RICHMOND HILL — With an abundance of prayer and then a flip of shovels, Richmond Hill’s St. Anne Catholic Church broke ground on its future during a ceremony Thursday at the site where a new 26,000-square-foot sanctuary will be constructed.
The new structure is expected to cost around $8 million and will be finished by Christmas 2015. So far, the church’s nearly 1,000-member congregation has raised some $3.9 million toward the construction cost, and among those who’ve helped raise that amount is 11-year-old Jon Swann.
“Every week, I’ve been putting $1 in the pledge cards, and I’m going to be doing that for three years,” said Swann, the son of Ed and Paula Swann. “It won’t get a lot for the church, but it’ll get something, and I want to be a part of it.”
Swann said he’s been giving for a little more than a year and expects to give another $150 or so before he’s finished.
“I don’t know how much one of those big bricks out there will cost — it might get one or two bricks,” he said. “I’m still going to be happy that I got to help put this up.”
But if Swann, who took part in the groundbreaking along with church officials and those who’ve helped bring the project about, represented St. Anne’s future, then longtime parishioner Miriam Free was on hand to recall the past.
Free, who was born, raised and has lived much of her life in Richmond Hill, recalled when church members held Mass in the old courthouse annex near the intersection of Highways 144 and 17. Today’s groundbreaking marked a milestone for Free.
“It’s so very important for our community,” she said. “We are so proud of our church. I love little St. Anne’s, but we’ve outgrown it. And I’m just so supportive of Father (Joseph Smith) for promoting this. It’ll take us a little while to take care of the payment on it. But we’re working on it.”
The church is being built by Augusta-based R.W.Allen. The new sanctuary was designed by the Boudreaux Group of Columbia, S.C., and was designed to include an 86-foot-tall bell tower, which, when built, will be the tallest structure in Richmond Hill.
“It’s going to be a beautiful church, it really is,” Free said. “This is a big day for all of Richmond Hill.”
Smith led the ceremony, which included various church dignitaries and spiritual leaders — including Bishop Gregory Hartmayer and Bishop Kevin Boland, and former St. Anne pastor Father Douglas Clark — representatives of the church, the contractors and Sun Trust, which is helping finance the construction.
“Humbly, we ask he good Lord’s blessing on everything we do here,” Smith said. “Not just for the community at St. Anne now, but for the future community, and the Catholic church in South Bryan County as it strives to grow and continues to grow.”
The groundbreaking, was followed by a Mass in the current sanctuary and a reception.
Paula Swann, who teaches at Blessed Sacrament where her children attend school, said her family comes from Savannah to attend St. Anne.
“We drive past four other Catholic churches to be here,” she said. “We come to this church because we love the people, love the pastor.”