St. George Catholic Church is commemorating some milestones this year, and the celebration began with a gathering at Oak Hill Cemetery on April 21.
Some local events scheduled for April 21 were cancelled because of a rally sponsored by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement that afternoon. The parishioners of St. George, however, persevered and celebrated the blessings of their church and its history.
A Mass of Thanksgiving, commemorating 80 years since the first Catholic Mass was celebrated in Coweta County, was held at the cemetery. The Mass was celebrated on the Mansour plot at Oak Hill where Ellis and Effie Mansour are buried.
It was in the Mansour’s living room that the first Mass was celebrated in Coweta. Among the participants at the Thanksgiving Mass were members of the Mansour, Carrasco and Norman families whose parents and grandparents attended that very first Mass and constituted the nascent Catholic community in the Newnan area.
Saturday’s Mass, which lasted about an hour, was celebrated by Fr. Henry Atem, pastor of St. George Catholic Church on Roscoe Road. He was assisted by Fr. Alvaro Avendano and Deacons Steve Beers, Ben Gross and Steve Swope. During the homily, Atem eulogized these heralds of the Catholic faith in Newnan.
“They were not renowned statesmen or politicians,” Atem stated. “They did not wield any significant amount of power or authority. They were a simple couple who lived a simple and ordinary life. However, for them the Catholic faith was the foundation of an integrated life.”
When Ellis and Effie Mansour came to Newnan, there was not a Catholic church here. They attended Mass in Atlanta, LaGrange or Griffin until the bishop granted permission for them to be able to host a Mass in their home.
In 1947, as the community outgrew their living room, the Masses were moved to the dining room of the Virginia Hotel, on the corner of Jefferson Street and Washington Street. The Virginia building now houses offices.
In 1951, the community was able to build a little church on Jackson Street – presently the Montessori School – for Sunday worship. In 1967, due to continuous growth, 10 acres of land was purchased on Roscoe Road from the Mansour family, who donated an additional 25 acres. A new church was built on Roscoe Road and in April, 1969, Fr. Luke Doheny celebrated the first Mass in the new church.
The church was dedicated on June 22, 1969 by Archbishop Donnellan and was elevated to a parish in March 1974.
Today, St. George is home for more than 1,200 families including immigrants from Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well as Ireland, Italy, Germany and other nations of Europe.
Ellis Mansour and his wife, Effie, were immigrants from Lebanon who owned local businesses here in town. “As an immigrant,” Atem, who is from Cameroon, noted in his homily, “I am able to connect to their experience, and I appreciate their commitment to the faith because it keeps us grounded and focused.”
Present at the Mass was June Thomas, the oldest grandchild of Ellis and Effie Mansour. She was one of two people who attended the first Mass in 1938 at the service on Saturday.
The first reading was read by Ellis Mansour, a grandson of the couple. He was also present at that first Mass but was still in his mother’s womb.
The Mass at the cemetery inaugurated the Year of Grace and Gratitude (April 2018 – June 2019) which will conclude with a Mass commemorating the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the parish church on Roscoe Road.