By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published April 3, 2014
ATLANTA—In the coming weeks, the Cathedral of Christ the King will begin the renovation of the archbishop’s former residence into a rectory for the priests who serve at the parish.
The Cathedral purchased the residence on West Wesley Road, about two blocks from the church, as part of a 20-year plan to create room for the growth of the large Buckhead parish and school, which has few options for expansion.
The sale of the West Wesley residence took place on Feb. 25, with a selling price of $1,911,667, paid for with a portion of the funds inherited by the Cathedral parish from the bequest of Joseph Mitchell, nephew of “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell in 2012. Those funds were applied by the archdiocese to the cost of building a replacement residence for the archbishop on the property on Habersham Road, the site of Joseph Mitchell’s former home.
The Cathedral received $7.5 million, half of the liquid funds of the Mitchell bequest.
Plan for Cathedral expansion developed in 2008
Sam Fraundorf, chairman of the Finance Council at the Cathedral of Christ the King, said that a process of developing a 20-year master plan for the Cathedral began when the late Msgr. Tom Kenny was pastor.
With facilitation, the community assessed the needs of the three components of the parish facilities—the Cathedral, Christ the King School, and the parish rectory, which is a residence for six priests. This led, after much discussion and input from parishioners, to the conclusion that the only one that could be relocated off the property was the rectory, he said.
Efforts to find a place for a new rectory on the east side of Peachtree Road were unsuccessful, he said.
When Msgr. Frank McNamee was appointed pastor in January 2009, following Msgr. Kenny’s death, the community started to explore locations on the west side of Peachtree Road and that led to consideration of the archbishop’s residence. In late 2010 Msgr. McNamee approached Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and asked him if he would consider letting the Cathedral purchase the residence as a rectory. The archbishop said “if this is in the best interests of the Cathedral,” he would consider it, Fraundorf said.
All this occurred before Joseph Mitchell’s bequest was given to the archdiocese, he added.
“The bequest provided the capital necessary to make it happen,” he said. “Prior to that we were looking at a capital campaign.”
The parish is experiencing rapid growth, adding nearly 600 new families in 2013, and uses all of its facilities to the maximum, Msgr. McNamee said.
“It was recommended that the priests move off campus in order for us to gain space because we are so landlocked,” he said.
The first idea to look for a place in the neighborhood right around the parish was not successful because neighbors did not want the parish to purchase any additional property on the side of Cathedral property abutting the residential area, he said.
Msgr. McNamee said that because the West Wesley Road archbishop’s residence was in walking distance of the Cathedral, across Peachtree Road, it then came up for discussion as a possible rectory.
He emphasized that it was he, on behalf of the Cathedral community, who approached Archbishop Gregory about it, thereby initiating the sequence of events that led to the archbishop agreeing with the request and subsequently moving.
This occurred before the death of Joseph Mitchell and was not initiated by his generous bequest, Msgr. McNamee said.
“I think it’s important that I approached the archbishop on behalf of our parishioners to ask him to consider this,” he said.
“I want to thank the archbishop because the archbishop was doing this to help the Cathedral in its expansion and future planning,” he said.
Msgr. McNamee said he continues to believe the West Wesley residence as a Cathedral rectory for six priests “is a very good idea.”
“Two blocks away, in walking distance, it makes sense,” he said.
It will continue to have a small chapel, as it did while a residence for the archbishops over the years. The rooms will not be extravagant, he said, but will be “very basic.”
Explanation of plans for growth
Msgr. McNamee said the relocation of a rectory off the campus is necessary to free up space for parish ministries and for the needs of Christ the King School.
“It is a busy place seven days a week. … We continue to grow and grow. … We have to look at the bigger picture for the needs of our Cathedral parishioners and for the needs of the school as well. We are landlocked. We need space for all sorts of parish activities. … It’s a great problem to have, but we have to look toward the future,” he said.
Susan Murray Euart has been a parishioner of the Cathedral since birth. She was baptized there and attended Christ the King School with her nine brothers and sisters.
Critical of the plans to expand the Cathedral and build the new residences, Euart believes that “this windfall of money could have been better spent than on their personal residences.”
She questions the plans to increase the facilities at the Cathedral, although she agrees that the parking situation at the parish needs to be addressed. She would rather that the Cathedral was a more “intimate” parish and questions the need for another large space.
She said, “All of the money should go to the school, which is in disrepair.” She said, “Nothing is wrong with the current rectory. I want the priests to have what I have: a nice room to live in, a nice living room, a nice kitchen.”
Msgr. McNamee and Archbishop Gregory met with Euart and a group of nine other people critical of the plans on Jan. 20.
Euart said that it was a “very, very respectful meeting.”
Archbishop Gregory explained where the money from the Mitchell bequest went. People asked questions. Those who came, including one couple from Sacred Heart Church, Atlanta, and a man from Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta, “said what they came to say,” and the archbishop and the pastor listened.
Since the meeting and a subsequent article critical of the two residences in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Msgr. McNamee said he has received overwhelming support from other parishioners.
“I have received tremendous support from parishioners that they support the long-term plan for the Cathedral and they support the archbishop,” Msgr. McNamee said. “I think parishioners are somewhat disappointed some of our parishioners have gone to the media and felt the need to bring this to light through the media. I think that’s where some of our parishioners are struggling right now.”
Asked whether there would be any change in the plan now, he said, “The Cathedral has purchased the archbishop’s former residence and we are going ahead.”
Asked whether he thought any additional communication could have helped, he said, “This discussion has gone on for years and years.”
“We have been up front about this,” he said, citing an article in The Georgia Bulletin in 2012 about the plans and other articles written in parish media.
“We had talked about it. … I believe we had communicated to the best of our ability what was happening in the parish. We had worked with the neighborhood in communicating with them. I believe we had communicated well,” he said.
According to Sharon Connelly, director of operations for the Cathedral, the renovation of the West Wesley residence into the rectory was “supposed to have already started.” She estimates that the project will begin soon.
Fraundorf said the Cathedral has secured the building permits needed to begin renovations to the prior residence to accommodate the needs of the priests. Final plans include the decision to always have at least one priest on the Cathedral campus at all times, including an on-call suite.
The garage on the West Wesley property will be demolished to make room for an addition to the house. Included in the addition will be four bedroom suites, a nook library, a pantry and a small laundry room. There will no longer be covered parking on the property, Connelly said.
The project also includes some general maintenance to the house, plus a check to make sure the staircase is up to code.
This renovation, Connelly said, adds 3,000 square feet to the home that will become the new rectory for six priests.
Hodges and Hicks General Contractors is the firm that will be doing the work.
About the additional costs for renovation, Fraundorf said, “We have been using a number of $1 million to address demolition, building, update and repairs on the existing portion of the house. We recently had to change contractors, moving from a residential to commercial contractor, which may impact those numbers. However, we continue with that as the best estimate at this point.”
Clarence Smith, a lifelong parishioner at the Cathedral, grew up in a home on West Wesley and now owns that house. It is just a few doors away from the residence where all the archbishops of Atlanta have lived, beginning in 1966 when Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan moved there.
“We’d walk to Christ the King. They’d walk to Christ the King,” he said.
To him, making the archbishop’s residence into the rectory was logical.
“Here is a property that belonged to the archdiocese. It’s been here 50 years. It could be modified for six priests to live in and be in walking distance of the Cathedral. It made sense,” he said.
Neighbors on West Wesley were invited to the Cathedral to hear about the proposal and it was also presented at a neighborhood community meeting, he said. While some issues were raised, he said once people heard the details and that priests from the Cathedral would be living in the home, there was no real concern.
“It’s so logical to me, it’s not controversial,” Smith said.
To make room on the Cathedral’s property on Peachtree Road for the present and future needs of the parish and Christ the King School, “we’ve got to do something … and the only thing we can move is the rectory,” Smith said.
“We’d be thrilled to have priests living two doors down,” he said.
“The archdiocese has been a part of the neighborhood for 50 years,” Smith said.
Gretchen Keiser contributed to this story.