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Georgia Parish Marks Martin Luther King Holiday with Focus on Reconciliation

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Attendees look on as awards are presented to young people in the community. (Photo courtesy of Frank Critch)

MACON, Ga. — Hundreds turned out last week at St. Peter Claver Church to commemorate the birthday and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. at a prayer breakfast that has been held annually for a quarter of a century. Among the participants this year were two friars who experienced the spirit of the community event for the first time. The friars began staffing the parish in September 2015.

“We heard a beautiful talk on forgiveness and then we recognized many high school students for their leadership qualities and essays on Dr. King,” said William McIntyre, OFM, pastor, who led grace. “Three hundred people, including the mayor, elected leaders, religious leaders, community leaders, parishioners, students and members of the public attended this 26th annual MLK prayer breakfast whose theme was ‘Reconciliation: Shining a Light on Forgiveness.’”

Students from schools affiliated with the parish — St. Peter Claver Elementary School and Mount De Sales Academy — along with students from nearby Mercer University served the breakfast. Frank Critch, OFM, who operated a restaurant before joining the Order, said he spent most of his time in the kitchen helping with the meal.

“The keynote speaker John Dunaway, professor emeritus at Mercer University, spoke of the conversion, within himself, over the years concerning race relations. His talk was very well received,” said Frank. “Two young people spoke quite powerfully of race issues today.”

Forgiveness and Fellowship
The Telegraph newspaper recognized the significance of the Jan 18 event, highlighting the theme of the keynote presentation, the young people who were awarded for their accomplishments and Dunaway’s description of nonviolent responses to tragic events.

“I’ve believed for a long time that forgiveness is the most powerful force available in opposing evil,” said Dunaway, who taught French and interdisciplinary studies. “When you grow up in a firmly segregated Southern town where you have no black classmates or friends and the only people of color that you know are domestic servants, it takes a long time to gain some awareness of how those folks live. But God spoke to me in a dream, and my life hasn’t been the same ever since.”

The article, which also described an MLK March that took place on the holiday, provided photos of both events.

The breakfast’s mission, according to the program, is to offer a non-political event as an opportunity for the Macon community to come together in love and peace to fellowship reflecting on the dream of the late Dr. Martin Luther King.” It was held in in the Mother Katherine Drexel Center, named for St. Katharine Drexel, whose community founded the parish school in 1903.

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Volunteers help prepare the breakfast for attendees. (Photo courtesy of Frank)

Friars’ Perspective
In the four months since the three friars — Frank, William and Paul Santoro, OFM, who works at Daybreak Ministries — arrived in Macon, they have gotten to know and enjoy the community.

“The people have been so welcoming,” said William, who had been stationed in Durham, N.C. before coming to Macon. “Surprisingly, men and women from outside the parish in Macon have stopped us on the street to welcome the Franciscans to Macon.”

“The experience of being at St. Peter Claver has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Frank, who relocated from Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla. “The people here have been quite hospitable and have embraced us as their own.” Frank said he has “been ministering in the two schools, Peter Claver and DeSales Academy, and that Peter Claver School is mainly African American — close to 90 percent. DeSales is quite a diverse school in the heart of Macon.”

William added, “The parishioners have long been active in the parish and the wider community. However, they are anxious to discern even more ways to live the Gospel here in Middle Georgia. Advent and Christmas were very special. People were as warm as the unusually warm December weather here.

“One memorable event was the Monday before Christmas. More than 80 people from the parish gathered to decorate the church. Young and old, black, white and Latino, along with a few neighbors decorated both the inside and outside of the church. It was a wonderful moment. People shared that it was not often that all of the parish community gathers for food, fellowship and work. Others said that the outside of the church had not been decorated in decades. For a few wonderful weeks, our street was blessed with lights, trees, wreathes and ribbons. We’re planning to hold a similar event for Easter.”

“From the moment they moved into the Pleasant Hill neighborhood parish of St. Peter Claver, the trio immersed themselves in their ministry,” according to an article published Sept. 26, 2015 in The Telegraph.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

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