New parish in Ray City is "all an act of Faith", Bishop Hartmayer says at dedication

Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.
Dedication and Consecration of St. Anthony of Padua
May 21, 2016
St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church
Ray City, Georgia

Like many of the rural missions in the State of Georgia and in dozens of mission dioceses across the United States, St. Anthony of Padua parish in Ray City, Georgia had a humble beginning.

It was with the missionary zeal of many priests and Religious men and women with a true understanding of serving God’s people and evangelizing the Gospel, together with, the generosity of the Catholic Extension Society that made the dream of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church a reality.

We are gathered here on holy ground; land that was given out of love and with love because a dream was shared; the dream to give honor and glory to God here in South Georgia at this moment in time.

The story of the building of St. Anthony of Padua begins in the late summer of 1939, 77 years ago.

Father Joseph Cassidy came to visit Valdosta to do some evangelization in the Lakeland area. The African-American community responded so enthusiastically that Father Cassidy recommended that a church be built to serve those desiring to embrace the Catholic faith.

The pastoral care of the Lakeland area was entrusted to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Douglas, 35 miles away to the North.

In the Fall of 1940, the foundation of a new church, Queen of Peace, was laid. Bishop Gerald P. O’Hara dedicated the church on March 4, 1941. On May 6, 64 people were baptized in the new church.

In 1969, Fr. Cyril Gabbett, then pastor of Queen of Peace church in Lakeland, came to celebrate the first Mass in Adel at the home of the Rodrigues family. As the Catholic population grew, it became necessary to find a large enough building for Sunday Mass.

On October 2, 1971, a donated building, in Nashville, GA, was dedicated and put under the patronage of St. Mary. Father Cyril Gabbett was the first pastor. The Marist Sisters assisted the priests for many years.

In July of 1972, Bishop Gerard L. Frey gave permission to move some vacant buildings from Lakeland to Adel and remodel them into a chapel. The number of Catholics kept increasing, so in May 1976, Bishop Raymond W. Lessard was approached with plans to renovate and enlarge the Adel chapel. He blessed the renovated Chapel on Sunday, October 17, 1976, the feast of the patron saint – St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

And so, from 1976 until 2013, Queen of Peace, St. Margaret Mary and St. Mary served the Catholic population in three countries here in South Georgia.

For the past 8 years, Fr. Fredy Angel has pastored these communities from three into one.

I remember my first visit to Queen of Peace. We had a meeting of the members of the three churches. I spoke to the people about the possibility of bringing the three communities together into new community and in a new church that would have enough room for all the families and to provide for future growth.

Some of the people were happy to hear about that possibility, others were uncertain and there were a few did not want to see a change because they like their small church and because everybody knew each other and care for each other and they did not want that to change.

But over the last three years, as this community began to do more and more as one community, they came to know one another and work together with one another. They have made new friends.

I suppose there were some who were a little skeptical about the idea of a new church in a new place. Some probably thought that it would never happen.

But in God’s time, things began to happen…little by little. A group of believers began to dream and to put their dream into the hands of God... and the dream was becoming a reality.

What encouraged me and what made a believer out of me was the faith of the people. One man stepped forward and donated the land for the new church.

It was then that I knew it was going to happen because generosity and the spirituality of stewardship are contagious. I knew that more people would begin to come forward.

There was something that everyone could do… to make this happen.

People began to work hard at weekend Taco Sales and Dinner Dances and special collections.

We were able to sell the mission churches; we cleared the new land and sold the timber.

Something was happening that showed me that this is God’s Will.

The Catholic Extension Society was responsive to our request for help. They became very interested in this special community that was supporting this incredible dream.

Fr. Fredy was awarded the prestigious “Lumen Christi Award” that shed the” light of Christ” on this project.

More and more people from the community were generating enthusiasm. The architect, the contractor, the realtor, the diocese, parishioners were laying the brick on the outside of the building after work and on weekends, another parishioner donating the pews, and another parishioner began carving a “one of a kind” altar and tabernacle, other parishes in the diocese were all getting behind this movement of bringing these three communities together into one.

Bishop Boland said that “what is happening in Lakeland and in Adel, in Nashville and in Ray City and in all this part of South Georgia is a kind of miracle in South.” It is all an act of Faith.

When a young couple first gets married, among the many dreams they have is to own their own home. Most young couples are not in a financial position to purchase a home right away. They have many financial obligations. But they look forward to the day when they can move into their own home.

A smart and prudent couple will make sure they are able to afford a house and maintain a house before they decide to make the largest purchase they will ever make as a husband and wife. And so, they must make sure that everything is in proper order so that they do not over extend themselves.

They want to make the right decision regarding the right location, the right size, the right price. When a couple or a family is able to purchase their own home, they feel so happy and proud and secure because they have a place they can call “their own”.

Father Fredy, you and the parishioners of St. Anthony of Padua, must feel so happy and proud and secure that you now have this place you can call “your own”. No more leaking roofs, bad air-conditioning; not enough seating, no place to teach the children.

This faith community has built a house where God will dwell. This is the house where the faithful will become initiated into the community of the Church in Baptism.

This is where you will feel the hospitality, the reconciliation and the unconditional love of God as you confess your sins and share your brokenness with the One who died for those sins.

It is here, in this holy place, where couples will vow and renew their love and commitment to one another in the Sacrament of Matrimony and call upon the Grace of God to help the grow in love with one another and ask God to bless their children.

This is where you will bring those faithful who have been a part of this parish family and have been called to their eternal home and pass through these doors for the last time.

Fr. Fredy, I am not only grateful to you for shepherding this Catholic community but I am also proud of you for accepting the responsibilities of leadership and administration and building on the past and providing for the present and future needs of this local Catholic community.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the deep faith and commitment of the past and present parishioners of the three mission communities. Your generosity has made this possible.

I have made some wonderful friendships in this parish which I truly cherish. I have such admiration for you. You continue to inspire me.

This church is dedicated to God through the intersession of St. Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan saint who is venerated for his holiness and petitioned to help those find things that are lost. Not only lost car keys, or eye glasses or important documents but also the finder of lost faith, lost health, lost love, lost hope.

It is my hope that you will develop a strong devotion to St. Anthony of Padua both personally and communally.

May this day, this church and this community always have a special place in your heart.


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