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St. Anne breaks ground on new sanctuary
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Jon Swann discusses his contributions to the new St. Anne sanctuary prior to Thursday's ground breaking. - photo by Jeff Whitte

With an abundance of prayer and then a flip of shovels, Richmond Hill’s St. Anne Catholic Church broke ground on its future during a ceremony Thursday evening at the site where the new 26,000-square foot sanctuary will be constructed.

The new structure is expected to cost around $8 million and be finished by Christmas 2015. So far, the church’s nearly 1,000-member congregation has raised some $3.9 million toward the construction cost, and among those who’ve helped raise that amount is 11-year-old Jon Swann.

“Every week I’ve been putting $1 in the pledge cards, and I’m going to be doing that for three years,” said Swann, the son of Ed and Paula Swann. “It won’t get a lot for the church, but it’ll get something, and I want to be a part of it.”
Swann said he’s been giving for a little more than a year and expects to give another $150 or so before he’s finished.

“I don’t know how much one of those big bricks out there will cost, it might get one or two bricks,” he said. “I’m still going to be happy that I got to help put this up.”

But if Swann, who took part in the groundbreaking along with church officials and those who’ve helped bring the project about, represented St. Anne’s future, then longtime parishioners such as Miriam Free and Roberta Bennett were on hand to recall the past.

Free, who was born and raised and lived much of her life in Richmond Hill, recalled when church members held mass in the old courthouse annex near the intersection of Highway 144 and Highway 17. Today’s groundbreaking marked a milestone for Free.

“It’s so very important for our community,” she said. “We are so proud of our church. I love little St. Anne’s, but we’ve outgrown it. And I’m just so supportive of Father (Joseph Smith) for promoting this. It’ll take us a little while to take care of the payment on it. But we’re working on it.”

Bennett, the real estate agent who brokered the deal for the land upon which the sanctuary sat, also participated in the groundbreaking. She said she’s attended St. Anne since 1980.

“It’s been at least 13 years in the making,” said Bennett, who recalled the day the deal for the land was struck because it happened on Sept. 11, 2001 – the day of the 9/11 attacks.

“It just so happened that was the day 9/11 took place, 2001, same day,” she said, shaking her head.  “We just moved up here in 80, that was only place we went to that little chapel over there, and I’ll bet there weren’t 100 members at that time. It has grown. It’s needed.”

The church is being built by Augusta-based R.W.Allen, which has constructed a number of churches in the area, including Statesboro First Baptist. The new sanctuary was designed by the Boudreaux Group of Columbia, S.C., and was designed to include an 86-foot-tall bell tower, which when built will be the tallest structure in Richmond Hill.

Free said she’s seen the designer’s work come to life during a trip up to South Carolina. The Boudreaux Group has designed a number of churches around the South, and Free said she took a trip there to see one the architects designed in Lake Wylie. What she saw convinced her the new St. Anne sanctuary will be splendid.

“It’s going to be a beautiful church, it really is,” she said. “This is a big day for all of Richmond Hill.”

Smith led the ceremony, which included various church dignitaries and spiritual leaders, representatives of the church, the contractors and Sun Trust, which is helping finance the construction – including Bishop Gregory Hartmayer and Bishop Kevin Boland, and former St. Anne pastor Father Douglas Clark.  

“Humbly we ask he good Lord’s blessing on everything we do here,” Smith said. “No just for the community at St. Anne now, but for the future community, and the Catholic church in south Bryan County as it strives to grow and continues to grow.”

Smith was among a number to offer prayers at the groundbreaking, which was followed by a mass in the current sanctuary and a reception.

Paula Swann, who teaches at Blessed Sacrament where her children attend school, said her family comes from Savannah to attend St. Anne.

“We drive past four other Catholic churches to be here,” she said. “We come to this church because we love the people, love the pastor.”

Swann gave another reason the new sanctuary is needed.

“We come on Saturday night, and to watch Father’s face when he sees somebody come in, look around and they can’t find a seat, his whole face just falls,” she said. “Because what if they don’t come back. What if something was said that day and the Holy Spirit was going to touch them and they didn’t hear it because we don’t have a place to put them. That’ll never happen again.”

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