Local News Archive
Print Issue: January 11, 2001
New Dalton Church Serves Growing, Bilingual Parish
By Priscilla Greear, Staff Writer
DALTONA predominantly Hispanic congregation gathered Nov. 27 at St. Josephs Church for the first Mass in the new church, which is providing the diverse community needed space to better grow and live together as one parish family.
The growing, ethnically altered parish is a quintessential example of the impact on the church of the steady Hispanic immigration from Latin America to North Georgia, where in this archdiocese baptized Hispanic Catholics now appear to outnumber all other Catholics.
Building committee chairperson Mary Herd recalled the parishs growth in both size and diversity over the past decade necessitating both a new church and a new location. When she joined the parish 20 years ago it had about 200 families with a sprinkling of Latino households. The parish now has about 825 Hispanic families in its 1,100 households, not including the many unregistered, and on weekends has drawn up to 2,100 people. Herd said the building project was an opportunity for the two communities to join together.
Ten years ago we were just beginning to have Hispanic growth ... Weve had tremendous growth in the last 10 years. When I came to town I knew one Hispanic lady that sang in the choir, she said. Its been a hard process of the two communities not working together and this was an opportunity to do something together ... Weve worked together on committees, fund-raising, on planning the church ... Because we were in such a small church before, they had the Hispanic Mass and we had ours. We didnt interact. With the larger space well have more space for doing things in room we havent had before.
The parish formerly worshipped at a 200-seat capacity S. Thornton Avenue building dedicated in 1957. The new 32,000 square-foot facility located at 1775 Old Haig Mill Road has a church that seats about 600 and also classrooms and a parish hall.
For the dedication Mass, some 800 people pulled up to the brick church overlooking a reservoir and hills and searched for parking spaces with the help of friendly attendants. Passing through the courtyard and below an archway reading House of God, Gate of Heaven in Latin, a compromise between English and Spanish, they soon filled up the church. The churchs complementary tomato red carpet and yellow-toned walls suggested the collaborative efforts Anglos and Hispanics had made to get to dedication day.
The thoroughly bilingual Mass was celebrated by Archbishop John F. Donoghue and concelebrated by pastor Father Bill Hoffman, parochial vicar Father Abel Guerrero Orta and other archdiocesan priests. Other local clergy also attended, including Dr. John Rossing, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, which will occupy St. Josephs old building and site. The service opened as project and parish leaders presented keys, ledgers, plans and a parish history to the archbishop, who then sprinkled holy water and blessed the people and building.
In his homily, also read in Spanish, the archbishop described the dedication as a time for a happy cry of relief and wisdom as the faithful join themselves to the Lord and his sacrificial love. As when parents baptize their baby and consider the childs responsibility to grow in love of God, Archbishop Donoghue told parishioners that it is a time for them to consider the great things God now expects of them.
This church has its own futureits own destiny. It has been raised, built, supported, funded, and filled with the spirit of youits peoplebut now, it becomes the dwelling place of Gods spirit, as the Gospel teaches us, and it becomes the home for the needs of all who will come hereourselves, our children, and the Catholics of Dalton from now, hopefully, until the world shall end, and there will no longer be any need for churches in places, since the only place will be heaven, and the only church, the heart of our merciful and loving Father, he said.
But now, and for the future that we must foresee, this is our Church, our place of refuge, and the source of all our strength, in Jesus Christ our Lord. And it becomes now, our duty, our sacred duty, to protect this temple, to hold up its walls, and to make it the most beautiful, the most inviting of places, wherein all who come, might find God, and might find the power, the grace, the love that He gives us through the Sacraments that will be celebrated here.
He reminded the faithful that their permanent home is with God. Though we may fear what is not knownthough we may worry for the sake of our children, and though we may grieve at the sacrifices we must make, if our children are to be happysacrifices of the homes we may have left so that they could have a better lifesacrifices of what we might wish for ourselves, so that they may have it in our steadour grief is but a moment of doubt before the declaration of faith that our Church bids us make, and that prayer leads us to make, when we truly consider what is good for our soulsthe proclamation with which we began ... the shattering of our doubt, and the firm implantation of our future: Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
The archbishop thanked Father Dan Stack, immediate past pastor, who initiated the project three years ago, Father Hoffman and all supporters.
I want to thank each and every one of you who made great sacrifices to build this place for the glory of God. I know it was not an easy thing. I realize how much you have done and how in the future you will continue to support this parish, he said. My prayer is that God will continue to bless the people of Dalton.
The archbishop then anointed the altar with oil to the sounds of piano and flute. He and Father Hoffman incensed the church and the pastor lit the altar candles after which the church lights were turned on and the bilingual choir sang Christ Be Our Light. Other songs included Iglesia Peregrina or Pilgrim Church. After processing through the church, the archbishop placed the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.
Father Hoffman thanked local clergy, former pastors, musicians and others and presented an icon of the apostle Thomas, patron saint of architects, to Herd, an architect. Thank you to everybody that helped over the last four years from the bottom of my heart, she replied.
The pastor spoke of a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Blessed Juan Diego donated for the parish courtyard by Roberto Garza of the Terza Corp. of Monterrey, Mexico, in appreciation of the pastoral care shown to Mexican immigrants of Dalton by the parish. The Mass was followed by a reception.
Immigrants have been prominent on the parish rolls since its early days; the parish began in the 1840s and 50s when Irish workmen came to the area to work on the railroad. Land was bought in 1852 for the first church and during the Civil War federal troops used the church building as a hospital for soldiers with smallpox. The troops burned the church in 1865 and construction on a new building began in 1869, with the church receiving $5,000 in 1888 through a war reparations claim. The church became inactive in the early 1900s and the building was sold. Fewer than 10 people were being ministered to in the 1930s. In 1941 Redemptorist priests came to Dalton and reestablished the church and in 1943 the Thornton Avenue site was purchased. In 1957 the building was completed and, after the departure of the Redemptorists in 1967, the church was torn down and rebuilt in 1977.
The facility set on 19 acres consists of a church, education building and parish hall and features 14 classrooms, five offices, a conference room and kitchen. It was designed by Thomas Gordon Smith Architects of South Bend, Ind., and built by Gene Rogers Construction Co., Dalton. The $4.7 million project was funded by the parish in conjunction with the archdiocesan Capital Campaign and construction began in April 1999. Stucco building sides will permit future additions.
We know right now we dont have enough classroom space. We already have Sunday school three times on Sunday and on Wednesday night. Now we have double the amount of classrooms and were still not going to be able to cut back on the amount of Sunday school, Herd said. The stucco section was requested so we could easily expand the wall at the back of the church.
The committee chair said the parish sought a location near the interstate for the southward bound. They wanted a simple, classic style for the church, which is punctuated by deep sets of arches and modeled on Counter-Reformation churches in Rome, to please all parish ethnic groups which also include Africans, Asians and Europeans. She said Hispanics and Anglos worked well together despite some tensions and need for tedious translating, noting more are becoming bilingual.
Its been a very enjoyable experience. I had a wonderful building committee. We had an interior design committee. I fought yellow walls for a long time, said Herd, who headed the project while caring for her five children at home. There was still a little bit of we do it this way and this other way. But I think theres a lot of people in the parish committed to working together and Im hoping the new church will foster that.
Costa Rican immigrant Leidy Gonzalez, who has lived in Dalton for 11 years after moving from Los Angeles and is married to a Mexican immigrant, is one of those committed.
With this church I learn to be more close with the people, to share with the American people in this church. Since this is a small town, in this church Ive learned to know other parishioners and to share with English-speaking brothers and to get to know them better and to better know all the races in the church, she said.
She thinks the new building will strengthen the parish foundation.
Im very happy. I appreciate (Father) Dan Stack because hes the one who started the idea for the project and we feel very happy. A lot of the people do. I appreciate God first and him second. Hes a very important person here, Gonzalez said. The new building will help unite the parish because we built it together. Were working together and this is for everybody.
I think now its going to be better and better. More people, they have more projects, more opinions, activities for the kids. They can learn more about God. Theyre going to have fields for soccer and softball and thats good for the children ... The family can be more close to the church, Gonzalez continued.
Father Hoffman, who is bilingual and has served as a missionary in Latin America, also shared much hope for the new church and the ability to expand there.
The dedication was a great occasion. I thought wed have a full church, he said, but in addition to the people seated half again as many were standing at the back and in the foyer.
The pastor said the building was constructed with expansion in mind and initial plans are to add on in 10 years. He recalled the cramped closed-circuit days on Thornton Avenue.
We just couldnt live in that small place anymore. We had too many kids for our catechism classes. We had a closed-circuit television in a hall upstairs ... More people would be up there than in the church, he said. Were just trying to get out of the old place and into this one.
The pastor said the biggest area of parish growth now is among children in the church. The immigrants, many of whom are Mexican, work largely in the carpet industry, as well as in house cleaning, construction and in restaurants and the parish also brings the Gospel to some of the estimated 30,000 Latinos in Dalton by holding Mass and catechism classes in Hispanic neighborhoods. The biggest challenge is to help people feel like this is their home. Its everybodys home. They have to respect it, treat it as community property. Its a mixture of learning how to care for the building and do the things that help other people, Father Hoffman said. You have to learn to live with each other. For the new arrivals from Mexico (they) have to learn new ways of doing things that people do in this country and people who have lived here a long time have to cut some slack for the newcomers. They cant adapt to the way things are done in the U.S. overnight.
CLASSIC DESIGN --
The new church, educational building and parish hall of St. Josephs
Church, Dalton, enfolds the courtyard. The exterior material is brick with
limestone trim. Thomas Gordon Smith Architects, South Bend, Ind., designed the
structure, which is modeled after Counter-Reformation churches in Rome,