Prayers, Laughter Highlight Archbishop’s Quick Tour
Published: December 16, 2004
Archbishop John F. Donoghue, left, and Archbishop Wilton Gregory are the honored guests during their Dec. 11 visit with the Missionaries of Charity at the Gift of Grace House. (Photos by Michael Alexander)
ATLANTA—The students at Blessed Trinity High School stared briefly in wonder at their visitor and then quickly scraped back their chairs to stand and greet him.
After knocking softly on the classroom door, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory walked into a science class at the Roswell high school and immediately gestured to the classroom’s skeleton.
“Either this is a class on anatomy, or someone’s had a very bad day,” he said, as he flipped the brim of the hat the skeleton wore.
The students responded with quiet laughter, surprised that the person who had just been named archbishop of Atlanta by Pope John Paul II could joke with them so easily.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory gets acquainted with “Bruce the Skeleton” as he stops by Julie Speeney’s anatomy class at Blessed Trinity High School.
Junior Eric Maust, who served as Archbishop Gregory’s ambassador as he toured the school Dec. 10, was impressed by the archbishop’s warmth.
“He is very cool and a lot more down-to-earth than I expected him to be,” Maust said. “When you think of someone who is such an important leader in the church, you would expect some lofty, spiritual guy. I was just impressed that he was joking around with us so easily, because that’s really important in relating to people our age.”
Walking from classroom to classroom at Blessed Trinity was just one of many stops on Archbishop Gregory’s whirlwind tour of his new archdiocese Dec. 9-11. He visited two Catholic elementary schools, St. Pius X High School, St. Peter Chanel Church, St. Brigid Church, the Cathedral of Christ the King and the Gift of Grace House, as well as spending an evening meeting socially with the priests of the archdiocese. He returned to Belleville, Ill., on Dec. 12.
Students were thrilled at St. John the Evangelist School in Hapeville, where Archbishop Gregory, accompanied by Archbishop John F. Donoghue, began the tour early on Dec. 10.
Nine students wearing the native dress of their respective cultures were on hand in the media center of St. John the Evangelist School to greet the two bishops. They included (l-r) Iffie Awachie (Nigeria), Christina Miller (Chile), Jackie Miller (Chile), Iffy Anachebe (Nigeria), Alexis White (Cherokee Indian), Adeola Adekunle (Nigeria), Trizna Banos (Mexico), and Nicholas and Joseph Le (Vietnam). (Photos by Michael Alexander)
Despite the stature of their guests, a group of children wearing the native dress of their heritages calmly welcomed Archbishop Gregory in languages including Ibo, Spanish and Vietnamese. Students from Chile, Nigeria, Mexico and Vietnam and a student of Cherokee descent introduced themselves and gave the archbishop a musical globe depicting children from around the world.
“We are so honored you chose to visit us on your very first day as archbishop. We are so grateful you said yes to God’s call,” the children said.
The pre-K through grade-8 school has children from 26 countries who speak 16 different languages, according to principal Karen Vogtner.
Preparing to meet Archbishop Gregory for the first time she said, “I have been so impressed with his demeanor. He comes across as so sincere and humble, as so respected by his peers.”
As he went from class to class, 4-year-olds regaled the archbishop with a rendition of “Good St. Nick” and the fourth-graders sang “50 Nifty United States.”
However, Archbishop Gregory admitted in the sixth-grade classroom that this was his favorite because he began Catholic school in sixth grade and it was when “I first began thinking about being a priest.”
Asking if any in the class had thought about being a priest “even for a micro-second,” several boys’ hands went up.
“God starts whispering early, and we have to listen,” he said gently.
Taking questions from the class, he told them that, yes, he had met the pope and “he’s a wonderful fellow.”
Becoming a priest, he said, when asked, was “what God wanted me to do, and I listened. God talks to us in many ways. He talks to our hearts. He talks to us through various individuals . . . If God wants us to be a priest or sister or a married person, it is very important to listen. It is very challenging.”
Eighth-grader Mai Bui, who presented the archbishop with a homemade ornament depicting the four evangelists, said, “I think he’s just really cool. I feel really honored and special that he chose to come to our school.”
St. John the Evangelist pastor Father Glenn Parker, CSsR, said Archbishop Gregory, whom he has known for about 20 years, “will fit very well” in the archdiocese.
“He comes from a very diverse community in Belleville (Ill.) and in Chicago,” Father Parker said.
Balance and a spiritual grounding are hallmarks of Archbishop Gregory, he said.
“He’s so open to God that as he moves into his office of archbishop, we will be graced. He’s so grounded and balanced—to see different sides and different issues and to be balanced. It is a hallmark.”
From Hapeville the archbishop went on to St. Pius X High School, where he waded into crowds of teens changing classes, shook hands in the cafeteria and spontaneously went into the journalism class darkroom where two surprised students were developing images.
Principal Stephen Spellman and finance director Tony Stephens showed him all the highlights of the facility, where major capital improvements are underway.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory, left, couldn’t help but notice the aluminum foil hat worn by senior Joey Abdou in his Drawing I class at St. Pius X High School. Standing between the two is sophomore Katie Perez.
Michael Angulo, a senior and editor of the school newspaper, said he looks forward to serving at a Mass for the archbishop at the Cathedral in the future.
The appointment “is wonderful,” he said, reflecting the growth of the archdiocese and the influx of Catholics from other parts of the country.
After visiting St. Pius, Archbishop Gregory made his way to Roswell for a tour of Queen of Angels School, St. Peter Chanel Church and Blessed Trinity.
At BT, he walked into a classroom where theology teacher Michelle Garriott was teaching an “Introduction to Catholicism” class. The archbishop asked the students about their final exams and wished them luck and a long relationship with the Catholic Church.
“Hopefully this is an introduction that will blossom into a long, long friendship,” he said.
Father Frank McNamee, pastor of St. Peter Chanel Church, accompanied the archbishop as he toured the site of St. Peter Chanel, Queen of Angels and Blessed Trinity.
“He seems so relaxed with the children,” he said. “The kids are really excited to see their new archbishop. They’re a part of history.”
At St. Brigid Church in Alpharetta, Archbishop Gregory stepped into the perpetual adoration chapel and knelt in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
Staff members standing outside in the chilly weather, and a large banner announcing his arrival, welcomed Archbishop Gregory as he toured the parish where Father Joe Corbett is pastor.
“We were so happy that Archbishop Gregory was able to visit St. Brigid on his short visit to Atlanta,” Father Corbett said. “It was a blessing for the staff and parishioners to meet him, and we pray that he will visit St. Brigid often.”
Archbishop Gregory began his day Dec. 11 by visiting the Gift of Grace House in Virginia Highlands, the home for indigent women suffering from HIV/AIDS.
A chalkboard was colorfully decorated welcoming both Archbishop Donoghue and Archbishop Gregory to the home, which is run by the Missionaries of Charity.
The sisters placed a large lei of flowers around Archbishop Gregory’s neck as he walked through the door of the yellow house on St. Charles Avenue.
Side by side, both bishops sat in the warm wood-paneled room surrounded by sisters, volunteers and patients.
Gloria Lamar, a patient who has lived at Gift of Grace for nearly two years, was chosen to welcome the archbishop and tell him about the home.
“Coming from the streets, I didn’t know what love was until I got here,” she said. “I thank God for being here. They’re taking real good care of us.”
Though many patients are close to death and some are not, Lamar said that the Gift of Grace House has saved them all.
“I don’t know when I’m going to go, but when I do, I’ll be happy because I’ve known love for the first time,” she said.
Both bishops then joined in singing “How Great Thou Art” with those in the room.
Archbishop Gregory told those in the room that he was enjoying Atlanta so far, and that he was glad to see the ministry of the sisters in his new diocese.
“I’m very, very glad that Archbishop Donoghue invited the sisters, and I’m very, very glad they accepted,” he said. “I hope that I can follow Archbishop Donoghue in my support for this community.”
Before they left, both bishops went upstairs to visit a patient who was close to death.
While touring the Cathedral of Christ the King, Archbishop Wilton Gregory makes a brief appearance at “A Day With Mary” in the parish hall where he addresses the participants.
At the Cathedral of Christ the King, where Archbishop Gregory visited, basketball games between the schools and churches were in progress in the Hyland Center. After the referee blew his whistle, the archbishop was immediately surrounded by a crowd of girls in red jerseys from the St. Brigid team, anxious to congratulate him on his new appointment.
Upstairs in the parish center, Marian devotees gathered in front of the Blessed Sacrament and prayed the rosary. Upon completing the rosary, Msgr. Thomas Kenny, rector of the Cathedral, introduced Archbishop Gregory.
“I’m sorry to distract you from your prayers,” he said. “I’m supposed to encourage you to pray, not take you away from your prayers. I want to thank you from the heart for taking this time to honor Our Mother.”