By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 5, 2016
FLOWERY BRANCH—Michele Colluro and her husband, Vinnie, pray Monday afternoons in the new chapel at Prince of Peace Church where perpetual adoration takes place.
“Adoration is new to my husband and me. It sounded like something we need in this crazy world,” said Colluro, a grandmother of four.
The Colluros are never alone. About a dozen people are there in the chapel praying silently. She sees parents stop in before picking up their children from the preschool.
“People are fitting it in when they can. And that’s really great,” said the 20-year church member.
The parish built this chapel for quiet prayer and daily Mass while it also redesigned the church narthex where members gather following worship. About 100 people can attend Mass in the chapel, with the chairs facing each other, monastic style. But otherwise, there is silence, no vocal reciting of the rosary, no singing, no public prayer.
“A bigger part of prayer life needs to be quiet … to be listening to what God is trying to share with us,” said Father Eric Hill, pastor.
He has an affinity for adoration since time he spent in front of the Blessed Sacrament helped him decide to seek the priesthood. Since January, around the clock, six days a week, this ancient form of prayer is alive in the parish.
The adoration chapel was one part of a $3.4 million renovation project designed to make the parish campus more welcoming. Other additions to the sacred space include an immersion baptismal pool and a three-story high altarpiece, as well as the redesigned narthex.
“If we want to bring people into the church, we have to provide a place where they can be welcomed,” Father Hill said.
Prior to the renovations, when Mass ended, “most of the time people left,” he said. “There was no place to go.”
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory joined with the faith community on Thursday, Jan. 21, to dedicate the renovated church. He consecrated the walls with blessed chrism and swung a thurible filled with incense as he led the community in the church blessing.
The parish history began 50 years ago when a local businessman donated 10 acres in Buford to the Archdiocese of Atlanta in honor of a long-time employee’s commitment to his Catholic faith, according to the parish website.
A Buford mission began in 1973. Early members first outgrew a family home where they gathered for Mass. They moved to a funeral home, which became too small. A church building in 1975 went up on the donated land. There were a dozen families registered. They celebrated the first Mass in the church on Christmas Eve, which gives the parish its name.
Melanie Martin first came to the parish with her family in the late 1970s when she was 10. Now 46, she brings her own family to the church and is on the parish staff.
In her youth, the parish “was obviously family-driven. My family took up an entire row. … You knew everyone. It was close-knit. Parish picnics would be at someone’s house.”
New space and renewed enthusiasm
With the growth of communities north of Atlanta and road corridors opening up once rural areas, Prince of Peace more than doubled in families and outgrew its home. The parish in 2002 bought 65 acres of land in Flowery Branch and relocated at this new site. A 15-year master plan guided parish growth. The first phase included a temporary multipurpose building. The groundbreaking was in 2005.
The plan envisioned eventually replacing the worship area for the church’s 10,000 members, including a Spanish Mass that draws 800 people.
However, leaders focused on updating its appearance instead, considering the existing parish debt.
“The new space and the enthusiasm are all connected. It is all really good for our parish,” Colluro said. “The project gave the parish a beautiful facility and brought people together. Folks worked on different parts of the project with people they didn’t know well, but do now, she said.
This new look at Prince of Peace Church came together in two phases.
The first phase expanded the parish youth room, which then served as a temporary church with 500 chairs crowded into the space. Church members worshiped there for six months as the main church underwent its renovation.
The main project significantly changed the appearance of the church. New flooring and wooden pews were installed. Designers expanded the small entryway and added a barrel-vault ceiling. Floor tiles depict a Jerusalem cross, a large central cross with a smaller cross in each of its four quadrants.
The project also enhanced the sanctuary. A new wood-framed reredos, or altarpiece, with an eight-foot-tall Christ figure on the crucifix towers over the altar. Those joining the faith will enter sacramentally in an immersion baptismal pool. The architect was Lyman Davidson Dooley, Inc. Turner Construction Co. was the builder.
Father Hill said the immersion pool better symbolizes how Catholics understand baptism. People enter the water as if entering into a tomb, as Scripture, Jesus and the baptismal prayers talk about, he said. They come up from the water a new creation. The water splashing into the pool is important, too.
“I want the water to be alive. It’s living water, as Jesus talked about,” he said.
The church now seats 900 people, which makes it more welcoming, the pastor said.
“We really didn’t have enough room before. People feel there is a space for them. It feels more family, more connected and that’s what people want. If somebody comes, and nobody knows them, but someone shakes their hand and smiles, it’s all good.”
For Martin, the size hasn’t diminished the atmosphere here.
“I still feel a big sense of community and can look across the congregation and see some of the families from 36 years ago,” she said.