By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published September 27, 2012
It was only four months ago that the interior of St. Benedict Church did not look much like a sanctuary at all. Extensive scaffolding had replaced the pews and the usual colorful décor of the church was swapped for bare walls and floors.
On Saturday, Sept. 15, the parishioners of St. Benedict received the wonderful gift of a newly renovated worship space as they celebrated a Mass recognizing 25 years as a parish.
Former pastors, including Msgr. Hugh Marren and Msgr. Terry Young, returned to Johns Creek to celebrate with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Auxiliary Bishop Luis Zarama, a dozen other priests and hundreds of parishioners who packed the pews and the narthex.
It was a day of twofold celebration as the church remembered its 25-year history while also honoring its recent steps to prepare for the future. Fresh carpet and cut tile lined the floors of the church as the new lighting system cast a warm glow throughout the space.
While the new pews, kneelers and other items provided many striking changes, Archbishop Gregory reminded the assembly that their faith remains the same.
“The people of St. Benedict’s Parish have recently completed some fashion changes in your own church sanctuary, but the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising, the sacramental life, the challenges of the Gospel remain the same; time and fashion changes do not alter them,” he said during his homily.
“You have rearranged some furnishings here in the church, you have added some beautiful new artifacts, you have repositioned a number of worship items, but the mystery of faith remains the same,” he added.
Following his homily, the archbishop dedicated the worship space and anointed the new altar with chrism as he prayed saying, “May God in his power make it holy, a visible sign of the mystery of Christ, who offered himself for the life of the world.” The altar was then censed and the candles officially lit for the first time.
As part of the renovations a Respect Life Garden was built just outside the church. After the Eucharistic celebration, Archbishop Gregory, pastor Father Paul Flood and many parishioners, including those who built it, filed into the garden where it was blessed and dedicated as well. In addition to the beautiful landscaping, there are memorial bricks dedicated to loved ones, making the garden personal for the community while also providing a meditative space for parishioners and visitors alike.
In addition to the new altar, other significant changes include a new baptismal font and a new ambo, both made of marble. Two new confessionals were also built in the back of the
The idea phase of the project began a few years ago when Father Flood expressed his desire to do something memorable for the approaching 25th anniversary. At the time the church was still working on building Taylor Lodge, a facility that is used for various ministry meetings and special events.
“Father Paul said he’d like to do something special for the anniversary. It’s been in the works for a long time,” said Jim Carroll, maintenance supervisor at the parish for the last six years.
The project included the updating of some of the church systems. The lighting system had become outdated, said Carroll, who noted that they were having trouble finding replacement parts. The sound system for the musicians was also replaced and on display during the anniversary Mass as the strong voices of the choir carried throughout the church and into the narthex.
After the Mass, on the other side of the church campus, the final touches for the anniversary celebration were taking place as hundreds of hot dogs and hamburgers were grilled and games for children were arranged. Parishioners lined up for classic cookout fare while enjoying live music. Youngsters were all smiles as they had their faces painted, played many of the carnival-style games or jumped in the bounce house.
Angelo Sampona, building committee chair for the renovation team, said the project was “truly a team effort,” involving not only those directly involved in the renovations, but the parish as a whole because parishioners worked hard toward the end goal, whether it was gladly attending Mass in makeshift chapels on the campus or helping with the anniversary celebration.
“We’d like to thank the parish for their cooperation during this effort and all those involved,” he said.
“All pastors need the support and expertise of the people he shepherds. Here at St. Benedict’s I have been truly blessed to have Mr. Angelo Sampona … to be our chairperson,” said Father Flood. “I, and the parishioners of St. Benedict are indebted” to him.
Founded in 1987 under the leadership of the founding pastor, the late Father Joseph Peacock, the parish began humbly with 10 families. The archdiocese purchased 13.5 acres of hilltop property on Parsons Road in north Fulton County, and sent Father Peacock to establish a parish community from the budding neighborhoods in the area.
The group of 10 founding families began attending Sunday Mass at the nearby Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church, but it was not long before a school of religious education was established and began to meet at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Roswell. Expansive growth soon caused the need for a Saturday vigil Mass which began to be held at Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Duluth.
The first building of the parish facilities, located at the Parsons Road site, was dedicated on Aug. 14, 1990. The building, which now serves as the parish life center and administrative wing, offered a seating capacity for more than 500 individuals, parish offices, a nursery, a 2,000-square-foot gathering space and 10 classrooms for the school of religion.
In 1997 the current church was built to meet the needs of the growing parish. Some 10 years later another construction project was completed, which included additional classrooms and an adoration chapel.
As the community continued to grow, so did St. Benedict’s facilities. There was a real need to have an outdoor area where parishioners, youth and preschoolers could gather for picnics and other events. The site was explored and developed to become what is now known as Taylor Lodge, in honor of longtime parishioners Jimmy and Alice Taylor. Taylor Lodge consists of a large function room and kitchen and is surrounded by a porch and outdoor stage area. The basement features two meeting rooms for the various parish ministries. The facility has since served as the backdrop for many events, including parish picnics, concerts and movie nights.
In its 25-year history, St. Benedict’s has gone from ministering to 10 families to over 2,700, making it one of the largest parishes in the Atlanta Archdiocese. It has also led to the establishment of neighboring St. Monica Church in Duluth, which began as a mission of St. Benedict and is now a thriving parish, and Divino Niño Jesús Mission in Duluth.
“I congratulate Father Paul Flood for building on the faith heritage that he received when he became your pastor,” the archbishop told the parishioners. “I thank all of the many priests who have faithfully witnessed the presence of Christ during the past 25 years. The countless numbers of laity who have worked tirelessly and generously to make this a premier parish in our archdiocese deserve not only my thanks, but that of their fellow parishioners as well.”
“Many things have changed in this corner of the world during the past quarter century, but this afternoon, we praise God for keeping us all together united in his Son and trying to live each day more perfectly as his children. Some things do only seem to get better with age,” he said.