Province Commemorates Martin Luther King Jr. in Georgia

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

ATHENS, Ga. — With spirited singing, a homily focused on dreams and service, and an abundance of southern hospitality, the community of the Catholic Center at University of Georgia here hosted the Province’s commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. last Sunday.

Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, celebrated the 10 a.m. Mass on Jan. 17, that began with a welcome by David Hyman, OFM, chair of the Province’s African-American Ministry Committee.

John spoke in his homily of the importance of “beholding” rather than “seeing.” He described that, as civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. did, people who “behold” focus on what “we have in common rather than on focusing on differences.” They look beyond the status quo and, John said, they ask, “why not?” 

John told the congregation, a mixture of ages and cultures, that a person who beholds is one who is not afraid to dream. “God wants us to be his hands in this world and to use our gifts to help people,” he said, describing Dr. King’s accomplishments.

Dreaming and Honoring
“The person who we honor today was not afraid to dream,” John said, adding, “the best way to honor a person is not just to remember him, but to imitate him.” 

“Let’s behold and try to live the dream, so that this day, the doors of opportunity can be open to all,” said the Provincial Minister, highlighting the mission of Dr. King, a Georgia native. The Baptist minister and Nobel Peace Prize recipient had a long affiliation with Georgia. He was born in January 1929 in Atlanta, 70 miles from Athens. Dr. King, as well as his father and grandfather, served Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.

David concluded the Mass with announcements and words of appreciation. He thanked John for traveling to Georgia from New York, and Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville, S.C., for the visit by the parish’s choir. He also introduced a Haitian native who spoke of his worry for his country, affected by the deadly earthquake earlier in the week, and a fourth-grader who initiated a fundraising project for St. Boniface Hospital in Haiti, called A Heart for Haiti. Before a post-Mass reception in the center’s hall, John greeted people outside the chapel.

This was the second of three Masses celebrated on Sunday. David presided at an 8 a.m. Mass, and Thomas Vigliotta, OFM, director of the Catholic Center, presided at the 5 p.m. Mass at which Neil O’Connell, OFM, a former University of Georgia campus minister, preached the homily. Neil served as assistant director of the Catholic Center from 1967 to 1970 while a graduate student at the University of Georgia. He focused his homily on the words of the Gospel, the theme of abundance and the importance of the common good.

Involved Community
The evening Mass, which is known to attract mainly students compared to the morning Masses, had an especially large attendance, Thomas said, considering it was a holiday weekend when many students often leave campus. 

“We have a very involved community here,” said Thomas, describing the enthusiastic participation in the center’s programs. It is the goal of the center’s team, which includes eight lay staff members plus Tom and David, the campus ministers, to “foster relationships through prayerful liturgies, ongoing formation of our Catholic faith, and in offering our lives to those who feel alienated or estranged from this world,” according to Tom, in a brochure. He has been director since August 2005.

The Catholic Center, which has been staffed by Holy Name Province friars since 1957, seeks “to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the tradition of our Roman Catholic faith and the spirit of St. Francis,” according to the mission statement, displayed visibly in the chapel, on its Web site and on informational pamphlets.

Hospitality and Franciscan Values
The center has a “long history of hospitality that happens in many ways, not the least of which is a Sunday dinner after the 5 p.m. Mass,” according to the center’s handbook. 

mlk2Other popular events and programs include:
· Retreats for students and adults
· Scripture studies for students and adults 
· Sacramental faith formation
· Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults
· A lecture series that has featured talks by Vincent Cushing, OFM, Kenneth Himes, OFM, Linh Hoang, OFM,
 Daniel Lanahan, OFM, Dominic Monti, OFM, Peter Schneible, OFM, James Scullion, OFM. Future speakers
include physician Daniel Sulmasy, OFM, and vocation director Brian Smail, OFM.
· Black History Month celebration
· Outreach programs at Oasis Catolico, a Hispanic community at a local trailer park, including tutoring 
and food programs 
· Secular Franciscan Order fraternity
· The annual 5K Human Race fundraiser

Later this week, the Catholic Center will be welcoming visitors from two Provincial offices: Franciscan Volunteer Ministry and Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. Russell Testa, the Province’s director of JPIC, will meet with Tom and his team on Jan. 21. The FVM promoter and current a Franciscan Volunteer Minister, an alumnus of University of Georgia, will be at the center to speak at all Jan. 23 weekend Masses.

“The Catholic Center can flow nicely into the FVM program which can be a life-changing experience,” Tom said, adding: “The young people here are passionate about their faith and they respect our Franciscan values.”

The spirit at the center starts from the top, said assistant director John Hennigan, who is described by Tom as “an instrumental part of our ministry.” 

“The friars are our strongest assets,” said Hennigan, who took the job after retiring from the Navy. “They are selfless. They always make time and take time. There are multiple programs for everyone here.”

Shown in the photo above are Neil, Thomas, John, and David.

— Jocelyn Thomas is communications director for Holy Name Province. She welcomes information about commemorations of Martin Luther King holiday around the Province. They will be featured in a future issue of this newsletter.