Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
Members of the St. Catherine Laboure Church building, finance and parish council committees join their pastor Father Joseph Liem Nguyen and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory in turning over the dirt on the site where their new church will be built.


Commerce Mission Digs In For New Church

By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published September 11, 2008

The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time was no ordinary day for the parishioners of St. Catherine Laboure Church. The Catholic community attended Mass Aug. 31 with celebrant Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and then a groundbreaking ceremony to begin construction of a new church.

The community of St. Catherine Laboure had its beginnings nearly 20 years ago when Father Jack Druding, then pastor of St. Mary Church, Toccoa, was given responsibility for a 15-family mission church in Jackson County. The humble and close-knit community began meeting in storefronts until it moved to its current space in Commerce.

During the last several years, the congregation has more than doubled, and in 1993 St. Mary’s mission moved to its current location, a former Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall along State Street, and was renamed St. Catherine Laboure, after the French nun through whom Catholics were given the Miraculous Medal devotion.

But the growth of the church has not dampened its familial atmosphere. A friendly hello or good morning can be heard as parishioners greet each other by name before Mass or as many of the young children run to hug and greet Deacon Dale Lister.

Father Paul Flood, former pastor of the mission community, attended the day’s festivities and said he remembers well the “great spirit” one witnesses when entering the small sanctuary of St. Catherine Laboure.

“It is something that is hard to find in many larger parishes,” he said following Mass.

But the journey of St. Catherine Laboure has not been without its struggles. At one point in the early ‘90s, as the mission community was growing rapidly, the congregation purchased a second space in a retail strip center for CCD classrooms. Many in the community worked hard to spruce up the space, which shared a parking lot with a pool hall and pizza parlor.

(Clockwise from right) Building committee member Betty Lou Martin stands under a tent on the groundbreaking site with her granddaughters, eight-year-old Sophia and three-week-old Sally LaMar, and her daughter Tammy LaMar. Martin is the daughter of the late Sally Grubbs, a longtime executive assistant to five of Atlanta’s archbishops over a span of 40 years. Photo By Michael Alexander

The challenges the community has endured were addressed by Archbishop Gregory during his homily. The archbishop spoke of suffering and its place in the life of a Christian.

“Being a disciple of the Lord means taking up your cross and following Jesus’ pattern of suffering and death as the way to enter eternal life,” he said. “The sacrifice of Christ is at the heart of God’s plan for salvation. The altar in the church reminds us that each of us is called by baptism to accept the crosses that are ours.”

However, there are many encouraging things to be found in suffering, Archbishop Gregory added.

“For the disciple of the Lord, such suffering can be a vehicle for life when it is graciously accepted,” he said. “When we see people of great courage and deep faith endure their own suffering, we are encouraged by the greatness of their character. Our greatest witness, of course, is the Lord himself.”

Following Mass, car pools and caravans traveled several miles to the new property, where tents and refreshments were set up to provide a sanctuary from the sweltering Georgia sun.

The parishioners gathered around a roped-off area where the groundbreaking would take place and listened to a prayer.

“While you are building a new church, it will be just a building without you … without your faith,” the archbishop said.

Following the formal groundbreaking, members of the congregation pose for a photo with clergy on the construction site for the new St. Catherine Laboure Church, Jefferson. Photo By Michael Alexander

Then, donning hardhats and picking up shovels, Archbishop Gregory, along with St. Catherine Laboure pastor Father Joseph Liem Nguyen and members of the building committee, struck the earth in the ceremonial act of the groundbreaking.

“I know how to play in the dirt,” Archbishop Gregory joked just before removing a shovelful of dirt from the ground.

Holly Hilton, a 15-year-old who attends St. Catherine Laboure with her parents and 13-year-old twin brothers, has been a parishioner for five years. She thought it was “really cool” that the archbishop came to be a part of this important time in the community’s history.

“It doesn’t happen too often because it is such a small parish, or was,” she said.

St. Catherine Laboure’s new facilities are a long time coming, according to many of its parishioners. The community has grown significantly, especially over the last few years, and often finds its Masses celebrated with standing room only. Currently the worship space seats 125 but congregations of more than 150 are common.

Joanna Castaneda has seen the large growth since she became a parishioner three years ago. She and her husband, Epic, and her 14-month-old child, Briana, are excited about the new facilities that will be built for the community.

“They have a lot of new parishioners,” she said. “I think it is great that they are building a new church.”

Planned on a 10.7-acre property, the new church will feature a 4,700-square-foot interior with room for 280 people, as well as a 1,800-square-foot narthex, five classrooms, a warming kitchen and offices.

Melody Stancil, right, joins the Catholic community of St. Catherine Laboure in praying the Our Father. Stancil has been a member of the Jackson County church for six years. Photo By Michael Alexander

A representative of the builder, Beeco Construction Co., was present at the groundbreaking to show parishioners a plan and answer questions.

Final plans also include a vesting room, a conference room, a bride’s room and a full-sized sacristy.

Betty Lou Martin, a parishioner of St. Catherine Laboure for more than six years, feels happy that the congregation is responding to the growth.

“It is a long time overdue,” she said. “It is such a wonderful community and has grown by leap and bounds.”

She said many of the parishioners felt the need for more of a “church atmosphere” and she believes this will help the community become even closer.

Once construction begins, it is expected to take between seven and eight months to complete, depending on weather and the availability of labor and materials. But in the meantime, hopeful anticipation has captured the close-knit community.

“I’m really looking forward to a new church,” said Hilton.

“They deserve it,” said Father Flood.