The Springtime of St Ann’s
by Zachary Levering
Photo Credits: Zachary Levering, John Cosmas, SueAnn Howell/Catholic News Herald
The year is 1955. On August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, a parish is born in Charlotte, North Carolina. Situated on a quaint corner on South Charlotte's Park Road and Hillside Avenue, it will be the fourth Catholic church built in the growing city. At first, Masses were held in the auditorium of Park Road School and then the school's library as parishioners organized to raise money for a proper church.
Interestingly, St. Ann's School was completed and dedicated first – an indication of the priorities of Catholic families. In 1960, a crypt church was built, but it remained unfinished. Though by the next year enough funds were amassed to finish construction, Msgr. Michael Begley — later the first Bishop of Charlotte in 1971 — decided the money should go instead towards serving the rapidly growing Catholic populace. Hence, St. Vincent de Paul was founded the same year, just three miles down the road.
In fact, St Ann’s church remained unfinished until the day in 2007 when Fr. Timothy S. Reid arrived as pastor and almost immediately set about his work. In September of 2008, work began to dramatically renovate the church into something nothing short of unique in the city of Charlotte, with Father Reid enlisting noted architect James McCrery to lead the renovation.
Today, no longer a seemingly-unfinished “basement” church, St. Ann's is the premiere jewel in the crown of the Diocese of Charlotte. With the new structure finished in 2009 and the support of 750 families, Bishop Peter Joseph Jugis (His Excellency having been baptized at St. Ann's) re-dedicated the church.
The windows of the main church are beautiful stained-glass pieces depicting such scenes as this one of Our Lord Jesus appearing before St. Margaret Mary Alacoque prompting her promotion of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Other windows depict familiar scenes such as the Annunciation, the Assumption of Our Lady, and the apparition of Our Lady bestowing her Holy Rosary upon St. Dominic.
Since then, the beautification of St Ann’s has continued under the close guidance of Fr. Reid, with spectacular new stained glass installed in the chapel.
Possibly most stunning of all, twelve beautiful, life-sized saint statues, hand-carved by Studio DeMetz in Ortisei, Italy now watch over the church's interior from their lovely elevated pedestals.
These include such holy men and women as St. Teresa of Avila, St. John Vianney, St. Thomas More, St. Rita, St. Rose of Lima, St. Augustine, and others. Accompanying these are two smaller, but no less beautiful statues of St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Jude by the main doors to the narthex as well as two life-sized statues of Our Blessed Lord and Our Lady flanking the Sanctuary.
The pulpit in the main church is an interesting addition as well. Hand-carved from oak in 1643, it was originally in an Anglican church in England. As time passed and the numbers dwindled enough for the church to close down, St. Ann's acquired the eight-foot tall pulpit and had it refinished and restored for continued and worthy use.
Happily, the parish also has come to house a convent of Poor Clares, in addition to the Sisters of St. Joseph who have been a part of St. Ann's community since almost the very beginning at St. Joseph's Monastery. Sadly, the Sisters have now gone away back to the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Alabama to assist with vocations there, but in their place, St. Joseph's Minor Seminary will be opening in the Poor Clares' former convent.
Observers have noted that St. Ann's now reflects the once-common sacred beauty and grand aesthetic so notably a feature of the Catholic Church, precisely in a time when many parishes of the same vintage are steeped in modernity and minimalism.
But truth be told, with the physical renovation of the parish nearly finished, the spiritual renovation began. What started as fifty families approaching a busy Fr. Reid and Bishop Jugis soon began to grow larger and larger.
Their initial proposals were refused, however, on grounds that many Catholics will find familiar: Fr. Reid was stretched thin with too many Masses and Bishop Jugis had a shortage of priests in the diocese to assist.
Going to Rome
This, however, was not the end of it. At the urging of both priest and bishop, these families directed their request straight to the Holy See; more specifically to the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”. It was when their request was answered with the full backing of Ecclesia Dei behind Bishop Jugis to provide a Latin Mass that things began to change quickly.
Why all the hassle you ask? It's because, at this point, in order to provide a Latin Mass they would have to CHANGE THE MASS SCHEDULE (*gasp!*). A very touchy issue with many parishioners, indeed. Some protested, naturally, but Fr. Reid was able to say — as Fr. Zuhlsdorf of internet fame puts it — “Roma locuta est!”
So, this is how the afternoon Spanish Mass became the new Traditional Latin High Mass. It certainly didn't happen overnight, however. In 2007 upon Father Reid's arrival, he began to have Gregorian chant and Latin introduced into the Novus Ordo liturgy. The Tridentine Low Mass was offered once a week starting in 2008 and the new altar rails were put back to use in 2010, but it was not until March of 2013 that the Sunday High Mass was instituted weekly.
It is worth noting the irony of a post-Vatican II church contending with the problem of not having one Mass everyone can attend and understand is suddenly resolved by a pre-Vatican II answer that many laity still refuse to accept.
‘Springtime of the Church’ at St Ann’s
Today, the parish is flourishing. As a weekly attendee who drives 35 minutes in order to avoid attending the parish five minutes from my home, it's well worth the time and effort. Fr. Reid is an excellent priest and preacher who regularly defends our Catholic faith and morals so very eloquently and with great enthusiasm.
St Ann’s is now the home of the Charlotte Latin Mass Community run by a pair of excellent gentlemen, Mike Fitzgerald and Chris Lauer. Attendance for the Latin Mass is on the up — with the most young people and young (and large) families I've ever seen in a church – over 33% of parishioners are under 20. This compares with other parishes where the ratio of attendees leans heavily towards an older group and the presence of large families is noticeably lacking.
There's a Rosary offered every week in the chapel for the intentions of the sanctity of life and for peace in our world. A Holy Hour of adoration is offered before the Latin Low Mass on Wednesdays for the intentions of vocations. Father Reid tells me it has been effective as several men have entered seminary and a young woman enter a convent in the past seven years, with several other young men in discernment now.
As opposed to what I've seen in other parishes, the line for Confession is rather long and is offered more often than the parish I left. It has a strong roster of altar servers embodied in the St. Maria Goretti Society that takes great care of the liturgical items used in the Mass. A wonderful Schola Cantorum sings the liturgy beautifully every Sunday. A plethora of other committees and groups help serve parish life and a solid educational program for faith formation provides catechism and study to young and new Catholics seeking the Church.
In short, St. Ann's is a beautiful and very traditional community that embraces in full practicing devoutly their faith where even the Novus Ordo liturgy is traditional and free of guitars. And contrary to popular belief, this community was very accepting of the sudden appearance of a strange new face like myself. I truly was made to feel at home.
St Ann’s latest project has created quite a stir of approval throughout the diocese — a beautiful mural based on the Ghent altarpiece and painted by Murals by Jericho in Peoria, IL, it portrays Our Lord as the Paschal Lamb on an altar, his heart pierced and bleeding freely His Most Precious Blood. He's surrounded by Angels holding the tools of his Crucifixion as well as prominent saints including Sts. Ann and Joachim standing with Our Lady. Others featured are King St. Louis IX offering his sword, St. Padre Pio praising Our Lord with his own stigmatized hands, Sts. Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe who were martyred in the camps of Nazi Germany, St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. John the Baptist who is the only one facing towards the congregation gesturing towards Our Lord, and even figures of the Old Testament such as King David, Abraham and Isaac, and Elijah on his chariot of fire.
There's simply nothing else like this spectacular altarpiece in Charlotte. The other day a conversation with a fellow parishioner about the mural and the parish in general yielded a succinct view of St Ann’s shared by all of us grateful Catholics:”God lives here”.
ST ANN'S: THE BACKSTORY
A testimony to the work of eleven pastors, St. Ann's has grown into a wonderful home to many Catholics of all stripes. The property had be re-arranged, expanded, and arranged again to transform it into what it has become now.
- In the 1970’s a neighboring property was purchased and used for meetings for the parish's groups and religious education programs.
- In 1981, another property was purchase; it serves as a residence for priests and religious.
- By 1993, an activity center was built with offices, a gym, school cafeteria, and meeting rooms, now the Msgr. Allen Center.
- In the 1990’s, Holy Trinity Middle School was established; Ann's is now St. Ann's Elementary, teaching pre-K through 5th grade.