By BETTY SCHOENBAECHLER, Special Contributor | Published February 5, 2004
St. Andrew Catholic Church is known for its tremendous spirit of generosity laced with pure Catholic tradition. These qualities appeal to the 2,300 North Fulton families who worship there.
This family-oriented parish is located at 675 Riverside Road on a scenic stretch of the Chattahoochee River.
Pastor Father Frank Richardson, who was assigned to this parish this past summer, said that St. Andrew offers its members a tremendous number of ministries, with “something going on here every day and night.”
These ministries serve the needs of both parishioners and the community and have remained active despite the church’s overall drop in membership rolls due to the opening of two additional Catholic churches in the area. At one point St. Andrew was bursting at the seams with over 3,200 families but lost about 1,000 members when St. Peter Chanel Church in Roswell and St. Brigid Church in Alpharetta opened.
“We are in a rebuilding stage, and I want to try and build up the numbers again,” said Father Richardson. “I want to bring it back to the vibrant parish that it was and many people say still is.”
Father Richardson, previously the pastor of St. Thomas More Church, Decatur, leads the parish with help from parochial vicar Father Adam Ozimek and Deacons Ron Carr, William Keen, Robert Smith and Lloyd Sutter.
“We will introduce perpetual adoration starting Ash Wednesday,” Father Richardson said. “When we did this at St. Thomas More, it brought with it innumerable blessings. We are also introducing the Elijah Cup at all the Masses to pray for increased vocations.”
St. Andrew was established in June 1981, and parishioners met in a warehouse off Roberts Drive for an extended period from 1982 until 1987 when the church building officially opened. The dedication Mass on April 30, 1987, was the last official act of Archbishop Thomas Donnellan before his death.
From the outside, the church facility appears to be fairly ordinary. White stucco exterior walls and pristine landscaping connect the worship area to the offices, religious education classrooms and an enormous parish hall. The beauty of the sanctuary is barely hinted at from the outside, but once parishioners walk inside, they are enveloped in a beautiful cross-shaped place of worship with numerous stained glass windows, dramatic archways and a stirring resurrection cross hanging above the altar. The top part of the structure’s cross-shape is separated from the area behind the altar and houses a day chapel, where small weddings, funerals and baptisms take place.
The numerous stained glass windows depict significant events in the life of Christ and the church.
“The windows alternate between the Stations of the Cross, which also double for the sorrowful mysteries, and the glorious and joyous mysteries,” said Deacon Sutter. Other windows show Marian themes, such as the Immaculate Conception and the flight into Egypt, and vignettes from the life of Christ, such as Jesus working in the carpenter’s shop, the wedding feast of Cana and the Last Supper. The Ark of the Covenant and the Rose of Sharon are also represented in the window art.
In 1998 the parish began a two-phase expansion project which added a 30,000-square-foot parish hall, a two-story religious education building, cry room, courtyard and renovated office space. Funds were raised through the “Building the Church of Tomorrow” Campaign.
The church recently added several statues to previously unused corners of the sanctuary honoring four saints: St. Ignatius, St. Therese of Lisieux (the “Little Flower”), St. Peter and St. Elizabeth Seton. St. Ignatius was chosen because he was a favorite of former pastor Msgr. Paul Reynolds and St. Therese because of Msgr. Richard Lopez, who also served at the church for many years. Another former pastor, Father John Murphy, selected the other two. The statues were dedicated at the feast of St. Andrew on Nov. 30.
On that same feast day, the church began the Elijah Cup program to pray for an increase in vocations.
“Every Sunday during each Mass a consecrated chalice will be used for Communion and, after Mass, that chalice will go home with a family,” said Deacon Sutter in his homily. “It will become the focal point for an entire week, inspiring the family to pray that Jesus will call more men and women to a vocation, just as he called St. Andrew.”
He pointed out that the church has been blessed with a number of vocations, including Father Paul Williams, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Carrollton; Father Dan Fleming, pastor at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sharpsburg; Father Bryan Small, parochial vicar at All Saints Church in Dunwoody; Father John Shramko, parochial vicar at St. Peter Chanel Church; three permanent deacons and two diaconate candidates; and three other young men studying for the priesthood.
One of the most memorable aspects to Mass at St. Andrew is hearing the adult choir, led by music minister Linda Morgan. Morgan, who was drafted from the pews by then pastor Father John Ozarowski in August 1983 to play the organ, has been a member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus since 1978.
She has created a music ministry at St. Andrew that draws parishioners into the celebration of the Eucharist in a most moving manner.
“We try to not get in the way of the Mass but rather to augment the Mass,” she said. “Our music is very traditional. I choose a lot of classics—Bach, Mozart and Hayden—some contemporary and a few spirituals.”
The 55-member adult choir sings at the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass. The church also has a children’s choir for grades three through seven and a high school choir, which sings monthly at 9 a.m., a folk group that sings at the Saturday vigil and a three-octave handbell choir that plays monthly at noon.
The choir includes members who play the flute, clarinet, harp and piano. For Christmas and Easter, the church brings in additional musicians to enhance the service. St. Andrew has six cantors: Steve Asip, Sally Mrus, Melanie Swicegood, Nicole Knighton, Bernie Sotola, Sara Boyle and Jennifer Wrobleski; and two organists: Margaret Guerrein and Tim Johnson.
Each of the choirs practices weekly in the newly built choir rehearsal room that the director helped design. Prior to this addition, the choir practiced in the church and warmed up in the chapel.
“I’ve taken the adult choir on tour to Italy in 1997, and we sang for an audience with the pope,” said Morgan. “We sang at the 10:30 Mass at St. Peter’s. I took them on another tour in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. We sang in different churches and performed a novena to the Infant of Prague. I timed it so that the last day of our novena would be in the church in Prague, where the Infant of Prague is.”
The choir has recorded two CDs, one a Christmas album to raise money for their European tours, which they still have for sale. They are performing at the church monthly in a recital series that began in October and will conclude in May. On Feb. 22, the recital series will coincide with the dedication of new pipes being added to enhance the digital organ. Performances are monthly at 3 p.m. at the church.
“I think St. Andrew has kept that small parish family attitude,” said Morgan. “I know when mega churches get big you can sort of lose track of everybody, but that hasn’t happened here. I think we’ve kept that family feel. I was real concerned about my music program and choir with people moving away, but our adult choir has remained very constant. I couldn’t do anything without them. They are a very dedicated bunch.”
Morgan said the choir has a particular love for Msgr. Reynolds and claims to having a small hand in his recovery from leukemia in 2003 because of their relentless prayer for him.
“We prayed for him before every rehearsal, children and adults alike,” she said. “In fact, when he was sick in the hospital, I called him up one Wednesday night and put the phone on speaker and we sang to him. It choked him up because he could barely speak after that.”
“There is something about the people of St. Andrew,” said Trish Irving, pastoral assistant. “They have a tremendous faith and are very devout. St. Andrew is a very warm, loving place and we’ve been blessed with a lot of warm, loving priests. We are very obedient to the magisterium. When changes come out, we are on top of it to make sure we are doing things right. The people themselves simply love being Catholic. It is a place of tremendous spirit. It seems to be the people want to help one another. We’ve grown over the years and we’ve lost people to other churches. While it’s always hard to see people go, the church needs to grow. Other churches need to grow and we understand that too. The faces change, but still that feeling is there—that sense of family.”
St. Andrew has a bus that serves senior citizens living in several assisted living centers that want to come to church. The story behind the bus is testament to the generosity of the people of this parish. Before the church acquired the bus, they made do with some older model vans that were hard for the seniors to get into.
Parishioner and driver Bob Gerker made an appeal for an $80,000 bus, Deacon Sutter explained. “The first $40,000 came from people dropping pretty good-sized checks, and then someone matched whatever he collected.”
The church meets the spiritual needs of its parishioners in a number of ways. When perpetual adoration begins during Lent, the church will be well prepared because it has a long history of the devotion.
“We started having adoration on Mondays beginning back in 1995 right when the archbishop talked about it on Corpus Christi Sunday,” said Irving. “And we have adoration as often as possible, such as for the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Immaculate Heart of Mary. For the past several years we have had 40-hour devotions, and about 10 times a year we do living rosaries.”
The Monday adorations are held in the church and end with a holy hour, during which parishioners pray the rosary, a miraculous medal novena and Benediction.
“We have a nice problem in that for the past five years the number of people who come for daily Mass exceeds the capacity of our day chapel, so the church is used for Mass and the Monday adorations,” said Deacon Sutter. “The day chapel will be used for perpetual adoration once that begins Ash Wednesday.”
Eucharistic ministers from St. Andrew take Communion to about 80 sick and homebound people a week, a ministry coordinated through Irving’s office. “I try and keep in touch with the ones who need to see a priest, either because of illness or if they want to make a confession.” Many of these lay ministers are also involved in the Legion of Mary.
The Legion of Mary is a lay apostolate that provides prayer and service to the parish. “We tend to spiritual needs of parishioners through spiritual outreach,” said Linda Nielsen. “We take Communion and visit the sick and homebound parishioners, and we also make and distribute rosaries. Since this group reactivated in March through November of 2003, we have distributed close to 1,300 sacramental medals and rosaries and made 954 Communion calls.”
The organization seeks to spread devotion to Mary, serves as guardians for adoration, and helps with the sacramental preparation for both adults and children. A small group of eight active members make up to 10 home visits a week plus as many as eight visits to nursing and assisted living homes on a weekly basis. For those unable to make the commitment of at least two hours of apostolic work a week, an auxiliary membership is offered for those who wish to commit to prayer for the ministry. About 24 parishioners are auxiliary members.
“This is the most meaningful work I have ever done,” said Nielsen. “When you visit people who are very ill or lonely, and they are so pleased that you are there, it brings such joy. It’s not grandiose-type work. You spend a lot of time holding someone’s hand or saying the rosary. It is truly a wonderful experience.”
The work of the Legion is all done under the spiritual guidance of the pastor.
Another service-oriented ministry at St. Andrew is the Caring Connection. This group of approximately 25 volunteers provides transportation for people who are unable to drive themselves to doctors’ appointments. Ginny Boll coordinates this effort. “Many of the people we support are residents of an independent living center, and are living on limited means. Often they either cannot afford to maintain a car or don’t feel safe driving. This can be especially hard for someone who was once active. The centers take residents to the grocery store, but not to doctors’ appointments. Bus transportation usually does not work for these appointments, because they don’t always go to the right places.”
The volunteers are often young stay-at-home mothers who choose to serve others while their children are in Mothers’ Morning Out or at school.
For the past five years, a handful of parishioners at St. Andrew have been participating in Homestretch, a transitional housing program designed to help homeless families in the North Fulton area gain financial stability and find permanent housing.
“You don’t usually associate the homeless with North Fulton County,” said Barbara Propis, parishioner and member of the Homestretch board of directors. “But there are people in our area who are in a financial crisis.”
Homestretch was created through the Housing Initiatives of North Fulton, Inc., to provide fully furnished, rent-controlled housing for eligible working families. “This is a whole-team process where we become a support group for the family living in the Homestretch house. We serve as their mentors, teaching them to budget, and even tutor their children. About 90 percent are single moms. I got involved through a Bible study and have eight people from St. Andrew helping. In addition, we get a lot of support from the Women’s Guild and Knights of Columbus, who help with fund-raising efforts.”
St. Andrew parishioners also provide a great deal of support to the community through the Friends of St. Martin de Porres, both during the year and through the Angel Tree drive at Christmas. Kathy Rich is the main contact.
“During the year we pack 300 to 400 lunches and take them down to the Union Mission on the fourth Sunday of every month. We also have volunteers who spend the night at downtown shelters on a monthly basis,” she said.
“Our Christmas Angel Tree program is extremely popular and has been well supported for the past 14 years,” she said. “My husband helps me make up about 1,800 stars that have an item listed. I keep it very basic. No battery operated or really expensive items – just basic toys and games. All the clothing is listed by sizes rather than by ages. We try to make it so that every child will receive an item of clothing and a toy. I’ve heard that many people need shoes, and since these are hard to buy I ask for Payless Shoe certificates.”
“I think what makes it so popular is the fact we keep it simple,” she said. “I have one gentleman who brings a tricycle to church four Sundays in a row. We have people who find stuff on their own and make their own stars. There is a 96-year-old parishioner who likes to buy a baby doll every year. One lady came up here wanted to buy Legos because she had a little grandson who had passed away that had loved Legos. This is her way of remembering him, by buying Legos for someone else.”
About 15 parishioners are working with a refuge family who moved into the parish a year ago from Burundi.
“We are in touch with Catholic Social Services, and they have sent some migration staff to meet with us several times to coordinate certain circumstances,” said Irving. “This is a ministry that is very new to us and we’re not sure where it is heading, but whenever a need arises, we try to help.”
While these ministries focus on the spiritual needs of parishioners and service to the community, passing on the Catholic faith is the focus of religious education programs at St. Andrew.
Pat Stradtman is director of religious education for the church and oversees CCD, Life Teen, adult education, RCIA and RCIC. When the church membership was at its peak, about 1,100 children were enrolled in the CCD classes, but currently about 400 attend either on Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings. The school year runs from September through the first week in May, with about 80 volunteers teaching the classes using a curriculum designed by Loyola Press.
Some of the special activities for the year include the fall festival in October, a family Advent night in November, children’s Advent program in December, an eighth-grade trip to the monastery in February, family Way of the Cross in March, Good Friday children’s liturgy and parish Easter egg hunt in April.
Adult education programs at St. Andrew include several different Bible studies, a catechist formation program, brown bag seminars and a course on apologetics.
“Deacon Lloyd Sutter helped design the adult education program with the help of our pastor,” said Stradtman. “He is the adult education coordinator for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.”
“I think the one thing that really sets this parish apart is how the ministries support each other. I get tremendous support from the Mothers Ministry and the Knights of Columbus. We all pitch in to help each other do things. When I ask for help, someone immediately jumps in to do what he or she can. Each ministry doesn’t exist just for itself. We all overlap and support each other,” said Stradtman.
“We have a lot going on here and try to offer something for everyone. We try to focus on the pope’s theme for the year in many of our studies. Last year we did a lot with the rosary, trying to tie in with the pope’s message on the Year of the Rosary. This year our theme is ‘Treasure His Word.’”
The church has adult education programs every day of the week except Thursday. On Monday mornings parishioners study the Gospel, first and second readings and the Psalm for the upcoming Sunday, and on Tuesday mornings this fall the Women’s Bible Study discussed the Acts of the Apostles.
Mark Matia facilitates the Men’s Group Bible Study on Friday mornings in Spanish and English. On Friday evenings the church sponsors a film series, “The Footprints of God,” after a potluck supper.
While children attended CCD classes, parents were encouraged to attend the “First Comes Love” series on Sunday mornings that ran from Sept. 14 through Dec. 7. The facilitator-led program discussed ways to “find your family in the Church and the Trinity” and was based on a Scott Hahn book.
For the 11-week course offered on apologetics, the church uses the book, Beginning Apologetic #1: How to Explain and Defend the Catholic Faith, published by San Juan Catholic Seminars. Different parishioners and staff including Deacon Sutter, David Grubbs, Deacon Carr, Father Richardson, Irving, Kersti O’Farrell and Tom Gotschall facilitate the course. Some of the topics include: “What is Apologetics,” “The Eucharist,” Apostolic Authority: Peter and The Papacy,” “Confession” and “Prayer to the Saints/Purgatory.” The program begins with a sandwich dinner at 6:30 p.m. and ends at 8:15 each week.
Deacon Sutter recently led two “brown bag” seminars on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Second Vatican Council, each a week-long discussion during lunch. Some of the other programs include the “Catholics Returning Home” series on Monday evenings and a Christ-centered health program on Wednesday evenings.
Life Teen is a popular program at St. Andrew that serves the spiritual, educational and social needs of the church’s ninth- through 12th-grade students. Mark Rivard, who is the assistant director of religious education, coordinates the Life Teen program with the help of a volunteer core team of eight.
“The Eucharist is the center of the Life Teen program,” Rivard said. “Our 6 p.m. Mass is for the youth of the parish. The music is more contemporary in style than at the other Masses, not traditional, but a praise and worship style.” Christopher Vigil leads the Life Teen band that includes adult and teen volunteers. The band has four vocalists; one plays the keyboard while others are guitarists, percussionist and a bass player.
Teens usually sit together at the Mass and attend a Life Night afterwards. A core team of adult volunteers and Rivard plan the evening program. “We request that core team volunteers be at least age 21 and out of high school for two years,” Rivard said. “They are the ones who prepare the night. I suggest a topic and they come up with how to present it to the teens. We meet twice a month, and then again prior to Mass on Sunday to go over the night and to pray. We meet again at the end of the night for evaluation.”
About 70 teens attend Life Nights on a weekly basis. The Life Nights usually involve topics that are spiritual, educational or issues-based. Educational programs have included topics such as church history or the Bible; issues that have been discussed include teen suicide or drug and alcohol abuse.
Life Teen has a social aspect that gives teens the opportunity to make friendships within the Catholic Church. “We do some ‘just for fun’ programs where we take the kids on a social gathering to a Thrashers or Falcons game,” Rivard said. “We also have an annual Christmas gathering with a DJ where they get to socialize and dance.”
St. Andrew started a Parents for Life group about a year ago. The group meets weekly to help cook and set up for Life Nights, and then meet to discuss the same topics the teens will be talking about, but in an adult format. The goal of this program is to help encourage better communication between parents and teens.
Like their adult counterparts, St. Andrew teens are involved in helping others. “We make a bimonthly trip to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to serve in their soup kitchen. In October, our teens went ‘trick or treating’ for canned goods to help the Knights of Columbus with the thanksgiving baskets they prepared for families and seniors in need.”
Teens have the opportunity to attend four to five retreats each year and conduct several fund-raisers to help offset the cost of these programs. They just finished their annual evergreen sale and in the summer will have a car wash to help raise funds for their trip to a Catholic Work Camp.
“In summer 2004 we will be going to a work camp in Orlando that will count as a retreat and mission trip,” Rivard said. “The teens will be assigned job details, such as helping in a soup kitchen, day care or senior center, or helping restore someone’s home. They work during the day and then return in the evening to share what they’ve done. We gather for some praise and worship and discuss a topic every night.”
Another educational program St. Andrew offers is for some of the youngest members of the parish. The parish’s preschool started in 1988 as a Mother’s Morning Out program but changed to a full-scale preschool eight years ago. The program offers classes for ages one through five. Before the building additions a few years ago, the preschool shared the same classrooms as CCD classes.
“We are more of a developmental school than an academic school,” said director Carol Hastings. “That doesn’t mean we don’t do academics; it just means that we’ve learned that at this age level, children learn best through play. We want them to get the basics before going on to kindergarten, such as how to share, how to take turns, and the small skills of using scissors or glue. All of our children have gone onto kindergarten, and we’ve had parents come back to say they were well prepared. Often this is the first time a child has been away from his family except for with baby-sitters. Because we only have 145 children, we are able to work with individual families if there is a special need.”
Children in the preschool learn their basic Catholic prayers. They are taken to the chapel for a prayer service on special feast days every few months. “This is where they start to learn how to sit quietly and not play while in church,” Hastings said.
Some of the special activities during the year include a visit from firefighters in October for fire safety week, a Thanksgiving feast in November, a celebration of “The Night Before Jesus Came,” in December, a visit from some members of the Atlanta Symphony in February, St. Patrick’s Day parties in March and graduation in May.
The altar servers training program is in the process of being fine-tuned but already places a high priority on making certain the servers have adequate training and are comfortable before actually serving during the Mass. Howard Lovejoy schedules the servers for the various Masses, and the semi-annual training sessions, which are led by a deacon.
“Recently we’ve had tremendous success with our recruiting efforts and have 18 new altar servers,” Lovejoy said. “We give those interested in serving a chance to come to one of three one-hour sessions, usually after the noon Mass on Sunday. They stay for an hour and are walked through the process.”
After their training, the novices “shadow” experienced servers during the Mass at least three times. “We try to make it easy for them. They can shadow as many times as they want before they move into the position of a skilled altar server. We have three levels: skilled altar servers, master altar servers, and elite altar severs. The novice servers wear just the black cassock and have no responsibility on the altar. Once they’ve shadowed three times, they become a skilled altar server and can wear the solid white surplus. When they enter the seventh grade they become a master level, and wear the white surplus that has some embroidery.
At the priest’s discretion, a server may be considered “elite” and get to wear not only embroidery along the bottom of the surplus but also an embroidered cross on the chest. The church currently has two elite servers from a group of 68 servers (44 boys and 24 girls).
The Knights of Columbus take the servers to a Braves game every summer as a special treat. The Knights group is one of several church ministries that are both social and service-oriented, as are the Over 55 Club and Women’s Guild. St. Andrew’s also offers ministries for mothers, singles, newly married, middle school students and the bereaved.
The Women’s Guild “has its hands on just about everything that goes on in the parish,” said member Evelyn Shanni. “We’re fortunate to have eight candle stands at St. Andrew that are very popular with parishioners. The guild has taken care of them since the beginning of the parish. We order the candles and with the money we get from the candle stands, of course we buy new candles, but with the extra funds we get to help with different events that go on in the parish and give money to St. Martin de Porres.”
The Over 55 group has 89 members who meet monthly and take trips together to places like Callaway Gardens. They also help out with church-sponsored events.
The Knights of Columbus affiliated with St. Andrew is 104 members strong and very active within the parish, coordinating breakfasts, spaghetti suppers and the annual Lenten Friday fish fries.
“We are a service organization,” said Chuck Langgood, grand knight. “All of the money we raise we spend on different programs. For instance, we have an RSVP program dedicated to seminarians. We send money to help them defray their expenses. We also sponsor a priest appreciation dinner twice a year and put together baskets of food for the needy at both Christmas and Thanksgiving.”
“For the youth, we sponsor a Free Throw Contest in January and took the altar servers to a Braves game this past year. We also do the Tootsie Roll drive for the physically and mentally challenged in the state of Georgia,” he said.
“St. Andrew is a family-oriented parish,” said Abe Kassis, who is financial secretary for the Knights. “I think every pastor we’ve had has emphasized the family—the St. Andrew parish family. We are all part of a larger family.”
“The Holy Spirit is very much alive at St. Andrew,” said Boll. “Our Masses are quite traditional. The story I hear repeated most often from new members is they tried other parishes, but St. Andrew had the feel that appealed to them.”