By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published November 25, 2010
As Most Blessed Sacrament Church celebrated 50 years of parish presence in the Archdiocese of Atlanta this year, they honored their colorful past and looked forward to the challenges of the future.
The small, close-knit community has grown from humble beginnings in 1960 to more than 250 families today. The parishioners, along with their pastor Father Bruce Wilkinson, celebrated the anniversary formally in late October with a Mass and a dinner dance, among other activities.
The foundation for Most Blessed Sacrament Church was put in place in 1957 when Doris Wilson donated to the Diocese of Atlanta more than 20 acres of land lying between Fairburn and Austin Roads in Atlanta.
The following year, Bishop Francis E. Hyland established a mission of St. Anthony’s Parish in West End Atlanta. The mission met for public worship first at the Ben Hill Health Center and later at Ben Hill Elementary School. In 1959, Sunday Mass for the Ben Hill Mission was transferred to the new Hall of Council 4420, Knights of Columbus, at the corner of Butner and Tell Roads in Atlanta.
Bishop Hyland granted Most Blessed Sacrament parish status in November 1960, and the first parishioners came from the surrounding communities of St. Anthony Church and St. John the Evangelist Church in Hapeville. Father Walter Donovan was appointed as the first pastor of the budding parish.
Over the next several years the parish community moved locations, from the Knights of Columbus Hall to property along Austin Road, then to a piece of land at Stone Road and Camp Creek Parkway, where the community broke ground on a combined school and temporary church. In the mid-1960s, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet appointed three sisters to operate the school out of the parish, Blessed Sacrament School, which educated students until 1976.
The LaSalette Missionaries were assigned to administer the parish in 1975, when LaSalette Father James Noonan was appointed pastor with Father John Higgins, M.S., as associate pastor. LaSalette priests served the parish for more than 15 years, until the parish was assigned back to the pastoral care of archdiocesan priests. Father Wilkinson arrived at the parish in 1992.
In 1989, the chapel at St. Joseph Village on Butner Road became the permanent residence for the parish community and the one the church occupies today. In the mid-1990s the church was enlarged with the addition of a narthex and additional changes to the interior of the sanctuary.
In June 1999 Archbishop John F. Donoghue changed the campus of Most Blessed Sacrament, as he changed the mission of the St. Joseph Village program from a residential counseling program for children to a counseling program for families, moving its location away from the Butner Road property.
As a result the property became a center for the parish’s activities along with St. Joseph’s Place, built and established in 1995 as a residential community for seniors; St. Stephen’s Center, built and established in 2000 as a training facility for the permanent deacons of the archdiocese; St. Charles Borromeo House, established in 2000 as a residence for seminarians; and Catholic Construction Services of the archdiocese.
The parish moved its offices and school of religion program into one of the former residential cottages, and the former village grounds are now formally named the grounds of Most Blessed Sacrament. In 2000, the parish opened a bookstore and gift shop in its parish center, named in honor of St. Katharine Drexel.
Father Wilkinson remembered arriving in 1992 and feeling the need to inspire the parish about growing the community they had right in their backyards.
“When I first came to the parish, it had just recently located to this property,” recalled Father Wilkinson. “The first thing that I noticed about the parish is that they were very anxious because they had gone through a number of different priests, the parish had moved three times. … They were very concerned whether or not there was a future here at Most Blessed Sacrament.”
“So my major first step was to assure everybody that I wasn’t here to close their parish,” he added. Father Wilkinson worked to inspire the parish and get them excited about their new location.
The parish continues to grow in number and diversity and now ministers to 260 families from nearly every cultural, geographic and racial background. And the community recently came together to honor the history of the parish and celebrate their future, which is seen as bright.
“To see the diversity growing is really a wonderful experience,” said Father Wilkinson.
Among the anniversary festivities were a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and a dinner dance for parishioners. Another project for the anniversary will continue throughout the year as the parishioners work together to construct a rosary garden. A Rosary Garden Planning Committee has been established to lead the project, which already has a proposed design.
The close-knit environment of the parish is something that has been a blessing to the church, but now it is bringing a new set of challenges to the table, said Father Wilkinson.
“One of our great successes is that people look for a small church,” he said. “That brings people here and as more people come, you become less of a small church.”
“One of the things I always loved about being here is being able to know everyone’s name, every family, every child, every person—and it is becoming a little more challenging,” he admitted.
The other challenge the community faces is space. As the congregation continues to grow, facilities continue to be used to their capacity. It is a tough challenge, but one that is good to have, said the pastor.
For more information visit the Most Blessed Sacrament Church website at www.mbschurch.com.