A longtime parishioner approached me before Sunday Mass a couple weeks ago and said that another parishioner had just asked him why Archbishop Gregory had brought the Jesuits to St. Thomas More. The implication of the question was that the inquiring person was unhappy with the Jesuits for being here and the Archbishop for sending them.
I am certainly aware that some in the parish have not liked all that we Jesuits have brought to STM, and I know that some families have left STM for other parishes. On the other hand, I also know that many new families have come to STM since our arrival a little more than a year and a half ago, presumably because they like what they see here. I know that some families have reduced their Offertory gifts, possibly to express their unhappiness, while others have increased their annual gift. This is the normal “sorting out” process that happens whenever pastors change.
Neither Fr. Pat nor I were involved in the conversations between the Archbishop and our religious superiors about our coming to STM, but we did speak with Auxiliary Bishop Talley (who has since left Atlanta to lead a diocese in Louisiana) and got from him a sense of Archbishop Gregory’s thinking.
I know that the Archbishop has been trying to bring Jesuits to Atlanta for some time. For whatever reason, my superiors did not think that past times and circumstances were right for us, and they declined the invitation. Those times and circumstances have since changed, and my superiors accepted Archbishop Gregory’s invitation to send Jesuits to STM. From my superiors’ point of view, Pat and I were part of a larger on-going Jesuit investment in Atlanta. We joined other Jesuits already at work at Ignatius House, the Jesuit retreat center in Sandy Springs, and at Cristo Rey Atlanta High School, which opened a little more than three years ago. My superiors believed that the Atlanta area was underserved by the Society of Jesus, and he welcomed the opportunity afforded by Archbishop Gregory to increase our presence.
For his part, Archbishop Gregory wanted what the Jesuits could offer to the Church of Atlanta. He clearly believes that our presence here is good for the Church of Atlanta. Certainly he wanted us to offer more widely the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the distinctive spirituality that is based on them. He wanted his people to be exposed to our preaching and our way of evangelizing. I know that Archbishop Gregory wanted the people of Atlanta to have another option when choosing a parish, and he believed that a Jesuit-sponsored parish would be such an option. In other words, he wanted something new and different here, not just for the parishioners of STM, but also for the larger Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Why STM and not some other parish? That I can’t answer. I simply don’t know. I do know that Fr. Pat and I – and now Fr. Rudy – have found STM to be generally receptive ground for our preaching, our Ignatian way of praying, and our Jesuit understanding of God, the Gospel of Jesus, and the Church.
Shortly after our arrival at STM back in February, 2016, I suggested in the 3/6/16 bulletin what parishioners might expect of us in the areas of liturgy, preaching, prayer and spirituality, and outreach to the poor and other disadvantaged. Since then, Fr. Pat and I, with the full support of the STM Parish Council, have set about making that happen. We have tried to preach the Gospel faithfully and forcefully, challenging parishioners with its words. We have tried to orient the parish more outwardly through interfaith activities with other Decatur area churches and greater outreach to the poor and sick and other needy of Atlanta and beyond. We have tried to expand our faith formation programs to our youth and adults alike and to give them a more “Jesuit” flavor. Parishioners tell me that they have seen a difference at STM since we arrived.
As I have reported here several times over the last several months, the Parish Council and I have been working on a Statement of Identity and Mission that will clearly establish our self-understanding as a Jesuit-sponsored Catholic parish and will set us on a particular way into the future. Parishioners participated in this work through a common examen prayer during all the Masses this past spring. In that examen, parishioners prayerfully looked at STM through the eyes of Jesus to see what he sees, and shared the results of their prayer with me and the Council. We have incorporated that feedback into a subsequent draft Statement.
Sometime in the next 30 days, I will present that latest draft of this Statement of Identity and Mission to parishioners for further feedback. The Council and I haven’t decided how to do this yet, but we will do so in a way that assures broad parish involvement.
That some are unhappy with what the Jesuits have brought to STM, even to the point of leaving the parish, is a source of sadness to me, Fr. Pat, and many STM parishioners. But we will continue to try to be responsive to what the Archbishop and our Jesuit superiors have asked of us.