Published July 1, 2004
The growing Catholic community in Dawsonville broke ground May 30 for its first building at the site where its future church will be constructed.
Christ Redeemer Mission, formed in March 1982 as a mission of St. Luke Church in Dahlonega, has established its church home at 991 Kilough Church Road, just off Georgia 400.
The street is just beyond the intersection of Georgia 400 and Highway 53 where the North Georgia Premium Outlets draw shoppers and where what used to be rural is now the developing northern edge of the Atlanta metropolitan area. There are 49 miles of Lake Lanier shoreline along the southeastern border of Dawson County and Kilough Church Road leads right to the banks of the lake.
Dawson County is steadily growing, according to its Chamber of Commerce. The population more than tripled between 1980 and 2000. It ranks 37 among the 100 fastest growing counties in the United States according to an April 2004 report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau, with a population jump of 16 percent between 2000 and 2003. There were 18,575 county residents as of July 1, 2003.
The church site of more than eight acres is adjacent to the brand new Kilough Elementary School, where Christ Redeemer Mission now gathers each Sunday for 9 a.m. Mass. The school’s principal and staff have made this a hospitable place for the Catholic community, parishioners say.
Msgr. Stephen Churchwell, pastor in Dahlonega and Dawsonville, celebrated Mass in the school before the community walked out to the site for the ground-breaking. About 190 people attended.
“It is really exciting to watch it growing,” said Michelle Nelson, who joined the community with her husband, Thomas, a captain in the U.S. Army, and their two young daughters, a year ago.
“We love the small nature of the church. The people are just so welcoming here,” she said, as Katie, 7, and 1-year-old Emma enjoyed the mud at the building site.
Nelson, whose husband is a company commander at the Army Ranger School in Dahlonega, is a volunteer catechist for Christ Redeemer’s growing parish school of religion.
“When we got here, we seemed to be the youngest couple here,” she said. “Now we’re one of many.”
Richard Bradfield, who is president of the parish council and architect for the project, said the property was purchased from the county school board after it was determined that they had surplus acreage that would not be needed for Kilough Elementary School. The land was purchased outright by Christ Redeemer Mission and is paid for in full. A Mass of blessing was celebrated there Aug. 15, 2001. The community is now beginning to discuss raising funds for phase two of the building project, which will include the construction of the church sanctuary.
The first phase is a multipurpose building of approximately 5,000 square feet, which should be ready by Thanksgiving, the pastor said.
“They are doing a phase-one project,” said Dennis Kelly, project manager from Catholic Construction Services, Inc. “This is a single, free-standing building that will eventually be a wing to a future building. They will build this and move in. They have a nice building that’s been designed. They have a nice lot.”
Architects for the project are Bradfield, Richards, Rhodes & Associates of Sandy Springs and the general contractor is Lusk Associates of Alpharetta.
Before acquiring this site, the mission was located on Highway 9 in Dawsonville, where Mass was celebrated from December 1992 until August 2003 in a building that was purchased and renovated by parishioners themselves over a period of eight and a half months. However, the Kilough Church Road site is believed to be a better location for growth and expansion, Kelly said.
“All of the growth in Dawson County is in the southeast corner of the county. There are lots of new housing developments there,” Msgr. Churchwell observed.
When he became the pastor in 2002, succeeding Father Ed Danneker, the site had already been acquired and since then the church plans have been developed. The new location appears to have attracted people, he observed, because of its proximity to new subdivisions and shopping areas. Some people are coming from Forsyth and Hall counties also.
“We left the old facility in August 2003 and had something like 52 families. We have closer to 95 families now,” Msgr. Churchwell said. “It’s easier for some people. They hear about it and they have an idea where it is.”
The mission originally gathered at the Dawsonville Library to celebrate Mass and for a decade, from 1982 to 1992, was based at the Dawsonville United Methodist Church. The late Father John Henley was the first diocesan pastor in Dahlonega and Dawsonville after St. Luke’s was established by Glenmary priests.
The multipurpose building will have seating for 240 people and a choir of 20. The altar is being built by members of the church. When phase two of the construction is undertaken, the sanctuary is planned to seat 400 people with transepts each capable of seating 100 more, Bradfield said. In addition, religious education classrooms, a fellowship hall, a nursery/cry room, and offices are part of the plan.
Christ Redeemer Mission already has committees for liturgy, adult education, children’s education, social events, welcoming, finance, building, prayer and care, and a men’s club, as well as a parish council.
For additional information about Christ Redeemer Church call (706) 265-1361.