Local News Archive
Print Issue: June 22, 2000
Restored Faith Leads To Fruitful Paths
By Suzanne Haugh
ATLANTAWhen a sheep continuously strays from the fold, the story goes, a shepherd will intentionally break one of its legs and then carry it on his shoulders until the break heals.
The healing process binds the sheep to the shepherd, says Keri Allen, director of evangelization and adult education at the Cathedral of Christ the King. ... So the sheep will never leave again.
Whether fact or fiction, the story for Allen serves as an appropriate metaphor for events from her own life, a life once lived away from her Catholic faith.
One would not know now that Allen, who has been a leader on an archdiocesan level in the Eucharistic Renewal, various faith-enriching seminars and has served as the organizer of a popular womens Bible study, had experienced a time when she, like a willful and headstrong sheep, had wandered from the church. Ironically, during this time she, too, suffered a broken leg.
She recalls a single incident that sparked her separation.
I went to Mass one Sunday and the usher asked a woman sitting by the aisle to move down. She gave me a nasty look. I left the church and didnt come back for five years.
That incident was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back, but Allen went on to explain the underpinnings of her decision to leave the Catholic faith.
I was interested in pursuing a career, accomplishments, earningsthat whole lifestyle, the single life, she said. But the church tends to prick your consciencewhich it should. I think thats the real reason why I left.
While away she explored other places for meaning, with a casual interest in the New Age movement, as she continued to work as a commercial interior designer in the upscale Buckhead business district.
I tried it without the church for five years and didnt do a great job. I was not successful. I had hit a low period in my life, she adds.
During the five years I was gone I heard over and over and over, like a tape kept on saying, Go home. It was driving me crazy. I flew up to Michigan for discernment, to find something.
But visiting her hometown outside of Detroit didnt silence the recurring voice; she still felt at rock bottom.
Finally she decided to revisit her Catholic faith.
She said to herself, I will go back to church again one more time. I lived in Buckhead and knew there was confession at 4 oclock. I said that if the priest gives me a hard time about being away, thats it. Im going to get up and walk out of there and never set another foot in a Catholic church again.
Allen went to confession the next Saturday. The priest was wonderful. I walked down the aisle afterwards. I felt like I was home. I never heard that tape again.
Before reclaiming her faith, Allen can remember relying on her skills in business but never feeling completely satisfied even after realizing her goals.
Basically back then I was doing everything on my own, what I could accomplish with my own abilities and talents ... but it didnt bring me peace.
She recalls her time as a student at a Catholic high school and attending daily Mass.
I remember the peace. That was the only place I remember having peace. I finally, at that point, realized I couldnt do it by myself. So I surrendered myself (to God), and I still have to give (myself) up every day.
Working in the church is much different from the business world, with its focus on the bottom line and how to get to the top, Allen explains and adds, The Holy Spirit breaks through all of that. Christianity doesnt make sense (in the business world). It takes faith and trust to really connect. (But in the end) its the peace people look for.
Her re-entrance into parish life was gradual.
I started going to Mass on Sunday. I continued to pursue a career and did very well. I was named, for a couple of years, one of the top businesswomen in Atlanta. I was still pursuing that, but getting back to the sacraments.
Allen had met and eventually married her husband, Bob, also an inactive Catholic, who hired her to work for his architectural graphics firm. After the firm redirected its focus, Allen left and continued on her own.
Neither of us was going to church (when they first met), she said.
But Allen partially credits Bobs late mother, Helen, a faith-filled Catholic ... probably the best friend I ever had, with their return to being practicing Catholics. For 17 years she lived with the couple, who have been married over 25 years and have two adult children.
After time spent pursuing her career, Allen began to feel the nudging of the Holy Spirit ... Now it was time to do something else.
She attended a five-day silent retreat in West Virginia.
It was the most difficult thing Ive ever done and the best thing Ive ever done, Allen says. It was very difficult; it launched meI didnt know it at the time into my future with the church.
When she came back after the retreat, the rector at the cathedral, Msgr. Tom Kenny, was the first person she saw.
I asked him about starting a holy hour; there wasnt perpetual adoration yet ... As is always his typical response, he said, Who am I to stop anyone from praying.
For four years Allen coordinated a holy hour in which a handful of people participated. During this time she opted for more volunteer work instead of concentrating solely on her career and she began a masters degree in pastoral studies. When she finished her degree, Msgr. Kenny offered her the position as director of evangelization and adult education at the cathedral.
When Allen reflects on her vibrant role within the Catholic community today, she credits the wonderful volunteers who support the churchs various ministries and the Holy Spirit.
What Ive done is allow the Holy Spirit to flourish in me. Once I tapped into his plan instead of mine, when that starts, things begin to happen, she says. Things you do not feel qualified to do, to the Lord, that doesnt matter. If the Lord asks you to do something, he qualifies you to do it.
Allen also acknowledges the support Msgr. Kenny has offered to her ministry in the church, which now includes the steering committee of the archdiocesan program, called Come To Me, inviting inactive Catholics back to church life.
He knows how to empower people and he gets them using their gifts, she says.
As Allen continues to live now with the support of her faith she hasnt stopped encountering personal tests.
... The (desire for) control, the pridethere are still the same struggles, but I know where to go for help, she says. I can recognize better and more quickly where Im going wrong.
With the challenges of trying to live within the Good Shepherds fold, though, come deeply satisfying triumphs.
When I think I have life all planned out, the Lord says, I have something better.
And he does.
HOLY DOOR OPEN --
Keri Allen stands at the doors of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta,
where she was welcomed back to the Catholic faith and where she, with many
others, stands ready to encourage and assist other Catholics thirsting to
rediscover the riches of Christ.