By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published July 13, 2018
CEDARTOWN—On the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated a Mass of dedication and blessing of the new parish center for Cedartown area Catholics.
On June 24, parishioners and invited community guests gathered at the just-completed worship and religious education center for St. Bernadette Church on Evergreen Lane for the afternoon Mass.
St. Bernadette, a parish since the 1940s, has experienced phenomenal growth in recent years, primarily in the Hispanic community. Its former brick church building held just over 80 seats, and Spanish Masses for hundreds were being celebrated in a storefront space, called the “Prayer Hall.”
The archbishop recognized the parish’s pioneer families at Mass.
“I thank you for bringing your faith to Cedartown,” he said. “Your fidelity and hard work are bearing fruit this afternoon.”
Construction of the new parish center was possible through the Special Projects Program of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, which funds expansion in uniquely challenged parishes whose churches cannot hold all of those coming for Mass or faith education. Applicants must demonstrate at least one year of overcrowding and have minimal funds for expansion.
Parishes or missions approved for the Special Projects Program raise 10 percent of the cost before the remainder is funded. Once projects are complete, the recipients pay back total costs into the fund so that other projects can begin. The archdiocesan Special Projects Oversights Committee (SPOC) governs the projects.
St. Bernadette’s ongoing capital campaign, “United In Faith,” will fund this new parish center. The project cost $4.6 million.
Support for the parish’s growth
Father Timothy Gallagher, pastor of St. Bernadette, concelebrated the Mass and was joined by former St. Bernadette pastors Msgr. Daniel Stack and Father Richard Morrow, and other priests who supported him in the time of growth.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory compared the challenges of the St. Bernadette community to those of Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents of St. John the Baptist.
“They had probably given up hope that God would bless them with children,” said Archbishop Gregory. “God himself was able to do all things.”
Who would have thought such a project possible in “little Cedartown,” mused the archbishop.
“He didn’t get caught up in his own importance,” continued Archbishop Gregory, reflecting on the life of St. John the Baptist.
He said his favorite line of St. John comes from the third chapter of John—“He must increase; I must decrease.”
It is a reminder to live so that Christ will “be all in all,” Archbishop Gregory told parishioners.
The Mass included a prayer of dedication, followed by anointing of the altar with sacred chrism oil by the archbishop. Father Gallagher anointed the columns of the sanctuary space.
Parishioners brought forward altar linens, candles and yellow and white floral sprays to prepare for celebration of the Mass. The congregation prayed the Litany of Saints.
Additional space has been needed
In 2008, the parish purchased the land for the building, across the street from a public elementary school.
The design of St. Bernadette’s new center, a mission-style pre-engineered steel building, kept architectural, engineering and construction costs lower. The building allows for seating of 525 at Mass. The worship space is convertible for holding social events as the sanctuary has chairs with detached kneelers versus fixed pews.
The tabernacle is the original one from the old church. The altar, ambo, pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Bernadette Soubirous, crucifix and Stations of the Cross are all new. The dove above the altar is from the Prayer Hall.
The center has office space, a kitchen, an adoration chapel to seat 45 and classrooms.
Father Gallagher, during remarks in both English and Spanish, thanked the archbishop for leadership and guidance. Reflecting on the homily, he noted that St. John the Baptist was making for a new way.
“He was in between two ways,” said Father Gallagher.
“New blessing … great responsibility”
The pastor thanked longtime parishioners for the sacrifice of giving up their beautiful 77-year-old church for a new place, “because Christ is always new.”
A painting of the former church hangs above a book of remembrance outside the new center’s Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel. The chapel is dedicated to the parents of Msgr. Joseph Cassidy, the priest who celebrated the first Mass in Cedartown.
“With every new blessing comes a great responsibility,” said Father Gallagher in reminding parishioners to support the United in Faith campaign.
He also recognized Alton Gilmore, the eldest original parishioner of St. Bernadette.
He thanked his brother priests for their friendship and psychological support.
“Your presence brings Christ,” he told them.
The pastor expressed special gratitude to his two predecessors attending, Father Morrow and Msgr. Stack.
“God used them in a big way to bless us now,” he said of their time in Polk County.
He reminded the congregation how during their years of unified prayer, Jesus and Mary had been holding their hands through the process, linking them all together in faith.
“The rosary has many beads all linked together,” he said.
The Special Projects Program was an outcome of the 2015 Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan. The need first surfaced during a strategic planning process undertaken by Archbishop Gregory in 2006.
Father Gallagher emphasized that in implementing the special projects program, Archbishop Gregory listened to the words of Pope Francis in the Year of Mercy to go out to the periphery.
“Welcome to the periphery,” said the pastor. “Thank you all for being here to bless our new church home.”
Community benefited from strong leadership
Msgr. Stack, who served as the Cedartown pastor between 1989-1995, said that God blessed St. Bernadette Church through the innovative thinking of the archbishop.
He visited the new parish center prior to its completion two months ago.
“As I walked through this new building, I got tears in my eyes,” said Msgr. Stack in an email. “Without the pastoral leadership of Father Tim Gallagher, this community would not have grown as it has and without the daring leadership of Archbishop Gregory this building would never have been built. It is beautiful.”
Msgr. Stack, who is a SPOC member, said the building is not an archdiocesan gift, but a loan to be repaid.
“The only special condition is that there is no limit on the length of the mortgage but interest will accrue,” he explained.
After Mass, parishioners held fundraising sales of pizza slices and Mexican cuisine and enjoyed live music and dancing by the Anza Azteca Dancers of St. Matthew Church, Winder.
In attending the dedication Mass and celebration, the monsignor had a few surprises he attributed to aging.
“I was expecting to know everyone as I had when I was there. People have come, people have left, some have died and many have been born,” he shared. “Some of my favorite parishioners have died. I miss them very much. Some of the then-high school students are now parish leaders.”
Msgr. Stack fondly remembers one family from Rancho Colorado, Guanajuato, Mexico. The parents raised children who would become two federal government accountants, an insurance agent, two business owners and other community leaders.
“It’s the American dream,” he said.
Father Gallagher said many parishioners, while sad to leave the old church and even the rented space, are “excited and ready to begin a new chapter in the history of our parish.”