By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 20, 2014
WOODSTOCK—A new classically styled church that will seat more than 1,000 worshippers at St. Michael the Archangel Church was envisioned as parishioners celebrated the first visible step in the building project. Following a Mass, leaders on Saturday, March 8, tossed small piles of dirt with shovels to symbolically break ground for the church.
“It represents a parish community that is very alive in the spirit,” said Father Larry Niese, the longtime pastor.
Under a cloudless blue sky, surrounded by hundreds of women, men and children, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory joined the community to celebrate the occasion.
The afternoon Mass began sadly. Mathew John Meyer, a parishioner on his way to the event, died when his motorcycle crashed nearby. As the community was told, prayers were said for him and for his family.
“We come together because we are believers,” said Archbishop Gregory, opening the Mass. “We are believers in life everlasting.”
The new Romanesque church will be an addition built onto the existing building, which was dedicated in 1999. In July 2012, the mortgage was paid. The current worship space will become a social hall for the parish, some 30 miles north of Atlanta.
The Catholic community in Woodstock took root in 1995 when a mission was started. By 1996, it was a parish as the community gathered in a Cherokee County gym to worship. The new building will be built on a grassy lawn next to the current building. It is estimated to cost $8.5 million, according to Catholic Construction Services, Inc.
In his homily at the Mass before the groundbreaking, Archbishop Gregory told the crowded church that their faith in Jesus and each other made the next step possible.
“It is the faith of the community that gave life to the task to build the new church,” he said.
The building will house this parish family as it continues to put Jesus as the foundation of its life, he said.
“You symbolically bless the start of a very happy project,” he said, adding the future home will be “filled with the hope and faith in the Lord and one another.”
Following Mass, Dan O’Dwyer, a leader of the building committee and also a homebuilder, told the crowd after all the work to collect pledges and work with an architect, the fun starts.
“It’ll be a beautiful, beautiful structure. It’s really, really going to be a fun and rewarding time,” said O’Dwyer, still dressed in his choir robes after Mass. He asked the group to imagine standing in the same spot a year from now and seeing sunlight flooding into the new building. “Won’t that be grand?”
Growth is fueling the need for the facility, which was delayed for a couple of years during the recent recession.
The area served by the parish counts nearly 25,000 Catholics, a boost from the year 2000 estimate of 14,000, according to the archdiocesan Planning and Research Office. Also, the makeup of the Catholic community is changing. Hispanic Catholics have grown to be nearly 40 percent of the estimated Catholics in the south end of the county, compared to 21 percent in 2000. Non-Hispanic white Catholics make up about 58 percent of the population, down from 77 percent.
There are seven weekend Masses, with some standing room only as people crowd the church entryway.
“I don’t ever want people to come to St. Michael and feel like there is no room for them. We need to have enough room to bring people into the church. We’ll be able to embrace more individuals and families with the church,” said Ann Carey, a leader of the fundraising campaign and building committee.
Her committee worked for two years to raise money for the project. Carey engaged all the ministries and all its members to raise the money.
“I’m just so impressed how dynamic our church is and how committed the individuals and families are to our church,” she said.
At St. Michael, in 2011, there were some 2,800 registered households.
The project is to help the parish serve not only spiritual needs, but also to build community. The project almost doubles the size of the church. It seats now around 700 people. Nearly 1,100 people should be able to fill the church after the construction.
In addition, the existing building is to be converted into a parish hall, with the addition of a kitchen, which, Carey said, will build a stronger community when it is used for gatherings after a funeral, for wedding receptions and parish events.
Winter Construction is building the church. Sizemore Group architectural firm has designed the brick building.