WASHINGTON -- Long before she burst into the public spotlight delivering her inauguration poem, Amanda Gorman got a standing ovation from fellow parishioners of St. Brigid Church in Los Angeles for reciting a poem she wrote about the parish.
And on Jan. 20, at the inauguration ceremony of President Joe Biden, parishioners watching this young woman on their TV screens -- addressing political leaders and the nation at large about courageously rebuilding the country -- applauded her all the more.
Floy Hawkins, former director of religious education at the parish for over 20 years, said her phone did not stop ringing after the inauguration, with friends asking if she saw, heard or knew about Gorman's role.
Even though they were thrilled for Gorman, parishioners of the historically Black church didn't see her performance as a "solo act," because Gorman has always been at the parish with her twin sister, Gabrielle, and her mom.
St. Brigid's pastor, Josephite Father Kenneth Keke, also didn't just see Gorman in that moment but felt she represented the entire parish in South Central Los Angeles, which now also has a growing number of Latinos, Filipinos and white parishioners too.
"We are a community; everyone here is important," the priest said. "Whatever belongs to the parish belongs to everyone; in our parish, the success of anyone is the success of all."
It's also the pride of all.
"Parishioners are very much proud of her," the priest, from Nigeria, told Catholic News Service Jan. 22. "She is a very, very intelligent young lady. The first time I saw her, I knew that one day she was going to be very important."
As adolescents, Gorman and her sister went through a two-year training program at the parish and then received the sacraments of baptism, first Communion and confirmation on the same day.
When she graduated from high school to attend Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Gorman received a scholarship donation from the parish. The pastor said she always returned to the church when she visited home.
In recent months, he hasn't seen Gorman, who graduated last year, but he also hasn't seen many of his parishioners due to coronavirus Mass restrictions.
Hawkins, in her role at the parish which numbered 750 families before the pandemic, was impressed by the Gorman sisters from the start, saying they were brilliant intellectually and socially with quiet but confident personalities.
Gorman, who had been writing and developing her own style since she was a young girl, was named the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles at 16, and it was around that time she wrote the St. Brigid's poem that she recited at the end of a Mass commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The parish assistant choir director, knowing of Gorman's work, had asked her to consider doing it.
The parish is planning to celebrate Gorman's achievement in some small way soon and in a bigger way once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
"She is definitely a light, an inspiration to us all," said Hawkins, who said the current buzz around Gorman simply validates who she is and will take her further than she ever imagined. She also has no doubt Gorman will continue to courageously move forward, but not alone.
"She takes God with her," she said.
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