By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published August 21, 2014
ATLANTA—The music ministry of Holy Cross Church in Atlanta is flourishing, with four choirs and an offshoot theater ministry that produces entertaining musicals for the entire community in support of outreach to the poor.
That’s different from how the music program first started 50 years ago—with a donated keyboard that had fallen off the back of a truck.
Dr. Regina Zweifel-Studwell was the first pianist-organist for Holy Cross, which is celebrating its golden anniversary this year.
She was among the early members who returned July 26 to the parish complex, located at Chamblee-Tucker Road and Hathaway Court, for a founders Mass and luncheon.
The church’s first pastor, Father Leonard Mayhew, asked Zweifel-Studwell if she would be the pianist for a choir. She thought about the priest’s request for several weeks telling him, “I’m no Liberace.” His response was, “Well, we’re no Mormon Tabernacle Choir.”
Taught to play the piano by the nuns at her school, Zweifel-Studwell used a dingedkeyboard given to the new church by an insurance claims adjustor.
“It made good sound,” she said.
Fifty years later, the music ministry, under the direction of Gail Goodman, is thriving, with choirs for youth, younger children, adults and an adoration choir.
The theater ministry held a drama camp this summer for rising seventh-graders through high school seniors to prepare for the elaborate July production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr.”
Ticket proceeds from all productions go to the parish food pantry ministry, Friends of St. Martin de Porres.
Zweifel-Studwell, who now lives in Stone Mountain, delighted in reuniting with old friends at the luncheon, and listening to the music of the liturgy.
“It was divine,” she said. “I’m ready to burst into tears.”
Unique character of parish
The Church of the Holy Cross began as the St. Francis de Sales mission of St. Thomas More Church in Decatur in 1956. That year, friends Beverly Cash and Ezon Bacchus petitioned Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, then director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, for a parish in Tucker. They were successful in having Archbishop Sheen persuade Atlanta Bishop Francis E. Hyland to establish the mission.
The initial Masses were celebrated at Tucker High School, then at Tucker Federal Savings and Loan.
Granted parish status in 1964, the church began celebrating Mass at Cary Reynolds Elementary School in Doraville. When it was elevated to parish status, Holy Cross included much of DeKalb County and all of Gwinnett County in its boundaries.
The parish center, a multipurpose building, was built in 1967 on the current site and continued as the hub of parish life for decades. Missions were established in Norcross and Lawrenceville that grew into the parishes of St. Patrick and St. Lawrence. A 16-classroom school of religion, opened in 1968, was the first such building in the archdiocese. A large library was also established at the parish.
A groundbreaking for a traditional church sanctuary at Holy Cross came more than 20 years after the parish was established. The church was completed and dedicated in September 1989.
In the 1980s and 1990s more than 20 men from the parish entered the permanent diaconate.
Franciscans to serve at Holy Cross
Dominican priests assumed parish administration of Holy Cross in 1976, serving for nearly 20 years. This fall, the Franciscans will be arriving to relieve current pastor and diocesan priest Father Richard Tibbetts, who is retiring.
July marked Father Tibbetts’ fifth anniversary as pastor of Holy Cross, which he called an “embracing and responsive” parish.
“I am very grateful for a devoted staff. They very much see this as a ministry,” said Father Tibbetts.
A former high school teacher, Father Tibbetts also enjoys spending time around the parish youth and instituted the Life Teen ministry. “I think they’re great,” said the pastor.
Holy Cross is a culturally diverse parish. Father Tibbetts shared Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory’s observation after one visit there: “You really have the U.N. here.”
The Vietnamese community within Holy Cross had grown so much by 2003 that a mission was established in Norcross, becoming Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church.
Celebrating the connection to Holy Cross, Holy Vietnamese Martyrs hosted a dinner and dance Aug. 9 for the two parishes to commemorate the 50th anniversary.
The impeccably landscaped grounds at Holy Cross are the work of the Hispanic members of Holy Cross. “They have taken it over as their time and talent,” said Father Tibbetts.
The new Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, a gift in honor of the pastor, was made possible through the work and donations of parishioners. Father Fausto Marquez, the most recent parochial vicar, coordinated the grotto project.
Serving the poor
With a current attendance of an estimated 4,000 families, including those unregistered but coming to Mass, many ministries have grown or expanded.
“We have recently begun a bereavement ministry,” said Father Tibbetts.
Other active ministries at Holy Cross include the blood drive ministry, the women’s club, Knights of Columbus, the HIV/AIDS ministry, an adult education program with weekly Scripture study and Friends of St. Martin de Porres.
The late Ruth “Bunny” Bohaczyk started the St. Martin de Porres Food Ministry in 1983 and continued as its director for 15 years. She died in 1999. It still serves thousands of needy and homeless people each year in shelters and downtown parks. An annual parish-staffed theater production at Holy Cross supporting the ministry is a distinctive part of the community character.
Most recently, Holy Cross parishioners have become enthusiastic about joining Amigos for Christ. In September, the parish will mark two years of partnering with Amigos, a nonprofit organization in Buford that focuses on providing clean water, health, education and economic development programs in rural Nicaragua.
Retired Deacon Dick Suever is coordinating the Amigos for Christ ministry and its mission trips to Nicaragua each June.
The parishioners making the trips have ranged in age from 9 to 70-plus, he noted.
“We have several options depending on the age of people,” he said about the mission work.
Parishioners have visited schools and orphanages, drilled wells, and laid pipes and water lines.
“Now that these communities have water, we are building bathrooms to replace outhouses. These only cost $698,” said Deacon Suever.
The Nicaraguan families contribute a portion of the cost, and the program covers the difference.
“It’s fabulous,” said Deacon Suever. “It’s literally brought our community at Holy Cross alive.”
Pastor became archbishop
Father Tibbetts was celebrant for the founders Mass. Concelebrants were past pastors Father Eddie O’Connor and Msgr. Paul Fogarty, priest-in-residence Father Ed Danneker, and Father Marquez.
Father O’Connor, homilist, said the parish was always “very vibrant.” He served as pastor from 1973 to 1976.
“Some of the friends from here have been my longest,” said Father O’Connor as he embraced parishioners before Mass.
The retired priest’s homily was sprinkled with humor and he began saying, “I’m Father Eddie O’Connor, by the way,” noting he looks a bit different from the older photograph hanging in the church.
“I have very fond memories of Holy Cross Parish,” he said.
Father O’Connor said the reading from Sirach 44 for the Mass was “so appropriate for something like this,” as it speaks of praising the godly men, ancestors whose virtues are not forgotten.
“I think of the goodness of the people that have come before us at Holy Cross,” said Father O’Connor.
The parish council was supportive of the priests.
“They took their job seriously,” said Father O’Connor. “It was good for me. Listening from the bottom instead of directing from the top.”
Using his Irish storytelling skills, Father O’Connor recalled the legendary bad driving of Father Louis Naughton, who served with him. Whenever returning to the parish by car, Father Naughton would keep “going, going, going until he hit a tree,” said Father O’Connor.
Weak beams overhead in the multipurpose room of the parish center prompted Father O’Connor to move the altar to a different area.
“I got called into the bishop’s office,” said the priest.
Archbishop Thomas Donnellan questioned him about making significant liturgical changes without permission.
“I did a Jackie Gleason on him,” said Father O’Connor of his stammering routine. “He was very forgiving that way.”
Father O’Connor emphasized that the “same wonderful spirit exists” at Holy Cross today and credited one of his predecessors, Father Eusebius J. Beltran, now archbishop-emeritus of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with creating that environment. Father Beltran became pastor in 1967.
“He was the spirit behind Holy Cross Parish,” said Father O’Connor.
Founders’ children now at Holy Cross
Parishioner Mark Kelly said that he and his wife, Linda, were the first couple to be married in the room with the rearranged altar mentioned by Father O’Connor. With no center aisle available, the bride had to take a roundabout walk to get to the front.
Kelly’s late father, Tom, was on the first Holy Cross parish council. Kelly brought his mother, Gloria, to the founders Mass.
“It’s a very service-oriented parish,” said Kelly.
Gloria remembers a vibrant youth group and music program throughout the years at Holy Cross.
“We always had good priests,” she added.
Elizabeth “Betsy” Hein, now a parishioner at St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn, returned for the founders celebration with daughter Beth Butler, business manager for Holy Cross.
They enjoyed a delicious lunch, anniversary chocolates, a slideshow of historical photos, but most of all “getting to see friends who go way back,” said Hein.
In her daily work at the parish, Butler encounters “a million moms,” the longtime friends of her parents.
“They still treat me like I’m their child,” said Butler.