“That’s 118 years that your family have been devout parishioners at Saint Teresa’s in Albany, right?” I queried as I quickly did the math in my head. I questioned further, “How do you explain your family’s longevity and commitment to Saint Teresa’s?”
Angel Bradford, Saint Teresa’s most recent Gartland Award recipient shared with me,
“It all began with my great, great Aunt Maggie Stephens. When my family came to this country they were already very devout Catholics. In fact her first English words were, ‘Where is the Catholic Church?’ My grandfather, Joe Stephens and his uncle and my great, great Uncle Pietro Stephens were charter members of the Knights of Columbus back in the 1950s. In fact, his sword still hangs over the mantel of the fireplace in our home. They led fundraisers that contributed to the building of our school by cooking up their special BBQ recipe. The women in my family adopt the priests and feed them regularly.”
Nearly five years ago, Angel, a member of the parish life committee, and her family were involved in the rededication of the newly restored church. Construction originally began in 1859 after Colonel Nelson Tift deeded to John Barry, Bishop of Savannah, one-half acre of land on Residence Street for the purpose of erecting a Catholic Church. At that time the flock was led by Father O’Reilly, who later achieved fame during the siege of Atlanta in 1864. When Father O’Reilly learned that General Sherman planned to burn the city, he met with Sherman and persuaded him to spare the churches. Father O’Reilly warned that if Sherman burned the Catholic Church, “all Catholics in the Union ranks would mutiny.” During the Civil War, the church was simply a brick shell, which was utilized as a military hospital. The original bricks, still used today, were hand-made by the slaves of Dr. Samuel Barbour on his plantation between Albany and Newton.
Angel was born and raised at Saint Teresa’s in Albany, and attended the parish school through fifth grade. She grew up to serve the city of Albany as a police officer for the past 30 years. Her work has stretched across many areas of police work including patrolling the beat; traffic patrol; drug enforcement for seven years; and investigation and training for five years. She also was captain of the Alpha Charlie shift. Her current assignment is with the Hostage Negotiation Team, which was recently renamed the Crisis Negotiation Team. Recently an armed robber barricaded himself in his girlfriend’s home requiring the intervention of the Crisis Negotiation Team. As always, Angel and her team worked toward a safe resolution, which thanks to their patience and diligence, led to an arrest without anyone being hurt.
“Angel, how did you become involved in Prison Ministry,” I asked.
Angel shared, “Dick and Belinda Hayden, fellow parishioners, invited me to join them one day at Lee State Prison in Leesburg, and I was hooked. I enjoy it.”
She shared a few stories of the inmates.
“One inmate who wants to return to school asked me if he could apply to the College of Cardinals,” she said, smiling. “One inmate (Miles) touched my heart as I became acquainted with him over time. He consistently prepared our Communion service and our readers. It was very difficult when our communication abruptly ended when he was transferred out.”
“Another inmate (Dino) has been with us for about two years now. He is a career criminal. It is difficult to watch as he has no visitors, no letters, nothing. He is the only one who knows I am a police officer, and it does not seem to interfere. He accepts full responsibility for his crimes.”
“Another inmate (who they call Puerto Rico) is a lifer who is 28 years old. He is rough, not trusting and has difficulty accepting love and understanding why anyone would want to come to visit.”
It is a challenging ministry.
Father Raymond Levreault, pastor of Saint Teresa, said, “Angel is willing to do what is needed when asked and often even when not asked. Angel assists with the Confirmation program, Family Faith Formation programs and prison ministry and she takes care of the set up for the Saturday evening Mass. She also helps train and schedule the servers, lectors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. She assists in leading ongoing formation in the parish. She is an example of how one should share his or her faith.”
Barbara Rusiecki is a freelance writer and the director of children’s religious education at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Warner Robins.