“Land of the free and home of the brave” is the best-ever description, in a nutshell, of the citizens of this greatest country on the planet Earth. We are free and at the same time brave to do what is best for humanity. The best in humanity is the acknowledgement of God and God’s work in one’s life and hence that of the world. This requires faith in God.
It was the unwavering and deep-rooted faith of the then handful of Catholics a century ago in 1919 that brought them together to pray and worship in one of their homes in this rural Southern town. Eighty years fast forward, on Aug. 1, 1999, after 10 years of relentless hard work, the current sanctuary was completed, blessed and dedicated at 359 Old Griffin Road, Jackson. On Aug. 4, St. Mary. Mother of God Catholic Church is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its blessing and dedication.
Engraved on the nation’s capitol is our national motto “In God We Trust” describing the deep-seated religious nature of this great nation. Our little city of Jackson is the best example for the religious underpinning of the citizens of this country. The presence of churches of one or other denominations is ubiquitous. Among the very many, the city of Jackson has the unique honor of housing the one and only one Catholic church serving the Catholic population of the whole of two counties — Butts and Jasper.
Begun as a mission of the Catholic Church in Athens, Ga., in the 1900s, in 1940 the mission began to be pastorally cared by the priests who served the Catholic Church in Griffin and later a mission of the Catholic Church in McDonough. On Jan. 1, 2008 hitherto Catholic mission was elevated to the status of a Catholic Parish and Msgr. Terry Young was appointed its first pastor.
Even after a century the fact is, compared to the Protestant denominations, Catholics are a microscopic minority in these two counties. History says Catholics in Jackson had their first mass celebrated in 1919. Writing about the origin of the Catholic presence in Jackson, Jerry McLaurin, the then chair of the building committee that oversaw the building of the current sanctuary says: “St. Mary, Mother of God Catholic Church, then St. Mary’s mission, probably got its start around the turn of the century in the early 1900s.”
During this time priests would travel from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Athens to Jackson. “Early pioneers were Fathers Clark and King, who occasionally celebrated mass at the home of Mrs. Freeman (Marie) Land in Jackson as far back as 1919,” writes McLaurin. This would mean, for the local Catholics, 2019 is the centenary of the first mass that had been celebrated in Jackson. Still as a minority community the Catholics are happy and proud to be part of this quiet and serene community where the majority of the inhabitants belong to various Protestant denominations.
Following the Biblical tradition of the first Christian community as narrated in the second chapter of the book of Acts, the Catholics in Jackson’s earlier times would assemble in one of their homes for the communal practice of their faith that culminated in the celebration of the Holy Mass. And this arrangement wasn’t on a regular basis and happened once in a while as the availability of priests was scarce and long-distance travel and other hurdles were involved.
Such random get together of those handful of Catholics helped to keep up in them the zeal and enthusiasm of their Catholic faith and its practice. Even in the absence of a resident priest for many decades to care for their spiritual needs these brave pioneer Catholics kept their faith burning.
In 1942 the Redemptorist missionary priests who served the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Griffin took over the pastoral care of the Catholics in Jackson. From 1943 every other Sunday the mass was celebrated in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Deraney. And this followed the regular Sunday celebration of mass in 1947. By this time the basement of the Deraneys’ was converted into a permanent chapel adequate for the Sunday celebration. For several years the Deraney basement chapel served as the Catholic hub for the Catholics in Jackson and its surrounding areas.
Recalling to those days of Catholic upbringing, Becky Glidewell, 68, a cradle Catholic, born and raised in Jackson, who spent all her life in the area and whose parents settled in Jackson from Mobile, Ala., in 1946, said kids were told not to play with her because she is a Catholic. Such was the bias that existed against the Catholics at that time. She said growing up those days, her parents would drive her and her siblings to the church in Griffin on Saturdays for the Faith Formation.
The warmth of the presence of each other on Sundays enhanced their religious practice, sentiments and convictions to a higher level prompting them to think about a new worship space that could accommodate the growing members of their faith family. The faith filled group of Catholics in Jackson successfully completed their first worship place in 1959.
As Catholic families began to move into Jackson the membership began to grow. The current facility located on Old Griffin Road is the ever-shining expression of the deep-rooted faith and braveness of the descendants of the first Catholic settlers and other Catholics who later on moved into the area. McLaurin, himself a cradle Catholic, born and raised in Griffin, headed the seven-member building committee that accomplished the miracle — St. Mary Mother of God — the beautiful sanctuary. The other members who equally deserve credit are Charlie Brown, former mayor of Jackson, Larry Deraney, Pat Ryan, Angela Escalera, John Lueken and Mike Patterson.
The Catholic Church across the globe is divided into dioceses and archdioceses. Each diocese/archdiocese is overseen by a bishop or archbishop. And the diocese and the archdiocese are further divided into parishes. The parish is the lowest and basic juridical unit of the Catholic Church anywhere in the world.
The website of the Archdiocese of Atlanta says: “The Archdiocese of Atlanta encompasses the northern half of Georgia covering 21,445 square miles. Specifically, it includes the 69 counties north of and including the following counties: Lincoln, McDuffie, Warren, Hancock, Baldwin, Putnam, Jasper, Monroe, Upson, Meriwether and Troup. The Archdiocese of Atlanta is a vibrant, diverse and rapidly growing Catholic community. As of 2018, there are 103 parishes and missions, 277 diocesan and religious priests, 62 seminarians, 18 archdiocesan Catholic schools, 1.2 million Catholics, and 7 million people in north-central Georgia.
“The History of the Archdiocese goes back the late 1700s. Originally part of the Diocese of Savannah, Atlanta was made a Diocese in 1956 and made an Archdiocese in 1962.”
According to the Executive Insite Report prepared for the Archdiocese of Atlanta as of July 23, this year the total population (inclusive of people of all faith and no faith) living within the boundary of the parish (comprises of the whole of Butts and Jasper counties) is 38,290. Of this only 13.3% (5,090) identify themselves as Catholics. Today St. Mary, Mother of God parish has a registration of 325 families. The statistics reveal the vast majority of people who identify themselves as Catholics do not practice their faith. This may either be due to the fairly long distance they have to travel to reach the church or may be attending the non-Catholic churches closer to home thus ending up in losing their Catholic identity or some even may not care for the practice of their faith any longer.
Please accept this as my personal invitation to all Catholics — practicing, non-practicing and those who would like to become Catholics as well — and to all people of goodwill to be part of our celebrations on Sunday, Aug. 4, here at the church. If you are planning to join us please call us at 770-775-4162.