ministry for the Office of Formation and Discipleship. A video of congratulations featuring teens from her parish followed. 

Certification awards

The Office of Formation and Discipleship has a partnership with the University of Dayton, Ohio to provide additional support for local catechists. Over the last several years, nearly 150 local Catholics have received certificates through the program.

Recipients of the certificate of youth ministry were Allison (Pixie) Smith, St. Mary Magdalene Church, Newnan, and Phillips.

For the certificate of catechesis, the recipients were Sandra Bailey, St. Philip Benizi Church; Cynthia Caughman, St. Francis of Assisi, Cartersville; Veronica Hodges-Johnson, St. Paul of the Cross Church, Atlanta; Patricia Thernell, St. Benedict Church, Duluth and Kristin Saegaert, St. James the Apostle Church, McDonough. 

Those who received a certificate in adult formation leadership were Laura Fenton, St. Joseph, Marietta; Linda Eberenz, St. Joseph Church, Athens; Elizabeth Piper, Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta and Stephanie Holden, St. Ann Church, Marietta. 

Years of service

Catechists that served for five to 20 years last year were also honored in five-year increments. 

This year’s five-year honorees included Amber Aiello, St. Anthony Church, Blue Ridge; Angela Almario and Colleen O’Shaughnessey, Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta; Julie Ballman, St. Catherine Labouré, Jefferson; Jeanie Blowers, St. Vincent de Paul Church, Dallas; Leigh Ann Butrum and Edna Fogaca, St. Jude the Apostle Church, Atlanta; Victoria Carney, Good Shepherd Church, Cumming; Rosa Contreras and Karen Riano, Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City; Joe Kwiatkowski, St. Francis of Assisi Church, Blairsville; Susana Ikhwan, St. Matthew Church, Tyrone; Anna Maria McCloy and Danielle Simon, Christ the Redeemer Church, Dawsonville; Colleen Pittroff, St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell; Amiee Tolmich, St. Oliver Plunkett, Snellville; Samantha Smith, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta; Linda Spudic, St. Andrew Church, Roswell and Helen Yong, St. Catherine of Siena in Kennesaw. 

The ten-year honorees were Justin and Megan Estes, St. Joseph Church, Athens; Delta Izaguirre, St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Snellville; Leonardo Jaramillo, Our Lady of the Americas Mission, Lilburn; Jackie Kmet, St. Ann Church, Marietta; Kris Michels, St. Monica Church, Duluth; Darren Pham, Our Lady of Vietnam, Riverdale; Rebecca Sartain, St. Catherine of Siena and Linda Smith, Holy Cross, Atlanta. 

Fifteen years of service honorees were Deacon Mike Bickerstaff and Jeanne Lyons, St. Peter Chanel; Theresa Butorac, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Church, Douglasville; Ruthy Cunningham, St. Jude the Apostle Church; Gloria Clavijo and Michael Gagnon, Good Shepherd Church; Maureen Gay, Queen of Angels Church, Roswell and Teri Hughes, St. Gerard Majella Church, Fort Oglethorpe.

Twenty-year honorees were Deacon Steve Beers, St. George Church, Newnan; Linda Koerner, St. John Neumann, Lilburn; Kath Kelly-Huey, St. Mary Magdalene Church, Newnan; and Dolores Lomeli, St. Joseph Church, Marietta.