Published January 18, 2007
When St. Anna’s Church was formally dedicated in 1957, it was the first rural mission in the new Atlanta Diocese.
Parishioners had taken a unique hands-on approach to construct the white frame chapel by raising funds through a magazine subscription drive, and through their hard work, the first Mass was celebrated in the new chapel on Dec. 8, 1956.
Fifty years later, parishioners gathered in that same space to celebrate their anniversary Dec. 9, 2006.
Father Tony Curran, first pastor of the parish, celebrated the Mass and served as the homilist. Other former pastors and priests from the archdiocese concelebrated, including Msgr. R. Donald Kiernan, who celebrated that first Mass in 1956, and current pastor, Father Dan Toof.
Parishioner Catherine Melton moved to Monroe in 1949. At the time, there were only three Catholics in Monroe, she said, herself, Dot Briscoe and Claude Friend Wellborn. Since there was no Catholic church in Monroe, they went to Athens to attend Mass at St. Joseph’s Church, until 1954, when the first Mass was celebrated in Walton County at the Walton Electric Membership Corporation building by then-Father Walter J. Donovan, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church.
“We had to set up a folding altar and chairs before Mass and store them afterward,” Melton recalled in a letter about her memories of St. Anna’s history. “By this time we had several families coming from Lawrenceville and Winder. We were in this location about six months when we moved into an unoccupied house belonging to the American Legion.”
Through the magazine subscriptions and donations, Melton and her fellow parishioners raised $950 needed to buy the land for the church. In 1972, Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan elevated the mission to a parish.
Today, the parish is home to around 400 families, said Father Toof, who has served as pastor for five years.
“It’s a very vibrant parish. We have a lot of interesting characters that are very devout in a practical way,” Father Toof said, adding that parishioners are quick to put their faith into action by serving the local community.
The pastor said that the church is in a time of “great growth and transition” having recently purchased 13 and a half acres to build a new church.
“We’re going to grow rapidly, but we’re going to work very hard to maintain the small intimacy that we have here,” he said. “We’re a very close family. The love is palpable here. People always say how warm, friendly and lovable St. Anna’s is.”
The Mass honored Melton, the only living founder of the first three members, John Briscoe, the first altar server whose connection with the community began in 1946, and two couples long dedicated to the parish, Deacon Jerry and Peggy Connell, who joined in 1963, and Bob and LaVerne Fangman, who joined in 1961. Deacon Connell became the first deacon in the parish when he was ordained in 1987.