Chancery Staffer Enters Church Among Co-Workers
Published: April 12, 2012
It took me 40 years to find the Catholic Church.
I was raised very religious as a primitive Baptist. We had Catholic neighbors and for all intents and purposes I was like a son to them. They were such wonderful people. They never tried to convert me, but I saw from them a way of life that was, to a child’s mind, unbelievably loving and warm.
In my church, they would scream fire and brimstone. From my neighbors, I saw religion that was so different from what I was hearing.
When I was about 16, I started having thoughts of my own, thinking, “This can’t be right.” One Christmas a friend asked me to go to high Mass with him. I went on Christmas Eve to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Macon. I fell in love with the Mass. After that, I went on Sunday morning to the Baptist church and in the afternoon I would sneak downtown and go to Mass and never tell my parents.
When I went off to college, I met up almost immediately with a group of Catholics and started hanging out with them at West Georgia College. I thought about becoming a Catholic, but there was always a reason, always something standing in the way.
What happened next, Protestants call “back-sliding.” I don’t know what we Catholics call it. I would drift in and I would drift out. A lot of this was me, battling all religion, saying, “Forget it. I don’t need any of this.” I did that quite successfully for a long period of time.
About 20 years ago, I started dating a Catholic at Christ the King. I got very into it again and came as close as I ever have to entering the Church. For me, RCIA was standing in the way; six months of meeting on Monday nights, I thought, no, I’m too busy. The relationship ended.
Then a job came open at the Chancery. By that time I was a controller and had been for 20 years. I had done everything in the financial field. But I was pushing two years of being unemployed after never having had to look for a job in my life. I was happy to be offered the job of accounting assistant. And after a year the position opened for payroll manager, which I now have.
I got here at the Chancery and started meeting and knowing people. It began speaking to me very loudly. And the beautiful chapel downstairs, so peaceful, such a lovely place. I started realizing how much I was enjoying almost daily Mass, that centering I would feel, hearing the Scriptures. I would come back to my desk renewed.
One day in the chapel, I got down on my knees. I said, “You show me. You tell me. I don’t know what to do.” After that, it felt like I was being propelled forward. God wouldn’t let go.
Jeffery Dean, center, payroll manager in the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Finance Office, stands between Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, left, and his sponsor Ann Pitra as he prepares to be confirmed and enter the Catholic Church in the Chancery’s St. Dominic Chapel March 26. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
I went to my pastor, Father Frank McNamee. I so remember for so many years longing for the Eucharist. He told me, “Jeffery, there are any number of ways we can do this.” He brought out a very nice study book. It was a beautiful presentation of what Christianity is, that what is really important is your relationship with God, letting him in and following him.
Looking back, I fought and I fought to get away from it. The older I’ve gotten, I realized there was a truth I couldn’t get away from. I believed there was something more than me—something higher, something stronger, something better. I realized that is what faith is. What I fell in love with when I was 16 at that high Mass—that beauty made incarnate—has always been a huge part of what attracted me to Catholicism.
All of a sudden I was caught up in a whirlwind. Father McNamee listened to me. He said, “What do you think of coming into the Church at the Chancery?”
The eagerness of people here at the Chancery to be a part of it was overwhelming.
When the procession started at Mass that day, and two priests went by, then three and four, then five and six, I started crying. It was overwhelming, this sense of affection. Not only did the archbishop jump to do it, but priests here that I have developed a working relationship with came also.
When I got back to my seat after taking Communion … so many people walked past me on the way to Communion themselves and touched me, gave me a pat, touched my head, my face. It was such a sense of belonging. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, I finally found my way home. It has been a long time since I have been so spiritually fulfilled, but it feels so different. I am 55 years old. For the first time ever, I don’t feel the need to fight it. It feels like I have slipped into a familiar, comfortable skin.
It was the Christian family here at work that really made me aware of what I had been missing. Without a shadow of a doubt, it was working at the Chancery.
Jeffery Dean is the first person to enter the Catholic Church at the Chancery in Smyrna.