By ADRIANNE MURCHISON, Special to the Bulletin | Published November 1, 2018 | En Español
ACWORTH—Hundreds of smiling parishioners filled their new sanctuary at St. Clare of Assisi Church on a recent celebratory Sunday. With afternoon sunlight beaming through windows, choirs and instrumentalists led hymns in English and Spanish. Yet it was the beautiful silences that captured the joy and emotion of the dedication Mass Oct. 28.
Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, was the principal celebrant for the Mass. Bishop Konzen’s careful pouring of sacred oil atop the altar for the anointing and censing was heartwarming to parishioners. In addition, sacristans performed gentle duties in wiping the altar and placing white cloths for celebration of the Eucharist in their new church, as if they represented everyone watching.
“For those that come often or once in their lives,” Bishop Konzen told parishioners, “either way, you are creating a place where they can feel at home and worship where they need to.”
Father Mark Starr is administrator of the Acworth church of about 920 families. Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory called on him to lead St. Clare of Assisi Mission after it was established in 2014.
After conducting a parish survey and consulting with Archbishop Gregory, Father Mark Starr announced the church’s name in October of that year.
The namesake was abbess of the Monastery of San Damiano, on the outskirts of Assisi, Italy. St. Clare lived there for more than 40 years with sisters of the order she founded, known as the Poor Clares, after leaving her aristocratic home and family to follow St. Francis. She was proclaimed a saint in 1255, two years after she died.
The saint’s spirituality would serve to be inspiring for the community.
St. Clare’s Sunday Masses were held at North Cobb High School in Kennesaw and later Barber Middle School in Acworth for four years. Saturday services were held at nearby St. Theresa Episcopal Church.
“We were a parish on the road,” said the pastor on celebrating Mass in a school setting. “We had our challenges but it was exciting as we were building the new parish.”
It was indeed a collective effort that kept St. Clare’s running smoothly, the priest added. For instance, Knights of Columbus members would set up the altar every Sunday at the school, after picking up sound equipment, furnishings and everything else that was needed from a storage unit. After Mass, they took down the set-up, loaded a truck and drove back to storage.
For the new church building, many lent a helping hand.
“So many parishioners and ministries were showing up in great numbers to unload furnishings and chairs.” said Larry Leroux, a member of the church’s building committee. “We had probably 1,000 chairs that were delivered that we had to unpack and put in place. It was such a blessing to have everyone so involved.
Parishioner Ben Marnell built the altar and lectern, made mainly with solid walnut wood and cherry wood for the cross that is placed on each.
“I’m in a temporary job up in Alaska, so Father flew me here just for this,” said Marnell.
He received a standing ovation when Father Starr praised his craftsmanship.
“You saw that the parish was applauding,” Father Starr said after the Mass. “I was very touched by that. This is our altar. This is the sacrifice of our parish,” he said.
St. Clare’s new building is on 46 acres. A house on the property has served as Father Starr’s rectory. Construction crews broke ground for the Cedarcrest Road church last November and the first Mass was held in the new building in September.
The 26,000-square foot space optimizes daylight with an atrium entrance, the nave, a chapel, parish offices, classrooms rooms and a kitchen, which will be completed soon.
The completed project cost was nearly $6 million, Father Starr said. Plans are to erect a church sanctuary building in five to 10 years and use the current space for multipurpose activities. “That’s $8 to $10 million from now,” Father Starr explained.
Parishioners are content in their new surroundings at St. Clare. Many such as Nicola Zaccagnino formerly worshipped at churches located further away or larger in size. Zaccagnino, who attended the dedication Mass with his wife, son and grandchildren, joined St. Clare’s in 2014 and enjoys the intimacy of his church home.
“I feel kind of lost in a very big church,” he said. “I attend 8 a.m. service. It is smaller in number and I can focus.”
Father Starr’s commitment has been central to the fabric of the St. Clare community, parishioners said.
“I met Father Mark four years ago,” said Kevin McLeod, the building facility manager. “I built out his rectory. He is an amazing priest. He brings so much to the table from a faith standpoint and a business standpoint. (The dedication) was incredibly warming to me as a Christian and a sacristan for the church.”
Father Starr describes the completed construction of St. Clare of Assisi and the dedication Mass as the birthing of a parish.
“It was very special,” he said, attributing the help of the parishioners to the Lord’s talents.