By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published November 12, 2009
St. Clement Church joins three other parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta celebrating silver anniversaries in 2009. However, the Calhoun community celebrated a double milestone, also marking 50 golden years since it began as a mission.
Nearly 700 people filled the Calhoun Civic Center as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory presided over an anniversary Mass there on Sept. 13. Concelebrants included the current pastor, Father Joseph Shaute, and a former pastor, Father Jim Henault, representing LaSalette priests who served the parish for decades.
In the congregation were new parishioners with little ones in tow and even a few of the original members of the mission.
In 1959 the Diocese of Atlanta was “a toddler church,” Archbishop Gregory said, but even then there was “great potential in Calhoun.”
“You have grown into a wonderful community,” he affirmed.
The church’s history had humble beginnings with five original families gathering for Mass in the old WEBS radio station building starting in 1958. Redemptorist priests from the mission’s mother parish of St. Joseph’s in Dalton guided the newly blossoming Catholic community.
Lewis DiPrima and his wife, Dorothy, were among the original parishioners at the anniversary Mass. They have seen many changes over the decades.
“I moved to Calhoun in 1959. At that time St. Clement’s Mass was being held on the floor above the original WEBS radio location,” wrote DiPrima in the parish bulletin. “You could hear the Protestant preachers preaching on the radio at the same time we were listening to our priest’s sermon.”
Although he was new to the community, DiPrima felt positive about Calhoun’s prospects for growth. He asked the pastor at the time if they had a building fund for a church.
“He enthusiastically said, ‘We do now,’” DiPrima recalled.
He was put in charge of fundraising and searching for a new location.
The Catholic mission moved several times, to the Calhoun First National Bank community room, the Methodist church and finally a house on Georgia Highway 41 South. It wasn’t until 1969 that they were able to break ground for St. Clement’s original church and parish hall, dedicated on Dec. 7, 1969 by Atlanta Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan. St. Clement was transferred from the care of the Redemptorists to the LaSalettes in the late 1960s also.
LaSalette Father Joseph Lotus, one of the first LaSalettes to serve the Calhoun community, wrote a note of appreciation to the founding fathers in the church dedication program.
“To the Redemptorist Fathers, who came to St. Joseph’s Parish in Dalton in 1942 and under whose spiritual guidance St. Clement’s became an established and permanent mission on the feast of Christ the King in 1958 … we express our appreciation for their dedication and service to the people of God until 1967.”
In 1984 St. Clement, then comprised of more than 100 families, applied for parish status. That year they received what they had prayed for as LaSalette Father Michael Flanagan was assigned as the first pastor of the newly decreed parish.
“The seeds of the Catholic faith were planted in Bartow and Gordon counties back in 1949 when Mass was celebrated in a log cabin used by the Calhoun Women’s Club,” said Archbishop Donnellan in St. Clement’s decree of establishment.
The LaSalettes guided the parish for the next several decades, shaping St. Clement into a strong family of faith.
Father Shaute first experienced the LaSalette community in Georgia during his time as a parishioner of St. Ann Church in Marietta. He immediately recognized the order’s dedication to building a close-knit community, a characteristic that was, and still is, present in Calhoun.
“They did a lot of relational ministry. They were great at building relationships with their church members, with their flock, and building communities that had a sense of unity and connection and togetherness.”
In this anniversary year, St. Clement is home to over 750 families in this small city an hour north of Atlanta.
“The faith started with just a small seed, and now it’s having great fruits,” said Father Shaute. “It’s become such an active, vibrant parish community.”
Now under the direction of its diocesan priest, the parish diversity has also grown, especially during the mid-1990s when members of the Hispanic Catholic community began arriving in the area, according to Father Shaute.
This was evident at the Sept. 13 anniversary Mass as Anglo and Hispanic musicians provided music for the celebration and young families, both Anglo and Hispanic, participated in the bilingual responses.
The Mass was not the only anniversary celebration of the parishioners of St. Clement Church. The preceding night was a dinner and dance, featuring gourmet food and the Dexter Thomas Band.
The joyous attitude carried over to the next day where again the community gathered to celebrate at the altar table. They were reminded of their roots but also gazed into a promising future.
With the population of the parish and Calhoun continuing to increase, the parish has decided to rent four trailers for classrooms and for storage space. The cost of building a new church is staggering, but the needs are pressing.
“This decision was not made casually and was made with a view to address current and future needs,” Father Shaute wrote to his parishioners. “This decision benefits the whole parish—it addresses the needs for more on-site classrooms and storage while also allowing us to use the parish hall and café for more social and family events.”
Archbishop Gregory encouraged the parish to draw strength from their history for the challenges ahead.
“Anniversaries are a moment to look forward” as well as to be thankful for the past, the archbishop said. “We must all be willing to accept the future that God holds open for all of us.”
“The challenges and difficulties you have faced have made you stronger,” Archbishop Gregory told the crowd. “Without the struggles there is no possibility for triumph.”