By Allison Kennedy
Published in Columbus Newspaper
Columbus Catholics are marking two milestones this weekend. The first is the 50th anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. In biblical times, the 50th year was called the Jubilee, in which land returned to its original owners, debts forgiven and crops lay fallow.
Mildred High remembers when her Catholic parish didn’t meet in a building but in the collection of buildings that is Baker Village. That was in 1957. About 120 people attended the first Mass in the Baker Village Community Room in November of that year. The Rev. William Dowling was the priest assigned to establish a new community of Catholics in south Columbus, and went door-to-door in the area to find potential members. Within 18 months, Our Lady Of Lourdes had its own land after a $20,000 down payment. In June 1958, Our Lady Of Lourdes was officially established. Two months later, church leaders broke ground.
“We were always active in the parish and even after my husband died I was always active", said High, whose husband Calvin brought her here because of the military. The couple had two daughters.
Today, the parish continues its two-day 50th celebration, which High has helped plan. More than 300 people were to attend a celebratory banquet Friday night at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, which was preceded by Mass featuring the Most Rev. J. Kevin Boland of the Diocese of Savannah as celebrant. (Today’s festivities will feature an international Jubilee celebration at the church featuring foods from the many nationalities represented among the members. Additionally, five nuns who once served at the church and its school — established two years after the church in 1960 — are also in town until mid-week. The mother house of their Ursiline Community is based in Cork, Ireland. All the nuns were called back from Columbus to Ireland in 1997, after serving the south Columbus parish and school for 37 years.
High was scheduled to pick up the nuns at the Atlanta airport on Wednesday. Marking this milestone has been many months in the making. "We've been working on it for 11/2 years," Gordon Stephenson, D.C., said of the weekend celebrations. "Not only preparing the program but improving the church." Among other facelifts, Our Lady Of Lourdes has new carpeting, a renovated facade and lighted signs. Stephenson is head of the 50th anniversary committee. He is married with three children, the oldest who of whom are students at the school.
Our Lady Of Lourdes is the third-oldest Catholic church in Columbus, following Holy Family downtown and St. Benedict the Moor in Carver Heights. St. Benedict was established in 1956, and St. Anne in east Columbus followed as the city’s fourth parish in 1961. The church's priest is the Rev. Robert Girardeau. At the parish’s first Mass on Christmas Eve 1958, the choir sang the traditional “First Mass of of Christmas," with Dowling as celebrant.
A second celebration for area Catholics will be at the 11 am. Mass on Sunday at Holy Family Catholic Church on 12th Street. Bishop Boland will officially re-open and rededicate the sanctuary after about nine months of renovations. Among the changes: New paint and stenciling on the ceiling and walls; improved lighting and acoustics; new ambo (an elevated pulpit); ambry (which holds the holy oil); and new hard-carved crucifix from Italy. Additionally, the front of the sanctuary features a type of 3-D painting technique called “trompe l'oeil,” (French for “trick of the eye"), to give the appearance of real columns. This historic church was established in 1880.
‘We tried to keep a semblance of an old and new", said Arnold Goodman, a Holy Family member who's studying for ordination to the diaconate. As a man worked one recent afternoon on the upgraded acoustics system, Goodman said: “This is a state-of-the-art system. There is a definite ‘wow factor.’
“We started out fixing the roof and just kept on going."
Which was true. About a year ago, cracks showed up in the ceiling. Then church leaders decided to freshen up the paint. And so on and so on. Since last spring, worshippers met temporarily across the street from the main church in St. Mary’s Hall. A company called Conrad Schmitt Studios in Wisconsin spearheaded the massive effort, which drew on reserve funds from the church. The company was also here about a decade ago to renovate the historic Springer Opera House.
The Rev. Frank Patterson, Holy Family’s priest, has already seen an effect on the members, which number about 850 families.
“I’ve noticed a new energy from the people. Their singing seems to be louder and better. There’s a new enthusiasm as people come to worship,” he said.
IF YOU GO
What: Jubilee Celebration for Our Lady Of Lourdes Catholic Church (50th anniversary), featuring international foods.
When: 2-4 p.m. today
Where: Our Lady Of Lourdes, 1953 Torch Hill Road
In addition: Bishop Boland will preach and celebrate Communion at the 11 a.m. service Sunday at Holy Family, 320 12th St. He will also officially re-open the renovated sanctuary. Additional Mass times this weekend are at 5 p.m. today and 8:30 a.m. Sunday. A reception will follow.
Open house: Holy Family will have an open house for the community 3-5 p.m. Feb. 10.