Wisdom has built herself a house and what a magnificent house it is!: Bishop Hartmayer's homily from the dedication of St. Anne Church, Richmond Hill

St. Anne Catholic Church | Richmond Hill, GA

Mass for the Consecration of St. Anne Church

Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv
February 6, 2016
Richmond Hill, Georgia

My dear friends,

Around Thanksgiving, I stopped by here to look at the progress of the construction of the new St. Anne Church. When I first saw the mammoth walls and the cathedral ceiling, the long center aisle and the substantial bell tower – the only thought that came to my mind was from the Book of Proverbs, Chapter 9, verse 1: “Wisdom has built herself a house!”

I am not a Scripture scholar, but those who are would profess that the “House of Wisdom” referred to in the 9th chapter refers to a “House of Instruction”; a school where the best lessons are taught, in the best possible mode of teaching, and by the best of all teachers.

Who is this “Wisdom” to which the Book of Proverbs refers?

The Book of Proverbs tells us that “The Lord begot me, the beginning of his works, the forerunner of his deeds of long ago; from of old I was formed.”
“At the first, before the earth, when there were no deeps I was brought forth, when there were no fountains or springs of water; before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was brought forth; when the earth and the fields were not made, nor the first clods of the world.  When he established the heavens, there was I.”

“When he fixed the foundations of earth, then was I beside him as artisan; I was his delight day by day.”

The person alluded to by the name “Wisdom” is a clear reference to the eternity and the presence of Jesus Christ; the co-eternal and co-equal-son of the Father.

This “house” that “Wisdom” has built is the Church of the living God; a banqueting-hall in which we have the Gospel feast prepared and exhibited for all who have a spiritual appetite, and the invitation is freely and earnestly given to all, for there is plenty of room and an abundance of provisions.  The focus of the “house”, in reality, is a feast upon a sacrifice.  And what is that sacrifice on which all who wish may feast……but the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

As we gather on this wonderful day in the history of Richmond Hill, Georgia and the Diocese of Savannah, we are joyfully worshipping in this magnificent church for the first time.

It all started in 1938 when Henry Ford, Sr. built what is now Saint Anne Church with lumber supplied from the Ford Plantation sawmill.  The little white chapel just outside of this church was copied from the Ford chapel in Dearborn, Michigan which was name “Martha Mary Chapel” in commemoration of Mr. Ford’s mother and mother-in-law.

The plantation’s sawmill burned down in 1951 and the plantation of 75,000 acres was sold to the International Paper Company.

A small community of about 30 Catholics lived in Richmond Hill at the time and travelled 17 miles to Savannah each Sunday for Mass. Bishop Hyland of Savannah took an interest in the beautiful Ford plantation chapel and in 1955 the chapel became the property of the Diocese of Savannah.

Although the community began with five families and a handful of Catholic soldiers based in Hinesville, the Richmond Hill Catholic community soon began to grow. 

The colonial-style Family Hall was built under Benedictine Father Charles LeFrois and dedicated in November 1984. The Diocese of Savannah is most grateful to the Benedictine Monks who provided pastoral care for the St. Anne Catholic Community for many years.  My thanks to Fr. Frank Ziemkiewicz and Fr. Ronald Gatman from Benedictine for their presence here this morning.

The late Bishop Raymond Lessard elevated Saint Anne as a parish on November 1, 1987 with Fr. Douglas Clark, who is also present here today, as the first pastor.   Religious Education classes were conducted by the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters and lay teachers.

We must prepare this new church properly by following the ancient rituals of the Church. We must bless the doors and the walls and the sanctuary, we must proclaim the Word, we must anoint the walls and the altar of sacrifice with sacred Chrism oil. We must illumine this temple with the glowing and warm light of Christ. 

For this is the House that Wisdom built and this is the place where we will hear God speak to us and where that Word of God will become incarnated and we will eat and drink of the holy sacrifice of His Body and Blood that will be offered to the Father on this consecrated altar in thanksgiving for the gift of his Son.

When a young couple first gets married, among the many dreams they have is to own their own home.  Most young couples are not in a financial position to purchase a home right away.  They have many financial obligations.  But they look forward to the day when they can move into their own home.

A smart and prudent couple will make sure they are able to afford a house and maintain a house before they decide to make the largest purchase they will ever make as a husband and wife.  And so, they must make sure that everything is in proper order so that they do not over extend themselves.
They want to make the right decision regarding the right location, the right size, the right price.  When a couple or a family is able to purchase their own home, they feel so happy and proud and secure because they have a place they can call “their own”.

Fr. Smith, you and the people of St. Anne, must feel so happy and proud and secure that you now have this place you can call “your own”. No more knee pads and no more folding chairs!

This faith community has built a house where God will dwell. This is the house where the faithful will become initiated into this community in Baptism.
This is where you will feel the hospitality, the reconciliation and the unconditional love of God as you confess your sins and share your brokenness with the One who died for those sins.

It is here, in this holy place, where couples will vow and renew their love and commitment to one another in the Sacrament of Matrimony and call upon the Grace of God to help them grow in love with one another and ask God to bless them with children.

This is where you will bring those faithful who have been a part of this parish family and have been called to their eternal home and pass through these doors for the last time.

Twenty-nine years ago, Bishop Lessard established St. Anne as a parish.

So much has happened during these past 61 years since the first Mass was celebrated in the Ford Plantation Chapel.  So many people have come and gone, so many priests have served the people of this parish.  There is a rich history of the growth of the Catholic Church here at St. Anne; a history of which we can all be proud.

After serving as pastor for ten years, Fr. Herbert Wellmeier was succeeded by Fr. Joseph Smith in 2003.

Over the past 13 years under the leadership of Fr. Smith, St. Anne parish has experienced substantial growth, not only physically but also spiritually. Fr. Smith, with the assistance from dedicated Religious and lay leaders, has been able to fulfill the dream and vision of this parish community.  Fr. Smith, I am not only grateful to you for shepherding this Catholic community but I am also proud of you for overcoming many obstacles, both personal and financial, and building on the past and providing for the present and future needs of the local Catholic community.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the deep faith and commitment of the past and present parishioners of St. Anne.  Your generosity has made this possible.  God will continue to bless Jon Swann who pledged a dollar a week to the building campaign and who is so proud to be serving the first Mass in this new church as well as the hundreds of families who have made a sacrificial financial gift which made the building of this church a reality.

This Church is dedicated to God through the intercession of St. Anne, the mother of Mary and the grandmother of Jesus. May those who come here feel her maternal warmth and care.

Yes, Wisdom has built herself a house and what a magnificent house it is!