PEACHTREE CORNERS, Ga. — In 2008, Father Francis "Butch" Mazur closed and locked the doors of St. Gerard Church in Buffalo, where he served as pastor. The parishioners who had gathered for the final Mass stood outside the shuttered doors in the streets of downtown Buffalo, staring at the church that, for many of them, had been their home for decades.
"They didn't want to move," Father Mazur said. "Everyone just stood there blocking the streets."
For more than 100 years St. Gerard's, with its architecture modeled after the Papal Basilica St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, had been a symbol of faith in downtown Buffalo. But as parishioners began moving to the suburbs in great number, there were too few members to sustain the parish.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta attempted to buy the Buffalo church and move it brick by brick to Georgia, but when funding costs could not be raised, the diocese chose to bring the pews, baptismal font, statuary and windows - everything but the bricks - down south for a new home at Mary Our Queen Church.
On Saturday, March 16, in Peachtree Corners, last-minute preparations at Mary Our Queen Church were in motion. Workers were power-washing sidewalks, touching up paint and delivering flowers for the next day's dedication of the new church building. In the narthex of the church, Father Mazur lovingly ran his hand along the gold of the baptismal font which he'd used to celebrate baptisms for nearly a decade. The priest can recite the history of the 100 years of St. Gerard's as easily as if it were his own family history. And now, despite more than 900 miles between them, St. Gerard's and its legacy of faith have given new life to Mary Our Queen Church.
The baptismal font is only one of the many artifacts that originated from St. Gerard's and was used to build the new Mary Our Queen Church, which is tucked away in an office park. On St. Patrick's Day - a fitting occasion for the dedication of the church, which is led by pastor and Ireland native Father Darragh Griffith, Mary Our Queen parishioners looked around in awe at their new church. Most craned their heads toward the high, sky-blue ceiling, which is flanked by stained-glass windows that once belonged to St. Gerard's. The new church is expansive and impressive - a testament to the marriage of old and new, and the parishioners and church leaders who have put their hearts and souls into the building.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the March 17 Mass of Dedication for Mary Our Queen, joined by Father Griffith, Father Mazur, former Mary Our Queen Pastor Father David Dye, and several priests of the archdiocese.
In his homily, the archbishop said that though a new church building is cause for celebration, it is important to remember that those inside the church are called to be God's first temple.
"Far more important than any building of brick and mortar, we are ourselves that edifice in which God chooses to dwell. Therefore, as we bless and dedicate this new structure, we must allow the holy water, the sacred chrism oil, the fragrant incense to permeate our individual hearts and lives," he said. "The elements that were used to construct this church are to become a sacramental sign of our dignity as the place where God chooses to reside. We are the sacred structure most precious to the Lord."
The community is celebrating the completion of a project that has been underway for a long time, Archbishop Gregory said.
"Our celebration is made possible because of the generosity and the determination of many people from this community and many people who have preceded you and are now in the kingdom of God," he said. "I want to thank everyone whose contributions and whose faith and whose persistence and whose determination have made today possible."
Archbishop Gregory then thanked Father Dye and Father Griffith, as well as those from St. Gerard who gave the church a piece of its history.
"I also welcome and thank for his presence, Father (Mazur) ... and a number of other visitors from Buffalo who want to see how Atlanta will care for the treasures that they have decided to share with us," he said. "Please take home to the Diocese of Buffalo the gratitude of this whole community, and the assurance that they will cherish - as you cherished - the treasures of religious art and artifacts that once lived in the cold Buffalo region and now will sweat with us here in Atlanta."
Following his homily, the archbishop began the Rite of Dedication, which included the anointing, incensation and lighting of the altar and church.
Before the final prayer, Father Griffith stood to welcome and thank those involved, including architects Harrison Design, contractors Whiting-Turner, building committee chair Paul Bataillon and the many others who had made the dreams of the parish community come true.
"Today is a special day. Many people have helped to make this day possible," he said. "I want to thank you, the people of Mary Our Queen, for your generous support in making this wonderful vision a reality."
Above all, Father Griffith is grateful for the new space that will bring others - especially the nearly 900 registered families of the parish - closer to God.
"We here at Mary Our Queen are so happy to have our new church. We want this to be a sacred space where God is truly glorified," he said. "It is such a joy to us, too, that this beautiful church is dedicated to Mary, our Queen, who wishes her son be glorified at all time."
For many involved in the building of the new church, the Holy Spirit proved to be a powerful force. Jeff Armbruster, a parishioner for more than 20 years, is one of many parishioners who was involved in the project from the beginning, when the plan was originally to bring the entire St. Gerard Church to Peachtree Corners. When the cost was determined to be too great, they chose to go with the next best option - bringing inspiration and artifacts from St. Gerard to Mary Our Queen.
From the altar to the tabernacle, a representation of the pieta and the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the heart of St. Gerard has blended into the new Mary Our Queen. Though many elements are from Buffalo, they are intermingled with features like the Stations of the Cross, Holy Family statue and crucifix and corpus from the temporary Mary Our Queen Church, which will now be used as a parish hall. The polished concrete floors and stucco-like walls of the new church complete the blend of old and new that will serve the Mary Our Queen community for generations to come.
Father Dye first visited St. Gerard not long after it closed and instinctively knew that the church was the right choice for the new Mary Our Queen. The large fresco above the altar that depicted Mary's coronation was an extra confirmation from the Holy Spirit. Later Armbruster was able to visit St. Gerard while on vacation with his family and was inspired by the design.
"There are a lot of remarkable aspects and stories surrounding our new church home," he said.
The day before the dedication, Armbruster walked through the new church, excitedly pointing out the old and new.
One of the most extraordinary "God-winks," as Armbruster calls them came when he and his wife donated a gift to sponsor one of the stained glass windows. Each window's donation information was lovingly placed over the original dedication information from Buffalo.
"The name of the person who donated the window in Buffalo? Frank Armbruster," he said. "Guess what my dad's name was? Frank. And our family tree doesn't go anywhere near Buffalo. You just can't make this stuff up. This was all the Holy Spirit."
Mary Margaret Thomas, who served on the church's interior committee, said the new church is "a perfect blend of the modern and classical."
"When I walk in, I'm just in awe. I'm so excited for our parish and for the Catholic community to have this special space," she said. "It just envelops you in warmth from the moment you walk in the door."
Also walking through the doors of the church in awe was the Ciezki family: 90-year-old Dick; his wife, Dorothy; daughter-in-law, Frankie; and son, Robb, who served as a deacon during the dedication Mass.
With her eyes filled with tears, Frankie Ciezki showed a photo of herself and her husband on their wedding day, standing in the expanse of St. Gerard Church.
"I made every sacrament besides my baptism at St. Gerard. There was a beautiful spirit there. But it was the people who made the church so special," she said. "You really feel that same spirit here, too. I believe there was a reason this church was chosen to receive so much of St. Gerard. Not just any people, but these people. There's a connection of that same special spirit."
Dick Ciezki said walking into Mary Our Queen was "just like being back home." As the final trustee of St. Gerard's, Ciezki said it was difficult to say goodbye to the parish he called home for more than 30 years.
"I signed the paperwork that St. Gerard's was closed," he said. "I was there when we closed the doors. And here we are today. Isn't that just wonderful?"
For Father Mazur, the dedication was emotional.
"This is just exquisite," he said of the new church. "They really did a fantastic job - way beyond my expectations. You see this church and it's a beautiful replica, yet it has its own character."
"There's so much that's old and there's so much that's new. It's the perfect blend of both that created Mary Our Queen."