By ERIKA ANDERSON, Special to the Bulletin | Published September 4, 2015
WOODSTOCK—It was a day years in the making—the result of the hard work and dedication of a growing community and its pastor. The pride and joy was obvious as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the dedication of the new St. Michael the Archangel Church Saturday, Aug. 29.
The Knights of Columbus in their plumed caps lined the aisle as Archbishop Gregory, St. Michael pastor Father Larry Niese and 15 concelebrating priests processed into the new church.
The Romanesque church, accented with Celtic influences, was built onto the former church, which was dedicated in 1999 and has now been turned into a parish hall. Winter Construction began building the $8.5 million project after the groundbreaking in March 2014.
Several people who had a hand in the construction of the church spoke at the Mass, including architect Bill de St. Aubin from the Sizemore Group. A parishioner of the Church of St. Ann in Marietta, de St. Aubin said he’s been working with the archdiocese since the 1980s when he was a graduate student at Georgia Tech and worked on its Catholic Center. He’s worked on several churches but said St. Michael’s is his favorite.
“This is a big space. I worried the whole time about building it in a way that kept the community feeling,” he said. “This is God’s house, so it needs to feel grand, but still intimate, which is somewhat of a paradox. But I’m really happy with the way it turned out.”
The new church seats more than 1,100 people, nearly double the former church’s seating capacity. Ann Carey, who led the fundraising effort for the project, said the new space will allow the growing number of parishioners and visitors to fully participate in the Mass.
“The celebration of Mass has always been the heart of our parish. With the new, larger church, we can accommodate all parishioners and guests at each Mass in a beautifully comfortable manner, without the need for standing due to space constraints,” she said. “This allows folks to fully participate and engage in the holy celebration without additional distractions.”
Carey, who has been a parishioner since St. Michael the Archangel was established as a mission in 1995, described the interior of the church as “cruciform, traditional, elegant and timeless.”
“The neutral color palette draws all the attention to the altar, tabernacle and crucifix, highlighting our Catholic faith,” she said. “The stained glass windows illustrate the 20 mysteries of the rosary and the large rose window over the tabernacle represents the seven holy sacraments and the Divine Mercy heart.”
Pastor described as ‘one proud papa’
The Mass of dedication was filled with the sounds of the parish music ministry accompanied by instrumentalists from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said St. Michael parishioners have blessed the community with their enthusiastic faith.
“You are wonderful Catholic people who have enriched this archdiocese with your zeal and your compassion and your dedication each day since your foundation in 1995,” he said. “Your numbers have continued to grow, and this afternoon we bless and dedicate a project that will provide a church home for the glory of God and for your worship needs.”
It is important to remember, the archbishop told the parishioners, that they themselves are God’s building.
“No matter how beautiful and useful this new sanctuary may be, you yourselves will always be even more precious, even more the building that God has made—that moves and touches the heart of God,” he said. “This new sanctuary and your renovated parish center represent the generous contributions of thousands of people, and for their past and their future generosity I express a word of sincere thanks.”
Archbishop Gregory especially mentioned Father Niese, calling the pastor “one proud papa.”
“Here in his presence, I thank Father Larry Niese for his devotion, dedication and obvious pride in the completion of this project. I have been a bishop for 32 years, and I cannot recall another pastor who has taken such palpable delight in a building project than Father Niese. Pride is still a sin, Larry,” the archbishop joked to the delight of the congregation.
Following the homily, Archbishop Gregory performed the rite of dedication in an unlit church, anointing the bare altar with sacred chrism before it was draped in an altar cloth. He placed relics of St. John Neumann and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, donated by Father Niese, in the altar. The archbishop anointed the corners of the church with chrism and incensed the entire church and the congregation. Then the deacons lit the candles on the altar and turned on the lights in the main church as attendees exclaimed excitedly.
Father Niese spoke to his parishioners at the end of Mass and thanked them for their participation and dedication. He then directly addressed the archbishop.
“Archbishop Gregory, I want you to know that I’m very proud of the people you’ve entrusted me to shepherd, and I don’t think that’s a sin,” he said. “Archbishop, we are truly blessed and we thank you for coming to be with us this afternoon.”
Father Niese thanked everyone involved in making the Mass possible and said he looks forward to the future of St. Michael the Archangel Church.
“As the bishop said, this is beautiful, but it’s only a glimpse of the beauty that is in you and the glory that’s to come in eternal life,” he said. “So, as your shepherd, I look forward to being here for many years to come.”
Dan O’Dwyer, head of the building committee, joked that there was not one aspect of the church not captured in an image on Father Niese’s iPad.
“This was a very good group effort. The building committee worked extremely well together,” O’Dwyer said. “The involvement from Father Larry was tremendous. Father Larry must have walked 100 miles—he has walked every inch of this church. He’s been a good shepherd—this is his baby, his vision.”
O’Dwyer and his wife, Kathy, have been parishioners since the parish opened. It now has 3,070 active families.
“This parish is made up of great people,” he said. “I think, in Atlanta, there are lots of transplants, and Catholics use their parishes to make friends. That’s certainly been the case for us.”
To see a full description of the new church visit: http://saintmichaelcc.org/church-tour.