In 2003, Father Joseph Smith was new to St. Anne Catholic Church. An estimated 300 families faithfully attended.
Smith could only dream of completing a vision that was cast by former Pastor Hurbert Wellmier.
The plans to expand and build the church have been in the works for many years. Seeing it come to fruition earlier this month means so much, as many have played a role in the planning.
The new St. Anne was officially dedicated Feb. 6. Smith is grateful, but he knows the work is not yet done.
For 15 years, Smith worked for Georgia Power, then Savannah Electric and Power. Ministry came later in life.
“I had a desire to do something that was meaningful and that helped other people. I was not as concerned about salary. I liked the fact they would be as dependent on me as I on them. In this case, doing good for the sake of Christ and attempting on some level to be present to people in Christ’s name,” he said.
In 2007, the planning process officially began, but it was Wellmier who originally shared this vision back in 2000. Countless church members to give of their time, energy and money to make the new church possible. Any resistance has been overcome prayerfully and with consistent input from the church community.
“We have had a series of town hall meetings, and we also asked our members to take pictures of what they liked about other churches. Everyone could take ownership, not just the committees. Too much energy would have been expended had we not worked together on this,” Smith said.
Smith acknowledged that in sending an invitation out for the help and input of many, he felt it was also the message of Christ. Until 2016, educational events, Bible studies, services, events and social gatherings were held at Holy Family Hall. In 2011, the youth building opened, alleviating some of the need for space.
The ultimate goal is to use all of the space available at St. Anne. The new 26,000-square-foot church with a steeple that looks out over Richmond Hill is “a place where people come to meet and experience the transcendence of God,” he said.
This process has not come without a cost. Even with an estimated price tag of $9 million, Smith said it is truly hard to even put a value on this building. There have been many professionals and individuals who have given so much in kind, the value far exceeds that actual monetary cost.
The process has given Smith a multitude of emotions. From stressful to peaceful, this has been a unique journey. Smith also suffered several health issues along the way. Several facial strokes, Bell’s palsy twice and a weakened immune system threatened to keep him down. He said prayer has been a key component in his ability to see the new church through to completion.
“I had to pray and be humble and listen to what God was trying to tell me through other people. I was generally the one who had to say no the most, and people don’t like no. We had to discern and pray and respect this process,” he said.
Now that the dedication has taken place and the church doors are open, Smith said this is no place to stop.
“We still have programs to develop, outreach, education and give assistance to those who have needs in this community. We have made a commitment not to lessen any of our spending on our Christian social-services ministries,” he said.
At 62, he knows this building has not taken him away from the community or the parishioners of St. Anne. If anything, it has drawn him closer. He could not be more grateful or proud to have this opportunity to serve God and this community. With an estimated 1,500 families, St. Anne is well-positioned to continue to enhance the Catholic community in Richmond Hill and southeast Georgia.