By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 19, 2010
Hundreds of school kids have George Aulbach to thank, as do those with more grey in their hair.
The Atlanta Archdiocese opened five new Catholic schools and two retirement communities in the sprawling suburbs of the metro area under his watch.
Aulbach recently stepped down from his post on the archdiocesan Finance Council, concluding 25 years of service on various archdiocesan boards.
Close to Aulbach’s heart is the multimillion-dollar Roswell complex that includes a Catholic elementary school and high school, St Peter Chanel Church and the upscale St. George Village, a not-for-profit Catholic-sponsored continuing care retirement community. So much so that he lives there.
The complex started off as a farm with more than 100 acres filled with cows.
The 85-year-old laughs now, but the retirement community was a project he kept under wraps for a little while. He said as the planning for the complex started, he dreamed up how to use some 20 acres of the land but kept his vision to himself.
“Archbishop (John F.) Donoghue didn’t know what I was going to do with it,” he joked.
What he did was put together the pieces for what is now a facility with 153 one- and two-bedroom independent living units, including 10 reserved for retired priests of the archdiocese. St. George Village also has 25 assisted living units, a skilled nursing care area with 15 private rooms and the capacity to add 15 more, and 14 rooms in a memory-support section.
“It all came together,” he said. “I wanted something that was first class and I think I accomplished that.”
Since the mid-1980s, Aulbach has had a hand in molding church projects. He led the archdiocesan Finance Council, which advises the archbishop on finances and operations of the archdiocese, and served as chairman on the projects review committee, which oversees big-ticket parish projects to assure finances are in order. The Finance Council is a requirement by church law, which consists of “members of the Christian faithful truly expert in financial affairs and civil law, outstanding in integrity, and appointed by the bishop.” He also headed up a Catholic schools implementation committee and assisted Catholic Charities Atlanta with housing initiatives for the elderly.
Raised in York, Pa., Aulbach’s father worked as a plant supervisor producing York Peppermint Patties candy. His younger sister died when she was 26, leaving a daughter and a son, now a priest in the Diocese of Arlington, Va. Aulbach served in World War II with the Navy where out in the Pacific Ocean on a spit of an island he helped build airplane runways and a military base.
“You’d have a hard time finding it in the Pacific,” he said.
He attended Villanova University where he earned an engineering degree.
Aulbach, the retired president and chief executive officer of Laing Properties, worked his way from field engineer to CEO and executive positions. In his professional career, he worked on various projects worth a combined $5 billion in some 22 states. He and his first wife, Gertrude, who passed away, had five daughters.
He and his wife, Florence, now live in the St. George Village community and worship at St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell.
“I get the most enjoyment out of getting a blank piece of paper and developing a project,” he said.
That’s what he did for the archdiocese.
Brad Wilson, archdiocesan chief financial officer, said Aulbach helped build five new schools, created housing for the elderly and people living with low incomes, and greatly improved the business operations.
“He has been a great resource to me as I came into my role,” Wilson said.
Schools opened with Aulbach’s input include: Holy Redeemer, Johns Creek; Our Lady of Victory, Tyrone; Queen of Angels elementary and Blessed Trinity High School, Roswell; and Our Lady of Mercy High School, Fayetteville. In addition to the St. George Village project, he helped establish Good Shepherd Place, Cumming, offering independent-living apartments for low- and moderate-income seniors.
But during the growth, there were also times of retrenchment that left inner city parish communities wounded. Two beloved schools at predominately black parishes of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Anthony of Padua in Atlanta were closed when the archdiocese withdrew subsidies. Instead, the archdiocese created a regional school to draw from a dozen parishes.
“It wasn’t the easiest thing to do. You don’t like to close your school,” he said.
The issue was finances, he said. The student populations were too small to support the schools, he said.
Aulbach served with four archbishops starting in the late 1980s with Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan. He called Archbishop James P. Lyke, OFM, “a saint.”
His efforts earned him a papal honor when he was named Knight Commander of St. Gregory. He received the award at a special ceremony at St. Andrew Church.
Aulbach laughed at the memory of Archbishop Donoghue joking, “I can tell you that George is no saint.”
George Barrie, president of Catholic Construction Services, Inc., said Aulbach brought his experiences with real estate and construction to the archdiocese and provided leadership in the development of the two retirement communities.
“For the last 25 years George Aulbach has selflessly made himself available to the archbishops and various archdiocesan department heads for any support and request for advice that was asked of him. This archdiocese owes a great ‘Thank you, George’ for 25 years of service well done,” Barrie said in a written message.
In June, Aulbach stepped away from his volunteer position. “I figured at 85, it was time to get fresh blood.” He divides his time between Georgia and North Carolina.
“I’ve quite a few landmarks in Atlanta,” said Aulbach. “I’m proud of all of them, but I’m especially proud of St. George Village.”