by Mike Gabriele
And then there were ten.
With the addition of Saint Thomas More Catholic Church as a new Jesuit parish in Atlanta, the Maryland Province Jesuits now oversees ten parishes across six states and the District of Columbia. From Saint Ignatius Church in Port Tobacco, Maryland which was established in 1641, to Saint Thomas More becoming official on February 1, 2016, the Maryland Province continues expanding to better meet the spiritual, educational and social justice needs of this ever-growing region.
For more than fifty years, Atlanta’s Jesuit footprint had solely been the Ignatius House Retreat Center just north of the city. But things are moving fast. In August of 2014, a new Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School welcomed its first students and is looking to relocate by 2017 to a renovated 70,000 square-foot building around the corner. With Saint Thomas More now a Jesuit parish, Atlanta’s Jesuit presence has gained yet another branch on the tree, one that can further complement and develop the great apostolates already in place.
“We are so glad to have a Jesuit parish in the city of Atlanta,” says Fr. Robert Hussey, SJ, provincial of The Maryland Province Jesuits. “The church in Atlanta has been growing dramatically in recent decades. We want to increase our serving and collaborating with the people of God in this place of vibrancy for the church, now in the form of Jesuit parish ministry.”
Fr. Mark Horak, SJ, comes to Saint Thomas More as the new pastor. He is an experienced parish leader, serving most recently as pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, DC. Prior to that, he was pastor at Old St. Joseph’s Church in Philadelphia and parochial vicar at St. Peter’s Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has been a Jesuit priest for twenty-two years. Fr. Patrick Earl, SJ, will be the parochial vicar at Saint Thomas More, coming from St. Peter’s Church in Charlotte where he was pastor.
“I look forward to getting to know the people of Saint Thomas More, to learn how they do things and understand their needs,” says Fr. Horak. “Fr. Earl and I plan to do what we have always done in our respective parishes – pray the Eucharist well and preach the Good News from our unique Jesuit perspective. We are confident that people will like what they hear.”
Saint Thomas More will also become the official Jesuit community for the entire Atlanta area. Jesuits who serve the parish, Cristo Rey High School and the Ignatius House Retreat Center will now call Saint Thomas More their home. This is a good thing. “I have always believed that having Jesuits operate from a parish base, going out from that base each morning to do work in different ways and in other places, is an ideal model for Jesuit ministry,” explains Fr. Horak. “As a Jesuit community, we will spend time together, encourage one another, talk with each other about our respective works, and nourish our imaginations and spirits. I foresee developing a coordinated, coherent apostolic plan for the Atlanta area.”
Fr. Hussey agrees. “Having all the Jesuits in Atlanta living in a single community at Saint Thomas More will be enriching, allowing them to share a common life together. It will also enable them to be connected with the life of the parish, even if their primary apostolic work is not at the parish itself. I hope that their presence together will also strengthen the bonds between the communities of the three Atlanta apostolates.”
”We have a great opportunity to bring something new to Atlanta,” adds Fr. Horak. “My hope is that we can make the Spiritual Exercises and the spirituality based on them more widely available to the people here. The Jesuit retreat center and Cristo Rey reach a certain population; we at Saint Thomas More will reach a different population.”
A parish has always been a place for Catholics to experience God through the scripture and the Eucharist, and to grow in their spiritual lives both individually and as a community of faith. Through the Jesuit lens of love in action and finding God in all things, Atlanta is now blessed with another avenue for coming closer to Christ through the values of Saint Ignatius.