By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published April 12, 2012
Hundreds of parishioners, friends and neighbors of St. Francis of Assisi Church crowded the sanctuary of their new church during a Mass of Dedication celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory on March 28.
The Mass marked the end of years of hard work, capital campaigns and the fulfillment of a dream held by parishioners for a long time. Equipped with smiles and cameras, it was a moment to remember for the Cartersville parish.
“The presence of each one here, members and guests, is a blessing we can all share,” wrote pastor Father Daniel Stack in a letter to parishioners. “We have built a house to celebrate our Lord who chooses to dwell with us, a sacred place where we hope to encounter the living God, to renew ourselves in his Spirit, to be reminded of the great gifts he has given us in the members of this community and to rededicate ourselves to the calling each of us received in baptism.”
More than 70 volunteers helped on the day of the dedication, which began with a procession from the old church into the new, led by Knights of Columbus from St. Francis of Assisi and neighboring parishes. Following tradition, Archbishop Gregory paused at the doors of the new church and was presented with a key by Al Calsetta, parish council chairman, and the plans by Peggy Fritz, who led the building committee.
After blessing the water in the baptismal font in the narthex, Archbishop Gregory processed throughout the standing-room only crowd, blessing the people and the walls of the church.
The new, expanded worship space at St. Francis of Assisi Church, Cartersville, seats nearly 500 people.
“May God, the Father of mercies, dwell in this house of prayer. May the grace of the Holy Spirit cleanse us, for we are the temple of his presence,” the archbishop prayed.
During his homily, Archbishop Gregory addressed the faith of the community, the importance of a new church and the hard work of its parishioners and its pastor.
Today, “you reflect on the legacy of faith of this community that has witnessed such extraordinary growth during the past generation,” said Archbishop Gregory. “God, indeed, has been good to you. God has worked wonders in your midst.”
“All of the people of God here at St. Francis, you are the most wonderful building, and the wonderful structure, and the resilient image of the Church that God has fashioned,” he continued. “And as St. Peter wrote to us, you are the living stones that establishes the Church with Jesus Christ himself as the cornerstone.”
Following the homily and the recitation of the litany of the saints, Archbishop Gregory anointed the altar and walls of the new church with chrism. A group of children then presented three braziers to the archbishop in which incense was placed.
“Lord, may our prayer ascend as incense in your sight,” Archbishop Gregory prayed. “As this building is filled with fragrance, so may your Church fill the world with the fragrance of Christ.”
The excess chrism was wiped off the altar, which was then dressed with new linens and adorned with flowers. As the altar candles were lit for the first time, the lights came on fully revealing the intricacies of the new sanctuary, which is easily double the size of the earlier gathering space.
The Stations of the Cross, donated individually by parishioners as memorials, were fashioned by the Demetz art studio, an Ortisei, Italy-based group of artists that produces ecclesiastical art for religious institutions around the world.
Windows created by Brother Martin Erspamer of St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Ind., are arranged on either side of the altar. The monk is also planning to create a stained glass pattern for the large window above the altar.
In addition to many new elements, some traces of the church’s history may be found in the new building. The altar top is from the original St. Francis Church on Cassville Road, and the crucifix above the altar previously hung in the church’s day chapel.
For many parishioners, the blending of the new and old elements is a beautiful tribute to its history and the promise of its future. For others, simply the extra space and the addition of pews and kneelers touch their hearts.
“It’s beautiful,” said Marie Vassil about the new church. She and her family have been members of the parish for 18 years. “Just having the pews and kneelers is great.”
“We are very thankful,” added Lynne Will, who will be celebrating 15 years with the parish this fall. “We have been waiting a long time for this.”
At the end of the Mass of Dedication, Father Stack shared a few words with his community, noting the hard work and dedication of the parishioners, without whom the dream of a new church would never have come to fruition, he said.
“We’ve raised this church in the midst of the great recession with the efforts and generosity of this community,” said Father Stack. “Thank you from my heart.”
“I thank Father Dan Stack, who invited your participation in this project and who supported your efforts and who had confidence in you,” said Archbishop Gregory. “You are a special blessing to this parish, and a great source of happiness and joy to this very fortunate archbishop. How much this parish loves you. How much this archbishop respects you.”