Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Andrew Nelson
Altar servers assemble in the narthex, as they wait for the Mass to begin. Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama was the principal celebrant for the Mass of dedication.


New St. Catherine Labouré ‘a sign of love’

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 24, 2009

Years of dreaming and planning ended Sunday, Dec. 6, as Catholics crowded the new church of St. Catherine Labouré Mission for its dedication.

The slathering of the wooden altar and blessing of the walls of the building with blessed oil by Bishop Luis R. Zarama were part of the two-hour ceremony.

“You need to feel proud of what you did. What you did is a sign of love. You honor God with this beautiful church,” said Bishop Zarama.

As part of the dedication ritual, the sweet smell of incense filled the church and sacristans carried the altar cloth up the aisle to the waiting bishop and priests. Members of the Knights of Columbus in plumed caps were also in attendance.

“I’m like a proud papa, even though I have only been here a few months,” said Father Terry Crone, pastor of St. Mary Church, Toccoa, and administrator of the mission.

“This is just great. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it,” said Peggy Brownlee, whose husband, Joe, sang in the choir. She said they were a military family for many years, and it was the first time they had seen a dedication.

“The bishop is a doll,” she said.

The Brownlees joined the mission about 15 years ago, when they were among 30 families in the congregation. She said in the past the church community was largely older, retired people, but she expects to see more families in the pews now.

Steve Matthews, the leader of the building committee, basked in the completed project.

“I don’t know who was smiling more, the bishop or myself,” he said after the dedication.

St. Catherine Labouré in Jefferson was dedicated on Sunday, Dec. 6. It is a mission of St. Mary Church, Toccoa. Photo By Andrew Nelson

Church members said they expect the mission to continue to attract Catholics who in the past drove to Winder or Athens because of nicer facilities for religious education there or room to sit in larger Catholic churches.

Matthews said the number of families at the mission has jumped above 200 since the construction ended.

“I’m sure we stole some of these from other parishes,” he said.

“At the moment we are still a mission church. Our goal is to become parish. Hopefully, it is the same goal the archdiocese has,” said Matthews, a parishioner for seven years.

David Boring, a longtime parishioner and a member of the planning committee, said local builders saved the community money on the project.

“We had a lot of help and we were able to do a lot more than we planned,” he said.

Boring works in the building industry, specializing in customized woodwork. He was responsible for much of the church’s design. He said it took a lot of time to get the church to match parishioners’ desires.

“It was a calling to me. Somehow I felt like I was trained for this moment,” he said.

Gothic designs can be found in the church. The arched clear windows look out onto trees. The vaulted ceiling comes together in a cross, which is a classical design. Boring designed doors to incorporate stained glass windows featuring bread and wine that were brought from the mission’s former church. A large red oak Gothic piece decorates the wall behind the altar.

Some 290 people can sit in the pews, more than double the seating in the old church. The building has administrative offices and five classrooms. In the gathering space is a picture of St. Catherine with her vision of the Virgin Mary and a small statue of the saint. The campus includes about 10 acres, which is set aside for future growth.

Building the church cost about $1.3 million, Matthews said.

Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama commended Steve Matthews, the building committee chair, for the work done by the mission members and the committee to construct the church and its campus. Photo By Andrew Nelson

The mission began in 1986 with a handful of Catholics in Jackson County who met in a local home to celebrate Mass. Sister Catherine Concannon would drive from Clarkesville to lead prayer and a discussion group at Freyon’s Vacuum Cleaner Center. In 1987, it became a mission of St. Mary Church, Toccoa, 35 miles to the north of Commerce.

In 1993, a former Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in Commerce became the new spiritual home for some two dozen Catholic families and it was named St. Catherine Labouré to honor Sister Catherine and the French nun who was given the vision of Mary now inscribed on the Miraculous Medal. In early 2005, land was purchased on the west side of Commerce to build a larger church, but the leaders later decided to focus on moving the church to the neighboring city of Jefferson, about an hour northeast of Atlanta. The groundbreaking was Aug. 30, 2008 and the construction project was completed during the summer.

Father Crone said the new building allows the community to take on new projects.

“To have those facilities available, without crowding in on each other, it’ll be a little easier to serve the needs of the people,” he said.

The previous pastor, Father Liem Nguyen, also congratulated the people for their efforts. “They all must be excited about the new holy place of God for them. I was blessed to be with them the past four years. I learned a lot from them. They are truly good, holy and faithful!”

Bishop Zarama called the dedication “a great day for the family of St. Catherine.”

To build a larger church is a sign of sacrifice and of love, he said.

“You are the ones who make alive our faith,” he said.

Bishop Zarama called on people to become missionaries in Jefferson and other places, making sacrifices of love for the wider community so people are attracted to what goes on in St. Catherine’s Church.