Published December 4, 2008
Those who work closely with the archbishop have testified to the care and concern he shows for his flock, and they speak about the focused involvement he has had establishing new offices and traditions that many hope will continue for years to come.
Within the first two weeks of his installation in Atlanta on Jan. 17, 2005, Archbishop Gregory attended a welcoming gathering sponsored by the Family Life Office. The archbishop wanted to meet all of the volunteers in the office, and they spoke about how attentive he was from the start.
“(Archbishop Gregory) really shared a lot about his own journey,” making a quick but strong connection with everyone present, said Lynn Crutchfield, program coordinator for the office.
“He has been a wonderful supporter of the Family Life Office,” added Mary Ellen Hughes, director of the office. “He really brings his relationship with God to everything.”
Hughes said Archbishop Gregory came to her with the idea of beginning a tradition in Atlanta to honor Catholic couples that have been married 50 or 60 years in an annual Mass.
A similar tradition had been established in the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., where the archbishop served prior to moving down South, and he asked Hughes to contact the community in Illinois to get some tips on how to begin the process of planning the unique event.
Archbishop Gregory wanted to make the celebration special for the couples and their families and friends, and so he worked in collaboration with the Family Life Office to plan the event, which has received overwhelmingly positive comments for the last three years.
“We were in a new ballgame,” said Hughes, who said planning the first Marriage Anniversary Mass was no picnic, but well worth the time and effort, especially when the staff saw how happy the couples were to be recognized for their decades of fidelity and hard work.
Hughes also said the love that the archbishop has for these couples is evident by the time and attention he gives to this event.
“And that brings them so much joy,” she said about the couples who are a part of the Mass.
Every year, the Family Life Office gathers a list of couples from pastors and parish bulletin advertisements, and then sends out invitations. And every year, the event grows larger.
“The third one was bigger than the second and the second was bigger than the first,” Hughes said. “It is so wonderful that he thought of this.”
Children and grandchildren come from all over the country to be present for the Mass and the celebration continues following the Mass with an elaborate reception, complete with a champagne toast from the archbishop himself.
Archbishop Gregory also showed his respect and reverence for the Mass when he established a liturgical commission, said Father Theodore Book, who was chosen as the director for the Office of Divine Worship, an office formed by Archbishop Gregory in June 2006.
“Out of the liturgical commission grew an awareness of the need for an Office of Divine Worship, which would provide ongoing support and training to help parishes and the diocese as a whole in their liturgical life,” Father Book wrote in an e-mail.
He said the goal of the office is to support the liturgical life of the archdiocese in all aspects but especially by being a resource for the parishes.
Last month Archbishop Gregory celebrated the St. Cecilia Mass for archdiocesan musicians, one of the many initiatives sponsored by the office.
Also sponsored by the office are workshops focused on the liturgy, such as preparing altar servers and training lectors.
“Archbishop Gregory has been very supportive of the numerous initiatives of the Office,” commented Father Book.
The Office of Divine Worship sponsored the first Southeastern Liturgical Music Symposium this year, which brought together choir directors, musicians and lectors from more than 40 parishes to discuss the importance of music ministry.
“Archbishop Gregory brings to the Archdiocese of Atlanta his own expertise in the area of liturgy,” Father Book said, noting that the archbishop has a doctorate in sacred liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute.
“He is also a member of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, and so is involved with the U.S. bishops’ work on the liturgy. His wisdom has been a great help to the work of the office,” he added.
In addition to working closely with the offices of the archdiocese, Archbishop Gregory has also reached out to the lay population in North Georgia.
In late 2006, Archbishop Gregory began the process of forming an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council to make sure he heard the voices of those who do not get the opportunity to see or work with him often.
All 10 deaneries are represented on the pastoral council, which currently has 23 members and strives to voice what is happening throughout the archdiocese.
“The APC is a consultative body to our Archbishop,” wrote Susan Burroughs, a member of the council, on the group’s Web site.
The council is a multicultural group comprised of young, middle-aged and older adults, who represent small to mid-size parishes as well as large parishes, as well as priests, deacons and a sister.
“Our purpose is to work with the Archbishop to address religious, social and economic issues related to pastoral concerns within our Archdiocese,” Burroughs stated.
The pastoral council was an idea that Archbishop Gregory brought with him from his previous Diocese of Belleville in southern Illinois, and he voiced his desire for such a committee in Atlanta early on, according to Deacon Dennis Dorner.
Deacon Dorner, who serves on the council in his role as chancellor of the archdiocese, said he traveled to Belleville for a few days at the archbishop’s request to learn how the pastoral council in that diocese operated.
The pastoral council “gives an opportunity for the bishop to hear the voice of the people in a casual and relaxed atmosphere,” said Deacon Dorner.
“Through prayer and discernment meetings, we were able to form this council,” he added.
The group meets four times a year in a discussion where no topic is off limits. Subjects in previous meetings have covered everything from the Eucharistic Congress to diversity and ethnicity in the local church to religious education.
The archbishop also formed the Archdiocesan Planning Committee in the summer of 2006 to review the needs of the archdiocese, with special attention paid to pastoral, educational, social service and social justice needs.
The three-year project, which is already two years into its research and planning, has been an ongoing effort fueled by the archbishop’s desire to identify needs and implement initiatives responding to growth in the archdiocese.
Founded as a response to this continuing growth, the Planning Committee has four subcommittees to address key areas: the business model, facilities, discipleship and Catholic education.
The business model subcommittee focuses on implementing an efficient and effective customer-centric business model and focuses on the daily operations of the central offices of the archdiocese.
Building an integrated end-to-end model for planning, locating, contracting and building projects is the target of the facilities subcommittee. The discipleship subcommittee aims at building up a strong sense of stewardship and Christian discipleship capable of supporting the future needs of the parishes, schools and the archdiocese.
And last, but certainly not least, is the education subcommittee, which addresses the needs of the schools throughout the archdiocese. The education subcommittee is currently holding regional consultation meetings to discuss the state of Catholic schools in the archdiocese based on extensive research conducted over the last two years in conjunction with Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
Catholic education has been one of the many important issues in the forefront of Archbishop Gregory’s actions. While he continues to support efforts to maintain the excellent education provided by local Catholic schools, he also has shown his desire to recognize the people who make that possible.
In collaboration with Diane Starkovich, superintendent of schools, Archbishop Gregory and the Office of Catholic Schools have begun a new tradition to honor the teachers and administrators who work hard to give children the best educational and spiritual formation they can.
Last year, the Office of Catholic Schools and Archbishop Gregory celebrated the first teachers’ in-service day and Mass to honor teachers who have reached milestones in their careers, and also give a well-deserved day off for the educators.
“We wanted to make an acknowledgement from the entire community,” said Starkovich about bringing everyone together for one celebration.
And “he is much loved for giving them a day off,” she added with a smile.
The event was inspired by an annual Mass for principals, which used to draw about 200 teachers each year. More than twice that number were in attendance at this year’s in-service day, which honored seasoned teachers with a combined contribution of more than 1,200 years of service to Catholic schools.
Starkovich also commented on how “open and receptive” the archbishop has been with regard to suggestions about how to make Catholic schools even better.
“The tone is set by the leader,” Starkovich said. “It starts at the top.”
The archbishop’s inclusive attitude is something Starkovich noticed when she came on board in 2006. She said she was impressed with how the archbishop wanted to build strong relationships between archdiocesan-supported schools and the handful of independent Catholic schools in Atlanta.
“It is just a great place to be,” said Starkovich. “He gives so freely of himself.”
Starkovich expressed sentiments that are echoed by all, from those who work hand-in-hand with Archbishop Gregory to those who meet him only once or twice.
“He is truly a shepherd of all the programs,” she said. “I cannot imagine a better person.”