Across from St. Theresa of the Child Jesus on Prestley Mill Road in Douglasville, the land once used as a horse farm has remained bare and untouched, save for the presence of a lone statue of Jesus, seemingly waiting for something or someone to join him there.
St. Theresa purchased the land years ago with plans to build a new sanctuary and maybe a school when funds became available. And that plan has persisted and is still part of the long view for the church.
Now, five years later, as the project has seemingly resurrected, the statue of Jesus is host to new construction finally getting underway, or at least some clearing and grading of the property by American Contractors Grading and Paving, Inc. of Lithia Springs for what will be mostly a storage facility, according to Fr. Joseph Shaute, pastor of St. Theresa, who spoke by phone.
Fr. Shaute was at St. Theresa a decade ago from 2004-07 as Parochial Vicar. He was moved to be pastor at St. Clement Catholic Church in Calhoun, but was excited to be called to return to St. Theresa.
Shaute said it’s rare within the Catholic Church to be called back to a church you’ve been before, because there are so many churches out there that may need a pastor and his particular skill set and added that the different role once back can require adjustment in perceptions by the members. But Shaute said this is really a win-win outcome.
“...With the building project going on and knowing practically 60 percent of the congregation I would be able to make decisions easier than someone who hadn’t been here ... so it’s been very much a homecoming for me,” he said.
Shaute returned in August and he says he wants his stay as pastor to be a long one.
“So much in our world is constantly changing. When you come to church you want it to be a constant. We worshiped the same God yesterday that we do today, and will tomorrow. People want some sense of stability in their lives. The church needs to provide that,” he said.
The grading and infrastructure installation is for all phases of the project, with the potential for further expansion down the road. The current “Phase 1” is expected to take about 12 months.
The grading of the land, sewer, electricity, a retention pond, metal frame building for storage building — future plans to convert to a gymnasium — will include a youth center with a 100-person capacity, and finished parking lot for that building.
According to Shaute, St. Theresa will build a new larger sanctuary for the congregation, which opened in 1988 with about 150 families; it has grown since then to about 1,500 families, which works-out to about 5,000 members, Shaute said.
In a November church bulletin Shaute discussed the Master Plan.
“When the land was first acquired—more than five years ago—several needs surveys were done and input was obtained from staff, parish leaders, and other parishioners as well. Our architects—Tom Smith and Michael Boland—have taken those ideas and created an excellent Master Plan and building designs that are beautiful, will serve our needs, and are achievable.”
Although the new sanctuary is still on the drawing board it’s expected to be double the size of the current one. The design plans will be – God willing – finalized over the next six months, or so. Construction will depend on raising the funds and is down the road a bit.
Four planned phases of construction including the current one described in the church bulletin are for a new church with a 700-person seating capacity, large entrance area, day chapel, and a choir loft. Phase 2 is a building connected to the church building that is a Parish Hall and Offices. The Parish Hall is intended to have a seating capacity of at least 300.
Phase 3 would be a classroom building connected to the Parish Hall building. These three buildings would be side by side with distinct parking lots. Phase 4 would be the conversion of the storage building to become a gymnasium.
Other planned smaller projects include a soccer field, an amphitheater, and a cremation mausoleum (above ground cemetery).
Shaute said that the existing sanctuary and adjoining offices may or may not be kept and used by the church down the road, but that that evaluation would come later.
“As buildings get built across the street, we would remodel the current buildings, primarily creating more classrooms. We would eventually either use the current parish campus for other activities or sell the property.”
There is continued discussion of including a Catholic school on the new parish campus. A parish survey showed potential interest, but less when discussing possible tuition prices. The challenge would be building a school with affordable tuition. There is enough land if this project gains enough financial support, Shaute said.
“There has also been discussion of a retirement home. They are actually more complicated to build than schools. They are residential vs. day schools, they also involve more medical regulations and, there are special legal and liability insurance protections and requirements,” he said.
An official groundbreaking across the street is planned for Jan. 22, 2018 at 5 p.m. with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, followed by a Mass of Installation to formally install Shaute as pastor of St. Theresa in the current church.
In the meantime the statue of Jesus across the street from St. Theresa will continue to watch over the slow, but determined, progress through the next decade as the church and its congregation continues to grow.