Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Roswell Parish ‘Digs’ For New Worship Space

Published October 12, 2006

Guided by a construction worker, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory manned a backhoe loader and extended its mighty claw to scoop out a big chunk of dirt during a groundbreaking ceremony for permanent worship space at St. Peter Chanel Church, and then little boys ran up to rake their fingers through the raw earth.

The archbishop earned cheers from parishioners during the ceremony marking the beginning of construction of a new church at the parish on Woodstock Road.

Held on a muggy Sunday afternoon Sept. 24, the liturgy was followed by a parish picnic with a cake a parishioner prepared depicting the new building with iced bricks. About 2,000 gathered for the event, complete with blue balloons and gleaming golden shovels.

Deacon Mike Bickerstaff said that the burgeoning, 2,200-family parish, with 1,300 children in its religious education program, “desperately needs more space.” The parish has surpassed its projected growth every year since it began in 1998. It is part of a campus of Catholic facilities, including Blessed Trinity High School, Queen of Angels Elementary School and St. George Village.

“We’re experiencing very rapid growth. … It’s going to bring about an even higher excitement than we already have. We also need more space for parish functions, dinners, fellowship gatherings and adult education. We’ve outgrown all the space with the use of the entire high school on Sunday mornings for the parish school of religion,” the deacon said.

“It’s really gratifying to see people responding the way they are responding to the capital campaign,” he added. “It’s so important to have a permanent church because the church is set apart for worship, to have adoration in a sacred space. The sacred actions of the priests acting as the presence of Christ … makes present to us the sacrifice of Calvary, the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. That deserves a home that is fitting of almighty God … a space where our internal selves can be lifted up as we participate in the heavenly liturgy.”

The church began as a mission of St. Ann’s, Marietta, in 1998, first meeting with six families in the rectory of the new administrator, Father Frank McNamee; by November 1998 they met in the cafeteria at Roswell North Elementary School, as construction began for Queen of Angels, the first building completed on the Woodstock Road property in 1999.

The mission began to celebrate weekend Masses in the Catholic school’s gymnasium in September 1999, and a building committee was formed the next year to plan for the church on the same campus. They moved into their current church, classroom wing and office space the weekend of Sept. 11, 2001.

The current church, which seats 750, will be converted into a parish hall. Until now the parish has been using the schools’ cafeterias for social functions when available. The new church will have a Gothic brick exterior and will seat 1,300. The new church will have a choir loft, stained glass windows, and a day chapel seating 100. There will also be a full kitchen. Construction is expected to begin in November or December and take about 14 months. The architect is CDH Partners and the contractor is Van Winkle & Co., Inc. They had previously raised $4.5 million and have now reached half of their current $6 million fundraising goal, which will enable them to fund this $12 million project with minimal debt.

As the groundbreaking began, rain clouds amassed and members of the Blessed Trinity band opened the service with a drum roll. Parishioners sang, “Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live … built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; here the love of Christ shall end divisions.”

Old and New Testament readings spoke of Christ as the cornerstone of faith and the call of the faithful to let themselves be built into a spiritual house and to establish a solid foundation on rock through him, able to withstand the floods of life.

The archbishop affirmed the words of the psalmist in opening remarks. “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor. Whenever we look to the interests of our neighbor or the community and serve them, we are, in a sense, God’s own coworkers. Let us pray for his help through this celebration … that God will bring this construction to successful completion.”

In his homily the archbishop thanked all project supporters, including Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue, under whose leadership the parish began. He affirmed the strong faith and love of God of parishioners.

“You are the foundation of a community rich in faith and anchored in its Catholic identity. You are the foundation of this parish through your devotion and love for Christ, through your support. … Your faith is the foundation of this new venture. In the church that will be built on this very location here all will enjoy a rich and wonderful location and serve the community for many, many years. You will be these pioneer parishioners who are spoken of in words of gratitude and thanksgiving.”

Father McNamee, the pastor, invited attendees to reflect upon how they or their family members may be married in the new church, receive the sacrament of the sick for illness of mind and body, receive first Communion and other important spiritual events there. “This ground will be transformed and made holy. This ground will become a wellspring of salvation.”

The pastor thanked the congregation for their generous support and made a promise to the archbishop.

“We have a lot of work here at St. Peter Chanel to do. We have a little money to raise, just a little, but I know the faith of this family at St. Peter Chanel. Many families have made great sacrifices to our capital campaign. I know the faith of St. Peter Chanel, and I want to assure you that in two years you will be back here to dedicate this church,” he said, adding, “I try not to lie to an archbishop.”

Rain managed to hold off throughout the festivities, and after the liturgy the children flocked to the athletic field and practiced throwing a football through a target and leaping in jumping castles. Volunteers swirled up servings of pink and blue cotton candy. Parishioners entered drawings for prizes like prime parking spots for Christmas Masses, and Clydesdale horses pulled children in a carriage around the campus where tree leaves were highlighted with yellow splashes.

As her young children played, parishioner Anne Barnes expressed joy to see the project underway, noting that now if her family arrives late for Sunday Mass they have to stand. In her five years at the parish she has become an active member and volunteers with the perpetual adoration ministry. Participating in a “Christ Renews His Parish” religious retreat and formation program has deepened her faith and sense of belonging in the parish community.

“Christ Renews His Parish was a turning point for me. It’s a 12-week program, and I really put my heart and soul into it in terms of delving a lot deeper into my faith, getting to the root and core of it,” she said.

She also teaches religious education to first-graders and is pleased if the youngsters can bless themselves, know the liturgical colors and grasp some basic faith concepts by the end of the year. She and her family feel that SPC truly is like a family.

“ I’ve participated in a lot of things. You get a lot back from the effort you put in. I’ve gotten a lot spiritually and emotionally from the parish,” she said. “I made a lot of friends through social outlets, and that made me want to join more in the spiritual (programs).”

Parishioner Carlos Alvarez watched his daughter lead her reluctant younger brother over to a jumping castle. He appreciates that the school of religion extended the children’s religious education by 15 minutes, as he wants his children to have the same foundation that he received growing up in Catholic schools. “As they only get it once a week I like that they extended it.”

“We try to participate as much as we can. We are … helping in the capital campaign program” by assisting in mailing information out to parishioners, he said. “We really enjoy the parish, my wife and I. We have opinions about different things, but I look at what St. Peter Chanel is trying to do and what Father Frank is trying to accomplish. … They have a lot to offer … enough variety.”

Deacon Bickerstaff is honored to be the first diaconate vocation to come out of the young parish. He described parishioners as committed to growth in faith and willing to take risks; he is focused on expanding religious education for adults. The parish recently held a two-day Jeff Cavins’ Bible overview seminar that attracted more volunteers than needed and some 550 participants, including teens, who couldn’t stop talking about it. “Since coming to this parish, I felt myself being drawn more and more to an active faith life and to be part of this community. I attribute a lot of that to Father Frank, who inspires people to give their best and go beyond what is comfortable,” he said. It’s the “spiritual leadership of Father Frank and a group of people more focused on discerning and following God’s will and who have the inclination and courage to do what God asks them and step out and do that. All the contributions and risks are just amazing. … It’s got to be the Holy Spirit.”

Father McNamee is pleased to see parishioners interested in programs fostering spiritual growth. One fruitful ministry is perpetual adoration, which has been underway since 2001.

“SPC has been referred to as traditional, and I think a lot of people like that. People feel very comfortable at SPC,” said the native of Ireland. “It’s a young, very vibrant parish and (has) lots of activities and things for people to connect to for spiritual growth.”

He’s also buoyed up in the challenging building project by his parishioners’ faithful stewardship.

“The response from the parish has been overwhelming, and the generosity and commitment has been a tremendous sign of the faith and spirit for the project,” he said.

The pastor knows that there will be much ministry expansion ahead, but for now “my task is to get the church built and figure out the parking.”

“It’s an exciting time for the parish. We’re ready to do this. Parishioners are committed to it. We need to do it. It’s a tremendous challenge for the future, but the response is tremendous. … We share a campus with Queen of Angels and Blessed Trinity, and the church is the heart of the campus, and we want to reflect that.”