Photo of the church sanctuary during services with people sitting in the pews.

Our Church

The portion of Georgia centering around Gainesville offers little evidence of Catholicism before 1910. At that time all of north Georgia was a mission of Saint Joseph Parish in Athens, where Father Harry Clark served as Pastor.   For two years he had traveled throughout the northern states, begging money to erect a church in Athens.

The first known Mass celebrated in Gainesville was at the wedding of Faraba H. Snow and Ignatius L. Courtenay, witnessed by Father Clark on July 4, 1910.

Mass was offered for approximately two years in the home of the late General Longstreet, and then the congregation of five moved to the Cinceolo home, and later to the President's home at Brenau College.

Records indicate that Mrs. Cinceolo, who owned a parcel of land on Spring Street, donated the property to Father Clark. Immediately the little congregation began to save "their pennies" for the day when they could build their own church.

Meanwhile, Father Clark was transferred to Saint Anthony Parish in Atlanta, and we was followed by a succession of pastors in Athens.

In 1932, Father James King engaged the services of the famous priest-architect from Belmont Abbey, Father Michael McInerny, O.S.B., to design a church for the Gainesville parish. On April 30, 1933, Bishop Michael J. Keyes of Savannah dedicated the new church.

Disaster struck on April 26, 1936 when a tornado hit Gainesville, destroying practically the whole town. Hundreds were killed and property damage ran into the millions. The event occasioned two visits to the city by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Nothing short of a miracle happened when the tornado, traveling in the direction of the church, changed course and spared the three-year old structure. After skirting the church it resumed its previous course south of the building. (One witness on a bus stopped in front of the church thought for certain all the passengers would be lost, only to see the tornado veer off sparing them and the church.

In 1939 the mission at Gainesville was entrusted to the pastoral care of the priests of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta.

By 1945 a growing number of Catholics at Riverside Military Academy and at Brenau College, both located in Gainesville, necessitated the provision of a resident pastor. Accordingly, Bishop Gerald P. O'Hara of Savannah named Father Michael Manning to the post. A native of Ireland, Father Manning had studied for the Georgia diocese and had been assigned previously in Savannah and Thomasville. The parish then included seven counties, an area almost the size of the state of Rhode Island. Father Manning traveled mountain roads every Sunday to Toccoa and Clayton to offer Mass, and in 1954 he purchased property in Toccoa for the construction of a church. The daughter parish was established shortly thereafter and later entrusted to the pastoral care of the Verona Fathers.

During Father Manning's pastorate the Saint Michael parish grew considerably. The rapid growth of the poultry industry brought many workers to Gainesville, including a number of Catholics. A Sunday school was established and the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart from Athens taught the children of the growing parish.

In 1959 Father Manning was sent to Decatur and was succeeded by Father R. Donald Kiernan.

In 1961 Father Kiernan located property in Dahlonega for the establishment of a parish in that city. The Glenmary Fathers had already promised Bishop Hyland that they would come to Georgia, and late in that year Father Leonard Spangers was appointed the first pastor of Saint Luke Parish. The new parish took four counties from the mother church, leaving Saint Michael with Hall, Gwinett, Cherokee and Forsyth counties.

In 1962 Paul J. Hallinan was installed as the first Archbishop of Atlanta, and shortly thereafter he came to Gainesville for the first Mass of Father William Hoffman, the first priestly vocation from Saint Michael.

In 1973 the parish had outgrown its original church and began construction of a new building on Pearce Circle. After the foundation had been completed and while the large wooden trusses stood awaiting the installation of the outer walls and roof, another tornado made its appearance. This time the church was not spared. The Pastor, Father Thomas Kenny, returning from a family funeral in Ireland, arrived to find the superstructure was flattened. Undaunted, he and the parishioners pressed on with the project, bringing the construction to a successful conclusion.