Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Fire Destroys St. Paul The Apostle Church

By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published April 29, 2004

An early morning blaze destroyed the building that encompasses the worship space, social hall and classrooms at St. Paul the Apostle Church April 26.

According to White County Fire Chief Sam Henderson, the fire broke out around 2:30 a.m. When the first team of firefighters responded, the front part of the building was fully involved in flames, he said.

The fire was “under control very quickly,” Henderson said, and was suppressed within an hour and half. Helen Highway/State Highway 75 was shut down for about two hours while firefighters battled the blaze.

The building is a complete loss, Henderson said. There were no civilian or firefighter injuries.

Father Thad Rudd, administrator of the mission, said he was awakened at 3 a.m. by a call from the fire dispatcher and immediately went to the scene to find the church fully engulfed.

“It was a real fire; everything is gone,” he said.

The cause of the fire was under investigation at press time. The White County Fire Department in cooperation with the state Fire Marshall’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the White County Sheriff’s Office will investigate the fire. The other offices are involved because this is the protocol for a church fire.

“We are all saying, and we do believe, that it was an accident,” Father Rudd said.

Parishioners broke ground for a new church in late November 2003. The new building is currently under construction. The building that was destroyed was built by hand in 1983 by Glenmary priests, who then administered the mission, and parishioners. Prior to its dedication, St. Paul’s faithful gathered in a funeral home, a Methodist Church, and several different houses.

Before the fire nearly 200 families would squeeze into the tiny church that was divided from the social hall by a movable wall during four Masses each Sunday.

The new church, designed by Cleveland architect Bob Kirkland, will seat nearly 400 and is designed after an 18th century church in New Jersey, built in Prairie-Gothic style.

In an interview just hours after the fire, Father Rudd said parishioners had been stopping by all morning.

“The older parishioners—those who have been here a long time—have a tear in their eye,” he said.

Father Rudd said that for the time being, they will celebrate Mass in the basement of the church thrift store, known as “The Attic,” and that within 90 days he hopes that a metal building will be in place where the church was destroyed.

“The church was burned down,” he said. “We have no choice now but to make lemonade out of lemons.”