By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published June 1, 2017 | En Español
CEDARTOWN—Parishioners of St. Bernadette Church welcomed Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory for the groundbreaking on a new church building Sunday, May 7, celebrating with a festival-like event.
Families tailgated in the 13-acre pasture next to the Second Baptist Church on Evergreen Lane, site of the proposed building to be backed through special projects funding of the archdiocese.
Children enjoyed face painting and jumping in an inflatable bounce house.
“We are super excited,” said parishioner Laura Flores. She attended the ceremony with her siblings and parents, enjoying an afternoon meal prepared by volunteers.
Her parents, Pedro Sr. and Maria Flores, have been parishioners there for 30 years.
“There’s not enough room for all the parishioners,” said Flores.
St. Bernadette’s original church is on South College Street. The parish also makes use of a rented former store. Running late to Mass means you will have to stand in the back.
Golden shovels marked the spot as the pastor, Father Timothy Gallagher, Deacon Jose Orellana and members of the parish building committee joined the archbishop to break ground. Eight-year-old Tony Pizano took a shovel to represent the parish youth.
The Knights of Columbus stood watch as the archbishop blessed the ground with holy water from a camouflage, stainless steel cup.
“When I come to visit my young priests, I’m always surprised,” said Archbishop Gregory as he accepted the container.
“Wherever you are gathered, there is the church,” he told parishioners.
The archbishop asked the Lord to bless the ground and the homes of families attending.
“As we bless this earth, which will soon become the home for this parish family, we ask you in a special way to bless those who will build it, all of the contractors, the laborers, the people who will be here turning earth and putting down concrete and putting a roof over this facility,” he prayed.
The archbishop asked for blessings for those anticipating the new building “so that they can gather in peace, in joy and fraternity.”
Parish campaign theme is ‘United in Faith’
Father Gallagher thanked Father Llane Briese, Father Henry Atem and Msgr. Dan Stack for attending.
“This certainly is a day I know for myself I couldn’t do without their support and prayers,” he said.
Second Baptist pastor Grady McDonald attended the groundbreaking for his soon-to-be neighbors, as did members of Cedartown’s City Council.
“Certainly this is not just a Catholic event, it’s a Christian event, but not only that, it’s a whole community event to bring us all together to build up the common existence we have as human beings,” said Father Gallagher. “We know that God created us all and loves us all and wants us all to walk together in this life.”
The pastor said that by being united in faith, God’s will can be done.
“That’s the title of our campaign, ‘United in Faith,’ and that’s certainly what brings us here today,” said Father Gallagher.
Many wore T-shirts depicting the Marian apparition to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France, on the front. “United in Faith” appears in English and Spanish, and the back reads, “Upon this Rock, I will build my church.”
Father Gallagher said St. Bernadette’s intercession has made a big difference. He thanked the many people who supported fundraising efforts and the archbishop for participating despite his busy schedule.
“For him to come on this day, with over a million Catholics in the archdiocese, to be with us is a special blessing and a special grace, especially on this Good Shepherd Sunday,” he said.
“I congratulate all the folks at St. Bernadette,” added Archbishop Gregory. “I’m just happy the archdiocese can provide some assistance.”
Fay Dollar, parishioner since 2012, said members of the Hispanic and Anglo communities naturally tend to go to different Masses because of crowding.
“This is a beautiful community,” said Dollar. “We’re getting to know each other better. It’s going to be nice that we can all gather together.”
Svetlana Ischenko is a musician for St. Bernadette.
“Our church is like a beautiful flower. It is growing into a larger bloom,” said Ischenko.
Building a church makes parish stronger
Msgr. Stack, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Alpharetta, is a member of the Special Projects Oversight Committee and a former pastor of St. Bernadette Church.
Msgr. Stack likened involvement in SPOC to helping a young student understand fractions by spending an hour cutting up potatoes. When a student finally gets it and their eyes light up, it’s better than Christmas, he said.
“There is great joy in helping people to achieve what they thought they couldn’t do,” he said. “Our archbishop has initiated a Special Projects Committee and allocated funds so that smaller parishes or missions that are frustrated by their inability to acquire the buildings they desperately need can be helped.”
His “nutshell” explanation of SPOC is that the committee can authorize loans for facilities to grow stronger in faith and economically. The parishes then repay the loans for the next project.
Msgr. Stack said St. Bernadette is a good example of the type of parish to be served.
When he arrived there in 1989, there were fewer than 100 English-speaking families and a modest budget. The church, which dates to the 1950s, seats 80 people.
“Convent chapels in Chicago are larger,” he said.
“The Reagan amnesty had made it possible for the growing Spanish-speaking community, that had been mostly men, to bring their wives and children and suddenly St. Bernadette’s had 300 or 400 families, most of whom had very modest jobs. We had hundreds of children,” said Msgr. Stack.
The parish continues to grow.
“St. Bernadette’s needs a church. With the help of our Special Projects funding they can build the church, which will enable them to grow stronger as a community. They have been paying rent on a nearby former store that gives them much more space for Mass and meetings. That rent can go toward owning the church that Special Projects can help them build,” he said.
Dream of unifying community
Parish building committee member Lissa Escutia has attended St. Bernadette since she was a young child.
“We moved to Cedartown in 1987 and I remember that my family and I were one of the very few Hispanic families attending,” she said.
She hopes the new building will allow the community to be more cohesive.
“I feel like the lack of space has hindered us from being unified in many ways. A bigger space will definitely allow for more planned activities as one parish community,” said Escutia.
A kindergarten teacher, Escutia works at the school across from the church’s new site.
“I am very excited and am lucky to be able to see the daily progress being made. It is amazing to see how fast it is all coming together,” she said. “This is something that is long past due for the growing community of St. Bernadette’s and all of this could not have been possible without the kindness of the archbishop and the hard work of Father and all the parishioners.”
The celebration in Cedartown followed the Palm Sunday groundbreaking of the St. John Paul II Mission site in Gainesville. The mission’s new building will also be funded through the Special Projects program. Bishop Luis R. Zarama celebrated Mass April 9 at the Gainesville site in Spanish, and blessed the land.