Along with many other Catholic dioceses in the United States, the two Georgia dioceses, the Diocese of Savannah and the Archdiocese of Atlanta, began promoting the Catholics Come Home program beginning in December 2010 during Advent to encourage lapsed and inactive Catholics to return to the practice of their faith. (See http://www.catholicscomehome.org for more details)
AOH Richmond Div 1 in Augusta, Georgia, had discussed this as an opportunity to serve their local community and the Church, when an opportunity for collaboration with a local merchants group arose. The merchants of Monte Sano Avenue in Augusta had begun presenting “First Thursday on Monte Sano” on the first Thursday of each month as an evening open house with food and beverages to attract more customers to their various shops and businesses. Since Saint Mary on the Hill Catholic Church is located in the midst of the commercial section of Monte Sano Avenue, and Carroll Kelly with the merchants group was from a Saint Mary’s family, she discussed with the AOH how to include the parish in the First Thursday event.
The AOH membership discussed what they could do and decided that this was a wonderful opportunity not only for recruitment but also to promote the Catholics Come Home program at Saint Mary on the Hill. With the blessing of Father Jerry Ragan, pastor of Saint Mary on the Hill as well as our AOH chaplain, AOH Div 1 undertook this outreach, along with the ladies of LAOH Div 1.
Our first First Thursday was in February 2011, located in front of Saint Mary on the Hill church. We prepared Irish bangers (sausages) and beverages to give away. On another table, we had pamphlets of Catholic prayers and information about the church. We had a collection of videos for Catholics Come Home looped for continuous playing on a television beside the table. We wanted to be a positive first impression and let people know that we are ready to serve them when they approach us. It doesn’t matter what their story is, what matters is that they want to know what they need to do to come back to the Catholic Church.
Our first night, four people approached us. One of our parish priests, Father Edward Frank, was with us. He took them in the church, talked with them and heard their confession. One person had been estranged from the church for 30 years. It was so exciting to know that people are watching and waiting for the opportunity to Come Back Home.
We have decided that even after the Catholics Come Home campaign officially ends we in the AOH and LAOH will continue what we are doing each month on First Thursday to bring our lapsed and inactive Catholic brothers and sisters back home to the church.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulder, rejoicing.” Luke 15:4-5