What I Have Seen And Heard
Published: March 13, 2009
The new church building for St. Helena Church, Clayton, was damaged in a March 1 fire. (Photo by Ron Spencer)
Last Tuesday evening St. John Neumann Parish celebrated a very happy moment in its history with the groundbreaking ceremony for its new church. The weather cooperated and the outdoor prayer service brought together a huge number of parishioners, clergy, staff personnel, youngsters and former parishioners to rejoice that this new church building was moving from dream and design now to reality.
At the conclusion of the rite, a distraught lady with tears in her eyes came up to me and told me about a tragedy that had touched the lives of another one of our parishes. She and her husband own a vacation home near St. Helena Church in North Georgia and were very much looking forward to the dedication of their new church building in August since it would also coincide with their own 41st wedding anniversary. But early last Sunday morning, a fire seriously damaged the almost-completed new church. She was crestfallen, and her tears confirmed the great sorrow that had come to pass in this Archdiocesan community.
Church buildings belong to the family of the parish, and there is great interest and pride in their construction and maintenance. I have been so blessed to have shared in the breaking of ground for many new churches and then their formal dedication in the relatively brief time it has been my privilege to be the Archbishop of Atlanta.
The dedication ceremony of new churches is one of the happiest events in the life of any community. Churches—whether they be traditional or modern in appearance, whether they are large or relatively small, whether they are brand new or old—are important to our people. To have fire damage any church building is a deeply felt sorrow for the parishioners and should touch the hearts of all of their fellow Catholics.
Several weeks ago a priest friend of mine from the Archdiocese of Chicago e-mailed me a message that a fire was then raging in the roof of Holy Name Cathedral. My own memories of that cathedral are many and include my own Ordination there as a bishop in 1983. I immediately identified with the sadness of the parishioners, clergy and of Cardinal George, the local Shepherd of that flock. We all tend to have memories of the places where we have worshiped and prayed. Church buildings become the location of those memories of our Faith. They are important to us all.
Our churches are maintained by a host of people who clean them, open and close them, and make sure that they are prepared for the special ceremonies that they provide for a community. Thank you to all of those people who are parish staff members as well as volunteers for their generous and careful maintenance of the houses of the Church throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta. They help us all to preserve these places of worship and prayer.
I will make a special visit to the parish family of St. Helena’s within the next few weeks to assure them of our support. By then the insurance people will have ascertained the extent of the damage and come to some plan for restoring what was lost. But even more important than the mere calculation of the financial costs of the fire is the expression of the support of the people of the Archdiocese of Atlanta for our brothers and sisters in that North Georgia mountain community who have endured a sorrow at the very moment when they were anticipating rejoicing in the construction of a new home for the Church.