Read the Rev. Fabio Sotelo's letter to the congregation -- My last note: Blessings and happy memories
Farewell to Father
What: Celebration for the Rev. Fabio Sotelo
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Pastoral Center, 622 Shallowford Road, Gainesville.
More info: 770-534-3338
After serving families in Gainesville for the last five years, the Rev. Fabio Sotelo decided it was time to take care of his own family back home in Colombia.
Sotelo, who has been the head priest at St. Michael Catholic Church for five years, said it took him about a year to make his decision.
"My heart is broken, I love my people," Sotelo said. "I really love the community, I love Gainesville and I have met wonderful friends around here."
But Sotelo added that his family needs him at this time and he has the chance to take the time off since he has been in the Catholic Church for 11 years.
"I was born in Colombia so my parents are there and my siblings — I am one of 12," he said. "My father is 84 and my mother is 79, and my father has been very ill, age and heart complications. I don’t know what is his future, but I felt it was necessary for me to go and spend a little bit of time with them."
Sotelo will take a six-month leave but still will serve the local churches in some way in Chiquinquira, Colombia.
"It’s a very religious and very Catholic village; we have a huge basilica there," he said. "Many people go to that city for the pilgrimage."
During his five years at St. Michael, he has seen substantial growth. A new pastoral center has been built, which is a 13,000-square-foot facility located in the Blue Ridge Shopping Center. Confessions and processions have been steadily increasing.
"There has been tremendous growth, we’ve gone from seven to 12 masses," Sotelo said. "We extended our services to the hospital; we have a mass there because of the new expansion. We expanded our services to the detention center. Then we opened the pastoral center. To me, it’s like a new church; we went from zero to 3,000 families.
"It’s such a blessing to see people growing in the faith. This is a holy ground, many beautiful things we have experienced during the last five years ... and for me, all of them have the presence of the Lord. You wouldn’t have any of them without the Lord."
Jim Beaubien, a longtime member of the church who serves as technical support, said that he will miss Sotelo.
"He’s helped the church greatly; he expanded the attendance of Catholics in mass," he said, pointing out Sotelo’s help in creating the pastoral center on Shallowford Road. "There’s a lot of people that go to mass there that weren’t going at all."
Beaubien said that Sotelo’s leaving is something that the Catholic Church goes through from time to time.
"Our experience in the Catholic Church is that this happens periodically and it always comes as a surprise," he said. "We always hate to see the pastor go because we all get used to them, and we welcome the new (pastor) — he brings in a new perspective."
St. Michael is Sotelo’s fourth church assignment and he will welcome the Rev. Jaime Barona into his former position, from St. Matthew Catholic Church in Winder. Sotelo had a big part in Barona’s appointment to St. Michael; he was asked to give a list of three possible replacements to the Atlanta Archdiocese archbishop, the Rev. Wilton Gregory, and Barona was on that list.
"This is one of the greatest blessings for me," he said. "(Barona) is a very good friend of mine ... he went to seminary two years before me."
After Sotelo’s six months in Colombia, he will likely be placed at a church in Georgia.
"I asked the bishop if he wanted to assign me or go study," Sotelo said. "It seems to me that he will send me to another parish."