St. Matthew’s Breaks Ground For New Church
Published: September 1, 2005
WINDER—In the early years of the formation of St. Matthew’s Church, if a family did not show up for Mass on Sunday, they later received a phone call from a worried fellow parishioner.
Betty Cohron remembers those first years well. A parishioner since 1964, she played the church organ for 23 years. On Aug. 18 she joined other parishioners in reminiscing about their past and looking toward their future as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory broke ground for a new church.
About 10 priests, including Father Jaime Barona, the pastor, assisted at the ceremony.
The dreary sky threatened to dampen the outdoor event and the Knights of Columbus honor guard wore protective coverings over their white plumed hats. However, the drizzle began to subside as the event began, a blessing for the hundreds of parishioners who had gathered for the celebration.
The bilingual ceremony began inside the current church, with its cornflower blue walls and elegant chandeliers. Then, after the opening prayer, the congregation followed the archbishop, priests and choir to the site of the future church, their feet crunching on gravel as they walked down the driveway.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said that it was a “joy to visit this community of faith for the first time.”
“I am honored that my visit will be associated with this moment—this happy moment, this proud moment in the history of St. Matthew’s,” he said.
He said that unlike the stories of Scripture, in which a cornerstone is the foundation of a building, in reality, a cornerstone is more of an ornamental piece of the construction, oftentimes containing time capsules.
“But it is obvious to me that this is a community that realizes that the cornerstone, the foundation of the church is none other than Jesus Christ himself, for without Christ we are nothing,” he said. “Over the next several months, this space will be filled with bulldozers and cranes that will turn this space into God’s house, and because it will be built on the cornerstone, the capstone, your faith in Christ Jesus, this building will be a very sturdy building.”
Archbishop Gregory thanked all those who contributed their “time, talent and treasure” to the building project.
“No gift is unimportant, no matter how small or how large, no matter how it was offered,” he said.
While reading about the history of the Winder parish, Archbishop Gregory said he “felt a certain closeness even though (he) had not been to the church before.” The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, a former auxiliary bishop of Atlanta, dedicated the current church building in 1965. He also ordained Archbishop Gregory a bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1983.
“I feel in a very special and very personal way that this building has a solid foundation, because he was part of the early years, and by God’s grace I am able to be a part of this time in the history of St. Matthew’s,” he said.
“You have a big project ahead of you,” he told parishioners, but I feel it is very capable in your hands.”
He then added a special request.
“I hope that when you’re creating your cornerstone, you put inside a small memento of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and one of Wilton Gregory,” he said.
Then Father Barona, along with Archbishop Gregory and representatives of the parish plunged shovels into the earth to break ground, as the congregation cheered and applauded in response.
Father Barona addressed the crowd, and was clearly moved and humbled by the occasion.
“I am so thankful to the Lord to be your pastor,” he said. “You have all enriched personally my ministry and my life.”
“We walk by faith and not by sight, and we have a tremendous project ahead of us. I am just so happy and proud because Christ is the cornerstone of this parish,” he said. “We have built this church from a little mission and we will keep growing and be a full and growing Christ-centered house of prayer.”
The $2.5 million project will include a worship space that will seat 700 people and an educational building, and will be built by Cantrell Construction Services of Cleveland.
Tracey Formato has been a parishioner of St. Matthew’s for 10 years and said that the welcoming spirit of the parish brought her husband back to the Catholic faith.
“I’m just thrilled about our new church. We need it so badly,” she said. “We’re bursting at the seams.”
Fellow parishioner Freda Hamryka, who has attended St. Matthew’s for 12 years, is also excited about their new venture.
“It just feels like home here,” she said. “Everyone loves the friendliness and welcoming spirit here.”
Longtime parishioner Cohron carried with her a picture of her family from 1964, the year she joined St. Matthew’s. Though she was part of the growing church when there were only five families, she still loves the over 800-family parish it has become.
“This is God’s house, and I’ve always tried to make people feel welcome here,” she said. “When the archbishop spoke about Cardinal Bernardin being here, I remember that. We walked behind him in the weeds to the church.”
The church has been a “tremendous part” of her family’s life, Cohron said, and she’s looking forward to the new church.
“I think it’s just wonderful and I’m so proud,” she said. “You know when we first started, we were so dependent on each other to survive. If a family didn’t show up for Mass, we’d call each other to make sure nothing was wrong. But now there is a new generation involved. I feel like we’re leaving it in great hands,” she said.
Paul Hill joined the parish in 1974 as a young boy with his family. His father helped to remodel the current church, which was originally a school building, and Hill said he is appreciative of the things he learned about his faith at St. Matthew’s.
“You really have a great opportunity to learn about the church when there are so few people involved,” he said.
Hill is a member of the parish finance council and said that to call the new church project exciting is “an understatement.” But despite the growing numbers of parishioners, the core of St. Matthew’s remains the same.
“We’re a community. You feel that community as soon as you walk into the church,” he said. “When we first decided to start a Saturday night Mass, we discussed it for months. We were afraid that it would break up the community, but it really hasn’t.”
The church has also grown culturally, with a large number of Hispanic families attending.
“We really work hard to integrate the two cultures,” Hill said. “We have five or six bilingual Masses a year. We’re a close-knit group. We’re not separate. It’s a lot of work, but we’re persevering.”
Father Barona, a native of Colombia, said it is important to him to serve both the Hispanic and Anglo parishioners.
“I especially want to give to the Hispanic community a place where they belong,” he said. “The Hispanics are visible and active in the parish.”
The church continues to grow, led by its proud pastor, who remains humble about all the parish has accomplished.
“I just have to say thank you to the Lord,” he said. “This day was the realization of the efforts and vision of so many people.”
Father Barona hopes that the new church will be completed by December 2006.