frmark_headshot_150x150The Church’s Christmas season is almost over (it officially ends next Sunday when we remember the Baptism of Jesus), but it is not too late to acknowledge and thank those many persons who had a hand in making our Christmas celebrations so beautiful and inspiring.

As she has done for the past several Christmases, Maggie Erikson led several volunteers in decorating the church and narthex area. She and they always do a wonderful job. Several of our Life Teen and Edge kids assisted with the decorating and preparing the gym for Christmas Eve Mass. Ashley Hess and Monica LaBelle organized, rehearsed, and led the Christmas Children’s Choir and Pageant. No one can doubt that that was hard work. Brad Meyer led the STM Adult Choir and instrumentalists. Darija Pichanick and Patricia Weaver managed our annual Christmas Giving Tree program, seeing that more than 500 needy persons in the Atlanta area received Christmas gifts from STM parishioners. Cass Catroppa and the S Factor folks delivered many of these gifts to our homebound parishioners in the days just before Christmas. Richard White and David Pilliod saw to it that our Eucharistic Ministers visited hospitalized and homebound persons over the holidays, offering them our love and support and the Eucharist. Dozens of parishioners served as lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, ushers, altar servers, sacristans, cantors, and choir members at our Christmas Masses.

A special thanks to STM staff members Joe Messina and Todd Hines. Joe wove together all the loose threads of our many Advent and Christmas liturgical celebrations, and Todd came to work when everyone else was excused to complete those parts of our Christmas décor that required heavy-lifting and special skill.

Last, but certainly not least, I thank all of you who participated enthusiastically in our liturgical services. You saw that the crowds were overwhelming – more numerous than ever, it seems (we think that as many as 3,500 persons participated in our six Christmas Masses). You filled our celebration of the day when God first came among us as one of us with a joyful noise.

On an entirely different topic, Archbishop Gregory will meet with our Parish Council Wednesday evening, January 9. He will hear the Council’s concerns about the on-going crisis in the Church due to extensive sexual abuse of children by clergy and other Church workers and its cover-up by Church leaders. The Council members will suggest to the Archbishop several reforms of Church structures, processes, and culture at both diocesan and parish levels, and they will offer to assist the Archbishop to make these reforms happen. The Council’s words will be informed by their conversations with STM parishioners, the Examen prayer that parishioners did at all Masses on two successive Sundays several weeks ago, and their own extensive study of this complicated issue.

Several months ago, I asked the Council to undertake this effort free from clerical “interference” so that this would truly be the work of the lay people of STM. Since then, the Council has formed and worked hand-in-hand with a larger group of STM parishioners known as the “Leadership Crisis Action Committee.” The Council has worked hard to hold diverse and sometimes frustrated parishioners together so that the Council can truly present a unified voice to the Archbishop. The January 9 meeting is the first fruit of this work. The Council and I both hope that, as a result of this meeting, the Archbishop will know the depth of parishioners’ feelings and their sincere desire to work with him to change the Church for good. We hope that this initial conversation with the Archbishop is merely the first of many. We hope that we will be joined by other parish councils throughout the Archdiocese in our call for real reform.

Finally, on December 17, the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, which sponsors and staffs STM, Ignatius House Retreat Center, and Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, released the names of Jesuits associated with the Province who have been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse of minors since 1950. On December 21, I told parishioners via the parish electronic newsletter of my shame and sadness at the harm my Jesuit brothers have caused vulnerable children and the larger Church, and I promised to communicate more thoroughly after the Christmas holiday. On December 27th, I emailed the more thorough response I had promised. Parishioners who may not have seen these electronic communications can find them on the STM website. Fr. Tim, Fr. Pat, and I are available to speak with you more personally about this matter, if you desire. You may also want to communicate with the Maryland Province directly. You can email Province officials at: mgabriele@jesuits.org.

I continue to pray that we be healed of this deep wound.
Fr. Mark