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Jerry Costello

‘A Messenger of God to the People He Serves’

The first part of this story about Father Fredy Angel, a 41-year-old originally from Colombia, told how he thought he’d reached his dream of becoming a missionary rural priest when he was assigned to Queen of Peace parish in Lakeland, Georgia…but he found that low attendance was matched by a pitiful parish plant. How he turned things around—and won the Catholic Extension Society’s Lumen Christi Award—is covered in today’s concluding article. (Originally reported in Our Sunday Visitor in an article by Emily Stimpson.)

                The first order of business couldn’t be clearer: get it clean           

                It seemed like an impossible task, from the mold in the rectory bathrooms to the piles of junk in the parking lot, but Father Fredy made it happen. He’d inherited a mess for a parish, and he was determined to clean it up.

                “Everywhere I went, I cleaned,” he said. “The bathroom, the classrooms, the rectory—I cleaned them so much that I got the nickname ‘Mr. Clean.’ But it was important that everything look beautiful.” 

                Father Fredy made sure he didn’t clean alone. He reached out to his parishioners, one by one, and invited them to help. “They needed to feel like it was their parish,” he said, and in time they began to feel a sense of pride in the way it looked.

                And once the parish started looking good, there was the nagging problem of attendance in general. Father Fredy knew what was causing it, and how he wanted to turn things around,

                “Around here we have the problem of parents dropping off their children to receive formation for first Communion or confirmation,” he explained. “But then they disappear and don’t come back until they need another sacrament.”

                He’d been requiring parents who wanted their children baptized to attend Mass for three months prior to the baptism, and decided to take something of the same approach. Mother or father would stay while children were taught about Communion or confirmation by volunteers while the priest taught parents about the meaning of liturgy and prayer in their lives.

                “I explained all the little details—the oil, the water, the vestments, everything—so it will take on meaning again for people.”

                Little by little church attendance started to grow, and over time it exploded. Numbers grew wildly—from 25 to 200, from 40 to 250—and the churches that comprise the parish were united as a new one, St. Anthony of Padua. With record numbers, it should be noted.

                Then came the award, given each year for work in a rural parish, showing how “the power of faith can transform lives.” Father Fredy’s bishop couldn’t have been prouder. 

                Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah called attention to the priest’s family name, Angel, describing him as “a messenger of God to the people he serves.” The bishop added, “He brings them hope, joy and the presence of Christ in the sacraments, so he is truly a light of Christ.”

                Father Fredy—“one priest, making a difference”—summed things up: “Just be with the people, and teach them about the liturgy and the sacraments. Help them understand what we have.”

 

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