With the turn of a shovel, ground was broken Monday evening on an $11 million expansion of a Columbia County church that will make it the largest Catholic church in the Diocese of Savannah.
Hundreds of parishioners at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church turned out for the groundbreaking, officiated by the Rev. Gregory Hartmayer, the bishop of the Diocese of Savannah, and attended by Bishop Emeritus J. Kevin Boland.
“It’s a very, very exciting time,” said the Rev. Mike Ingram, St. Teresa’s pastor. “It’s been a series of growth and blessings.”
The 1,200-seat worship space will be built in the shape of a cross atop a hill on Columbia Road, next to the church’s existing buildings. A $5.5 million parish life center, rectory and education building were built starting in 2004 in
the first of three phases of construction.
The 36,000-square foot worship space is the second phase and is expected to be completed by fall 2014. A youth ministry building will eventually follow.
For years, the parish life center has served as the sanctuary of the growing church.
The congregation of St. Teresa moved to the 44-acre property more than a decade ago with 600 families. Today, the church has about
1,800 families and is planning for more.
“As excited as I am for the new church … I’m also going to regain the parish life center as a social hall,” Ingram said. “I feel like I’m gaining two buildings.”
The parish life center served them well, but it was never intended to be a permanent sanctuary. The new space will include a few things the center lacks: a 100-seat chapel, choir space and confessionals. The choir hasn’t had a dedicated practice space since moving to Grovetown, and offices have had to double as confessionals.
The new church will be built in a “traditional” style, as “a place that reminds us of what it means to worship and to be Catholics,” McKinley Curtis, the parish council president, told the crowd that gathered Monday.
There’s a generation of children in the church who have never sat in a pew or worshipped surrounded by stained glass, Ingram said.
“Some grandchildren have never knelt on kneelers as Catholics do,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to the next generation to build something that lasts.”