St. Mary Magdalen Mission, established in 1994, used a converted home as their church for 23 years after moving through several temporary locations. Photograph by Timothy L. Williams.

St. Mary Magdalen Mission closes after 25 years

Originally Appeared in : 9921-10/10/19

During his homily on Sept. 7, at the Saturday evening Mass at St. Mary Magdalen Mission in Buena Vista, Georgia, Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., said "I bring you some sad news tonight. This chapel of St. Mary Magdalen will close at the end of this month." The bishop went on to say, "Some of you live near St. Mary Church in Americus and some of you live near Our Lady of Lourdes Church. Both parishes have Spanish ­speaking communities and ministries and will welcome you warmly."


The mission church of St. Mary Magdalen had a very humble beginning 25 years ago in 1994. Father Larry Lucree offered Mass at the Silver Moon Country Music Hall in Marion County. About eight people attended Mass there. From the Silver Moon Country Music Hall, the mission community celebrated Mass at the First United Methodist Church. The offertory collection was barely enough to pay for the rental of the hall.


The third move for the celebration of the Mass in Buena Vista was at the South of the Border Restaurant and Pool Hall. The presence of pool tables and the heavy smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke from the evening before permeated the room on Sunday mornings.


Finally, after two years of moving from place to place, Father Lucree was able to purchase a home for $30,000. The Catholic Extension Society repaid the price of the home. Soon people of the mission converted the house into a small chapel and meeting space.


Bishop Hartmayer said to the small community gathered for Mass, "I can say, with a clear conscience, that the diocese tried to establish a stable Catholic community here in Buena Vista for the past 25 years.


There is nothing to be ashamed of; in fact, there is a lot to be proud of because this small community worked together to do what needed to be done to make this home God's house where people gathered each week to pray and give thanks."


The theme of the bishop's homily was rooted in the gospel and centered around being a Disciple of Christ. The bishop stated that "becoming a dedicated disciple of Jesus often requires us to accept unwanted or unknown changes in our life. In those changes, the Holy Spirit often surprises us with gifts that we would not likely expect."


Having the members of this small community join Our Lady of Lourdes Church or St. Mary Church would enable them to join a more active parish life. The bishop reminded the people that they are called upon to share their gifts in ministries such as the parish council; the finance council; the choir; teaching religious education; sharing in Scripture study; lecturing at Mass; assisting with the distribution of Holy Communion; serving at the altar; becoming ministers of hospitality; joining the Council of Catholic Women; visiting the sick and homebound and many more.


The Eucharistic Liturgy is celebrated in English and Spanish in both surrounding parishes.


"I have had to make this difficult decision for another reason,” the bishop said, "I am concerned about my priests and their well-being. Many of them are over-worked, pastoring two, three and even four Catholic communities."


In most dioceses in the United States, a parish of 1,500 families would have only one priest assigned to that parish or a combination of parishes. The total number of registered families of St. Mary Magdalen mission and Our Lady of Lourdes Church is less than 250 families.


At the conclusion of his homily, Bishop Hartmayer said to the people, "I realize how difficult this news is to accept. This [mission] is a holy place. It is where we have prayed, celebrated the sacraments and cared for one another. I am asking you to let go of all that is making it difficult for you to become a disciple of Christ and accept the call to follow him."


The last Mass celebrated at St. Magdalen mission was held Sept. 28.

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