By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 3, 2013
ATLANTA—Two parishes reached milestone years in 2012.
Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta, marked a century since its founding as the mother church of African-American Catholics in the archdiocese. And the Cathedral of Christ the King celebrated its 75th anniversary.
Our Lady of Lourdes Church and School began with a dozen people, the first black Catholic church in Atlanta when Catholic churches, like other institutions in the community, were segregated.
St. Katharine Drexel worked with others to start Our Lady of Lourdes so that black Catholics could have a church to worship in and a Catholic school for their children. Our Lady of Lourdes celebrated its centennial in 2012.
The red stone building, built in 1912, survived the Great Fire of 1917 that swept through the Old Fourth Ward and razed more than 2,000 homes. It still stands. The faithful gathered on the ground floor for Mass. Classrooms for black children were on the second floor, overseen by Mother Katharine Drexel’s Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament beginning in 1913. And social events were organized on the third floor hall.
Barbara Neeley, “another Fourth Ward girl,” graduated from Our Lady of Lourdes School in 1953 after receiving baptism in the seventh grade, was married at the parish and raised her children there. She is active still in the Lourdes Lunch program, which provides a hot meal to about 500 homeless and needy people weekly from the parish center.
“It’s very friendly,” she said of the parish. “We welcome anybody from anywhere that comes here and make them feel at home. We always have welcomed people.”
The theme of the centennial year, “A Century of Witness—A Future of Commitment,” came from a group of parishioners reflecting on how to draw spiritual strength from the past and inspiration for the future, said the pastor, Dominican Father Jeffery Ott.
“The people who lived at that time believed in Christ and believed that they were called by Christ through their baptism to be witnesses of God’s love for them—and for all of God’s people,” Father Ott said. “If they did not believe that, they would not have stood the test of time. They would not have been able to build this community and make such a strong foundation.”
Said Father Ott, “We know the future is bright, the horizon is limitless.”
The Gothic Cathedral of Christ the King rises on Peachtree Road. The first Mass was celebrated on the grounds on Aug. 15, 1936. The following January, Pope Pius XI changed the statewide Diocese of Savannah to the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta, elevating the church to a co-cathedral status, sharing the recognition with St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Savannah. Twenty years after the first Mass was celebrated, the Atlanta Diocese was established in 1956 and the church became the church of the Atlanta bishop.
With its French Gothic architectural style, the Cathedral of Christ the King has been a part of Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood since 1937.
From parish celebrations to a bobble-head doll of the pastor, the cathedral community enjoyed many celebrations.
The parish kicked off its 75-year party with an “old fashioned” carnival, with walkers on stilts, games, and a ferris wheel. Close to 1,000 parishioners came out for this good time.
The parish made anniversary keepsakes to mark this milestone. In the 75th Anniversary Store, there are golf shirts, beverage coasters, a liturgical year CD of the Cathedral Choirs, and even a bobble-head doll of Father Frank McNamee. The organizers made online shopping available. There’s a book, authored by parishioner Amy Smith that follows the years at Christ the King. More than 700 parishioners and families were photographed for a commemorative album.
And in January and February, more events are scheduled. The parish is to host a special Mass on Jan. 19, to be celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and other bishops. On Feb. 9, a Cathedral Ball will be held at the Piedmont Driving Club. The reception mirrors the original gala held at the Piedmont Driving Club in 1937.