By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 16, 2012
The Archdiocese of Atlanta received a property on Habersham Road in the Buckhead neighborhood as part of the bequest of Joseph Mitchell, nephew of the famous author of “Gone With the Wind,” that will become the new home for the archbishop.
Located less than two miles from his current home, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory is to move to the new property once a new house is built. Then the existing residence on West Wesley Road will become the rectory for the priests serving at the Cathedral of Christ the King, which is marking its 75th anniversary as a parish.
The existing cathedral rectory is to be torn down. In its place will be extensive work on the property that parish leaders envision will shape the parish community and Christ the King School into the future.
‘The Hand Of God Is At Work’
Discussion about a move of the rectory began about a year ago.
The cathedral community was considering how to proceed with its future development. A new place for its priests to live was needed because the next stage involves tearing down the existing rectory. Many ideas were floated about where the priests could live, from converting condos to a rectory to buying a neighborhood home.
Father Frank McNamee, the rector, recalled someone raised a “crazy” idea to approach the archbishop about selling his home, which is about a third of a mile from the church, to the cathedral community and he look for a new residence.
Father McNamee said he raised the idea with the archbishop after a social event at the cathedral. “I’m hoping you don’t think I’m crazy,” he recalled saying, looking for assurance that the archbishop would be open to the idea.
The response, Father McNamee said, was better.
“If I can do something to help the cathedral, I will do it,” he was told.
But then the idea was how to move forward. The archbishop couldn’t give up the home before he had a place to live.
In the fall of 2011, the cathedral and the archdiocese were surprised to learn Joseph Mitchell had left the archdiocese and the cathedral a multi-million dollar bequest, including the ranch home where he had lived modestly on Habersham Road.
“The hand of God is at work in all of this,” said Father McNamee.
Historic Home Served Archbishops
The current archbishop’s residence on West Wesley Road is being purchased by the cathedral community for $1.8 million, which was agreed to after three appraisals were done on the property, Father McNamee said.
It will eventually house six priests assigned to serve at the cathedral. Father McNamee said a suite for a priest will also be constructed next to the cathedral church to ensure a priest is on the property at all times, which is important to the parish community.
The Spanish-style home on West Wesley Road dates to the mid-1920s. It was redesigned in the early 1990s as a two-story, six-bedroom house, with large ground floor rooms for meetings and entertaining.
The home was purchased in 1966 when Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan led the Catholic community.
The West Wesley Road house over the years has had dual roles. It has not only been home for the Atlanta archbishops, but a place for archdiocesan social events and meetings hosted by the archbishops. In fact, it served as the offices of the archdiocese in its early days.
The purchase is being paid for out of the $7.5 million left to the cathedral by the Mitchell estate, said Father McNamee.
Father McNamee said he did not expect to move to the West Wesley home, which will need to be renovated, for at least 18 months.
He told a funny story about one of the priests living at the cathedral rectory, Msgr. Richard Lopez, a longtime priest associated with St. Pius X High School and a man with a dry wit. When Msgr. Lopez moved into the rectory, he said he was looking to stay there until he died.
When Father McNamee recently reminded him of his pledge, he joked that he had 18 months until his last breath.
In response, Msgr. Lopez said he’d reconsidered since the move to West Wesley Road was planned. “Well, a couple of good archbishops died there, so I guess it’s OK,” he said.
The existing cathedral rectory is to be demolished. In its place may be additions that could change the landscape of the school and parish community. Among the proposals under consideration for the Peachtree Road campus are meeting spaces and a multipurpose/worship space for the parish, along with an improved gym and classrooms for the grade school, said Sharon Connelly, cathedral business manager.
New Archbishop Residence
Under current plans the existing house on the Habersham Road property will be razed. In its place, a new two-story Tudor house will be built. The top floor is to be the archbishop’s private area, along with rooms for guests.
For the public gatherings, such as Christmas parties and other events with parishioners and priests, the architect designed a large living room and dining rooms. A patio links the house with an outdoor lawn.
One area to be enlarged from the existing residence is the chapel. It will be designed to seat up to 15 people.
George Barrie, president of Catholic Construction Services, Inc., and Dennis Kelly, the senior project manager for Catholic Construction Services, are two members of an experienced seven-person committee, comprised of members from several parishes, guiding the project.
“This is almost room-for-room what (the archbishop) has now,” said Barrie.
Last spring, a feasibility study showed the property could easily accommodate a new home. There were no problems with sewage, grading of land, drainage. Atlanta building permits require building plans to consider the damage to trees during construction. But the building plans will have minimal impact on the tree canopy or the root systems, according to Barrie.
The project puts the three-car garage behind the house and additional parking in the rear.
The architect for the new residence is David Grave, of A Classical Studio for Residential Architecture. The firm was selected from a group of five architects. The same firm designed the rectory of St. Brigid Church, Johns Creek.