By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 14, 2011
With pens in hand, parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Church signed a 17-foot cross before it was erected as the faith community celebrated a milestone.
Parishioners broke ground on a building project to enlarge their church, doubling its size and making room for a gathering area.
“This is just an absolute dream we’ve had for many, many years,” said Peggy Fritz, the leader of the building committee.
The effort is called “Building God’s Church Together,” and its goal is add to the existing multipurpose building by constructing a worship space, complete with a large, decorative stained glass window.
“With some prayer and if we do our part, we’ll have a nice new church rising,” said Al Calsetta, the parish council chairman.
Parishioners lined up to put their names on the cross, including Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who celebrated Mass at the parish on Sunday, April 3. Several hundred people came for the ceremony and stayed for the abundance of food at the festivities.
“It’s our sense of ownership. It’s our sense of belonging to this effort. It says our church is going to rise,” said Calsetta, a parishioner for 10 years, about the symbol of signing the cross.
It stands next to the construction area where it is expected to remain during the building phase.
According to a parish history, the Catholic community in Cartersville dates to just before World War II. People in the early days celebrated their faith in a City Hall room and above a downtown pharmacy. Redemptorist priests served in the town, just as they did in a line of small, country parishes stretching from Fort Oglethorpe to Cedartown. Later, LaSalette priests worked here as the area continued to grow.
The Hispanic population has boomed in Cartersville, which is some 42 miles northwest of Atlanta. Two of the six weekend Masses today are celebrated in Spanish, and some 1,000 people attend weekend services. Father Dan Stack has been the spiritual leader for close to 10 years.
“It will bind us in a close community of peace, good will and love. It may allow for a reduction in the six weekend Masses down to three for, at least, a few years,” said Father Stack about the new church.
“The challenge addressed in so much of the New Testament is that of uniting Gentile and Jewish believers into ‘one body, one spirit in Christ.’ That remains our challenge in this archdiocese and in this parish,” said Father Stack.
Some parishioners were skeptical the celebration would ever come. There had been setbacks in the past as building projects never seemed to get off the ground. And Fritz and her 12-member building committee started as the economy stumbled. However, she was confident this project would happen.
“I never doubted that we would build. It was a matter of what we could build,” she said.
The committee worked hard at trimming the bottom line, eventually reducing costs to $2.2 million, she said. In the building budget, they delivered on the one item that Fritz said was promised to parishioners: pews and kneelers.
The architectural design attaches a half-circle addition to the existing building for an enlarged narthex and new sanctuary layout, said Fritz. It’ll seat some 480 people, nearly doubling the capacity.
In addition, the project will have the 20-foot diameter stained glass window, she said.
Part of the project is designing the new building so it can easily be expanded in the future to match the parish growth, said Fritz, who joined the parish some six years ago. Before then, she said she was a founding member of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna.
Even with the construction during the next year, there should only be minimal disturbance to parishioners. It is expected to take between nine and 12 months to complete.
“It was an outstanding event that everyone wasn’t certain was going to happen,” said Calsetta. “I was just so happy to see a large gathering.”