Published December 11, 2008
Just two days after Thanksgiving, parishioners of St. Peter Chanel Church gathered together to give thanks for their new church.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the dedication Mass for St. Peter Chanel Saturday, Nov. 29, with more than 30 priest concelebrants, including the pastor, Father Frank McNamee, and Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue.
The new, Gothic-style church holds more than 1,200 people, but the evening of the dedication there was standing room only. Some parishioners arrived as early as two hours before the Mass began to secure a seat.
“People are really excited about this dedication,” Father McNamee said. “It’s a wonderful time for our parish.”
The evening also brought bittersweet news, as Archbishop Gregory announced that he had asked Father McNamee, the founding pastor at St. Peter Chanel, to become pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta in January, succeeding the late Msgr. Thomas Kenny.
But the overwhelming focus of the evening was joy and thanksgiving. Students from Queen of Angels School, adjacent to the church, began the evening with a drum roll, as the American and Vatican flags were presented and the congregation sang the National Anthem.
The choir’s opening song, “Let Us Go Rejoicing,” set an appropriate tone as the dedication began.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory spoke of the trying economic times, but said that faith is stronger than a recession.
“In the midst of this very unpredictable economic market, God’s people of St. Peter Chanel today proudly and confidently take possession of this new house for the Church. You are all too well aware of the challenges that we face at this moment in our history, yet you are not afraid to ask God’s blessing upon your efforts to designate this stunningly beautiful new space as your home for worship, your new place for prayer, and the very identifying symbol of this community as a family of faith,” he said.
A church is made of bricks and mortar, but most importantly, its people, the archbishop told the congregation.
“This new house for the church is a reminder to all of you that you are the real Church built from living stones—and far more sacred and pleasing to God than any wondrous edifice that we might ever erect—no matter how glorious that building might be.”
The archbishop then offered his praise of Father McNamee, which the congregation affirmed with a rousing standing ovation.
“Today, all of the people of St. Peter Chanel rejoice in a job well done. Yet none are happier or more enthusiastic than your pastor, Frank McNamee,” Archbishop Gregory said. “He has walked with this family of faith for the entire 10 years of its life and development. He has labored with you to achieve all that you have accomplished. Today, he rejoices not in a building—but in the people of God who have made this church possible. As his archbishop and friend—I applaud his efforts, his wisdom and his pastoral skill.”
Following the homily was the solemn prayer of dedication as parishioners knelt and sang the Litany of the Saints. Archbishop Gregory then said a prayer of consecration over the altar before pouring chrism on it. The rite of dedication continued with the anointing of the church walls and the incensing and lighting of the church.
Before Mass ended, Father McNamee thanked the many people involved in the building of the church.
St. Peter Chanel began as a mission of St. Ann Church, Marietta, in 1998, first meeting in Father McNamee’s rectory. 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.
Mission members 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 an initial church, classroom wing and office space in September 2001.
Designed by architect CDH Partners and built by contractor Van Winkle & Co. Inc., the new church, a $12 million project, has a choir loft, stained glass windows and a day chapel that seats 100. There is also a full kitchen.
“Who would have thought 10 years ago this day while we celebrated Mass in an elementary school cafeteria, that we’d be standing here today dedicating this sacred place,” Father McNamee asked the congregation. “This is a tribute to your hard work and most of all, your faith. So many people worked to make this day a reality and I thank you all.”
As he concluded the Mass, Archbishop Gregory announced that Father McNamee would be leaving St. Peter Chanel to serve as pastor of the Cathedral. Upon hearing the announcement, many in attendance gasped and several wiped away tears.
St. Peter Chanel began with just six families and has now grown to serve 2,600 families.
When Catherine Anderson registered her family of six when St. Peter Chanel first began, the mission doubled in size. Anderson recalled fondly the early days, when the entire parish population would pitch in to help.
“In the beginning, each parish member had multiple jobs. We were lectors, eucharistic ministers, parish council members, collection counters, women’s guild and men’s club officers and finance council members,” she said. “While it was rewarding to help form all of our ministries to coincide with the vision of family, it has been even more gratifying to see others who have embraced the vision drawn to our parish and to step up to take on ministry leadership roles and to help form new ministries.”
As they’ve grown, parishioners have committed to remaining a close-knit family. Anderson attributes the familial feel to Father McNamee and to his commitment to the Eucharist.
“I think one of the greatest gifts he gave us was perpetual adoration. He challenged us at the very beginning of our existence to strive for perpetual adoration. When we began adoration, conventional wisdom dictated that our parish was too small and that we could not be successful, but Father (McNamee’s) conviction that we could and, with God’s grace, would surely succeed inspired us all,” she said. “I believe that God has rewarded our faithfulness to him through adoration and our faithfulness to each other as family by keeping our parish close.”
Mary Wethern’s family was the sixth to join St. Peter Chanel. She served as a member of the dedication reception planning committee.
“It was such a bittersweet occasion,” she said. “Since it was announced at the dedication that Father (McNamee) will be moving on to Christ the King, in reflection I feel honored to be a part of the very beginning of the church and those first Masses at the rectory, planning the first women’s retreat, then coming full circle with the planning of the reception.”
She, too, attributed the closeness of the parish to Father McNamee and expressed her sadness at his departure.
“We are very sad to have Father McNamee leave St. Peter Chanel. It is like having a family member move away, leaving an emptiness in our hearts,” she said. “He has such a gift and true devotion to our Lord and Blessed Mother that another flock deserves to receive. Christ the King is so blessed to be getting such a wonderful pastor.”