Father Fredy Angel is in perpetual motion. We first encountered him on the eve of a celebration in his honor as the recipient of Catholic Extension’s 2015–2016 Lumen Christi Award for his extraordinary presence as a “light of Christ” to Catholics in a marginalized area of the United States.
On an unseasonably warm November day, he was rushing around the construction site for the new St. Anthony of Padua church, overseeing the work of a band of volunteering parishioners. These men are bricklayers by trade, and when their work week is through, they spend their weekends laying the bricks that will soon be the new home for Father Fredy’s parish.
The construction of this beautiful new church is a testament to Father Fredy’s unifying leadership and represents the fulfillment of his longtime dream to unite his parishioners under one roof. The multi-ethnic community had been attending Mass at three different locations until Father Fredy pushed for a new building that could fit the parish’s growing numbers.
While there was initially resistance to the closure of the other parish locations, Father Fredy was ultimately able to get his parishioners on board, with some contributing money to the project and others contributing sweat equity in the form of bricklaying, wood-working and other physical labor.
Even in the few hours we spent with him this weekend, it’s clear Father Fredy took to heart Pope Francis’ oft-repeated line about a priest’s duty to “be shepherds with the smell of their sheep.”
As Catholic Extension staff prepared an outdoor gathering space for the Lumen Christi Award Mass, Father Fredy was hard at work, too — wiping down chairs and pews in preparation for the more than 400 people who would soon be arriving to honor his work.
When Catholic Extension president Father Jack Wall presented the award during Mass, Father Fredy immediately dedicated it back to his flock, whom he called the “real heroes.”
Funding for the new church is far from complete, however, so Father Fredy continues to appreciate every dollar he can generate. The Lumen Christi Award comes with a $25,000 grant to the recipient and another $25,000 to the nominating diocese, which Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah graciously donated back to the construction project. St. Anthony of Padua parish is also taking advantage of a $50,000 matching grant challenge with Catholic Extension to raise even more funds.
Despite financial setbacks and the obstacles Catholics face as a minority group in Georgia, Father Fredy radiates a spirit of positivity and hope that inspires his parishioners. At a reception following the Lumen Christi Award Mass, the deejay started playing music and Father Fredy led the charge toward the dance floor — encouraging others to join him as he celebrated with his parish family.
Thanks to your support of Catholic Extension, Father Fredy and his parishioners will continue to celebrate together and practice their faith in a new church with a place for everyone and room to grow.