Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of the Diocese of Savannah told congregants Saturday at the new St. Anne Catholic Church that two things would happen the following day.
“You’re going to come to the Mass you want to attend, and secondly, you will stake out your pew,” Hartmayer said during his homily, drawing laughter from the parishioners.
“But then comes Ash Wednesday, and that will mess it all up,” he added, to more laughter.
There was much more laughter and many smiles during the rite of dedication for the new, 26,000-square-foot, faded-brick, statue-filled church that brought out hundreds of parishioners and many area religious leaders on a chilly morning in Richmond Hill.
The Mass began at the nearby Mary-Martha Chapel — the structure built by Henry Ford in 1938 — where religious leaders, Knights of Columbus members and parishioners first gathered. The entire group proceeded to the new church, singing “Let Us Go Rejoicing” the entire way. The processional’s path went by the Holy Family Hall, which was built in 2004 and had been the home of Mass for the parish.
At the front of the new edifice, Hartmeyer received the front-door keys from a representative of R.W. Allen, that architect that built the facility. Hartmeyer then turned the keys over to Father Joseph Smith, St. Anne pastor, who unlocked the door to let everyone in.
The church, filled with natural light from its huge windows, quickly filled with the still-singing parishioners. The service began and featured more singing, Bible verses, prayers and sprinkling of holy water throughout. Also during the service, leaders anointed Chrism, a consecrated oil, to the altar and walls of the edifice.
During his homily, Hartmayer went through much of the Catholic history of the Richmond Hill area. In the early 1950s, about 30 people from Richmond Hill went to Savannah for weekly Mass. In 1955, the Martha-Mary Chapel became the property of the Diocese of Savannah, and the community began with five families and “a handful of Catholic soldiers based in Hinesville,” Hartmayer said.
The bishop said the Richmond Hill Catholic community began to grow. Smith told the News in a previous interview that the St. Anne parish today has about 1,000 families covering 2,300 members.
Hartmayer also made a comparison to a young married couple who dream of owning and moving into their own home.
“Father Smith, you and the people of St. Anne must feel so happy and so proud and secure that you now have this place that you can call your own. No more kneepads, no more folding chairs,” he said.
During his address to the congregation, Smith thanked the many people who worked on the planning and gave and prayer of the church, saying that every effort “was greatly necessary and is greatly appreciated.”
“It’s a collaboration. It’s a constant collaboration — constant collaboration, working together, listening together and making people feel like this is theirs from the very beginning,” Smith said after the Mass.
Bishop Emeritus Kevin Boland said prior to the service that having a permanent place of worship is “the ultimate thing you look for when you establish a faith community,” and that the new St. Anne church is a great sign of growth in the diocese.
He also praised the structure itself.
“It’s beautiful, it’s absolutely magnificent,” Boland said. “It’s one of the finest churches in the diocese. The people can be very proud of what they’ve done.”