By NICHOLE GOLDEN | Published August 8, 2019
NEWNAN—Parishioners of St. George Church welcomed Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III on June 15 for a Mass of Thanksgiving to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the church’s dedication.
Bishop Shlesinger was celebrant and homilist for the Saturday evening Mass with Father Henry Atem, pastor, and Father Alvaro Avendaño, concelebrating.
When Catholic families settled in Coweta County in the early 20th century, they traveled to the neighboring communities of Griffin, Atlanta or LaGrange to attend Mass. In 1938, Ellis and Effie Mansour requested permission from the bishop of the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta to have Mass in their Newnan home.
“We live with great mysteries in our lives,” said Bishop Shlesinger, as he recalled the commitment of the Mansours in opening their home for Mass some 80 years ago.
Another mystery is how Father Atem, a native of Cameroon, would eventually become the pastor of St. George and how the Archdiocese of Atlanta would grow to have 1.2 million Catholics.
“It’s actually because the Holy Spirit is working in ways we cannot even imagine,” said Bishop Shlesinger.
He reflected on the willingness of Ellis Mansour and his family to allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives.
“Today, we are grateful for their witness,” said Bishop Shlesinger.
For many years, area Catholics met in the Mansour home until they outgrew the space. The Newnan community then generously opened restaurant dining and meeting rooms to allow Masses to be celebrated.
-In 1950, the Redemptorist priests were assigned to the community. After many bake sales and spaghetti suppers, the parish purchased a lot on Jackson Street in Newnan, adjacent to a lot donated by a local businessman. The first Catholic church in Coweta County became a reality.
-Again, growth prompted parishioners to raise funds for a new church property on Roscoe Road. Ten acres with a home was purchased and the Mansour family donated an additional 25 acres to accommodate growth. Archbishop Thomas Donnellan dedicated the new church building on June 22, 1969 and St. George became a mission of Sacred Heart Church, Griffin.
-In 1974, the mission was elevated to parish status.
-After 42 years of serving St. George, the Redemptorists turned the parish over to be served by archdiocesan priests. Father Leo Herbert was the first diocesan priest, assigned to serve there in 1992.
-In 1997, the parish built Henderson Hall to provide more classrooms and office space. The hall was named for Sister Bridget Henderson, the parish’s first director of religious education.
In 2003, St. George’s first Spanish-speaking priest arrived as a parochial vicar to serve the growing Hispanic community.
-The parish is constructing a new rectory with a completion date of late 2019.
St. George is home to more than 1,200 families, representing many nations of origin.
The church’s anniversary celebration was launched with a Year of Grace and Gratitude beginning in the spring of 2018. The Year of Grace and Gratitude included a Mass at the graves of Ellis and Effie Mansour, a May crowning ceremony, a Mass celebrating Father Atem’s tenth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood in 2018 and a groundbreaking for the new rectory. A dinner gala was held June 14 in the parish hall.
At the June 15 Mass of Thanksgiving, Father Atem recognized five longtime and dedicated members of the community, presenting certificates of appreciation to them. He said the five parishioners—Ellis Mansour, Josephine Thomas, Margaret Stefanchick, June Thomas and Rose Marie Mansour—embody the parish history and what it ought to be in the future.
“Now, my brothers and sisters in Christ, we begin the next 50 years,” said Father Atem. “Today, we are able to profess that there is a church here for us to worship. The next chapter is up to each one of us.”