Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:18).
In 1997, Bishop Joseph Gossman appointed Father Donald Staib to begin a new parish in Apex. But it needed a name. Father Staib, greatly favoring names from the Bible, suggested they name their parish after Mary Magdalene, often called “apostle to the Apostles,” for being the first person to bear witness to and proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection.
Twenty years later, Father Staib opened the doors to his parish’s first official sanctuary, St. Mary Magdalene Church. Bishop-elect Ned Shlesinger, a former priest of the diocese and bishop-elect of Atlanta, presided over the dedication Mass, which was held Saturday, July 15.
“Here I Am Lord” and “Be Not Afraid” played digitally from the bell tower over the hundreds of parishioners who arrived as much as two hours early to be part of this historic day. Father Staib explained that the liturgy requires a procession in as a community so, “Almost nobody, very few people have seen the inside, so it’s very exciting.”
When Monsignor Michael Shugrue said, “Father Staib, open the doors of your new church,” joyful cheers and applause rose spontaneously from the faithful, and Father Staib couldn’t contain his smile as he walked to the church door and opened it.
The procession took nearly 20 minutes as the joyful parishioners walked slowly, drinking in the beautiful architecture and exquisite details.
According to the liturgy program, the church’s design team focused on the number eight because “as the day of Christ’s Resurrection, Sunday came to be understood in a mystical way among the Christians as the 'Eighth Day.'” An octagonal dome envelops the pews, the altar is an elongated octagon and the baptismal font is an octagon as well.
The altar and baptismal font are made from South American granite to honor Pope Francis. Statues throughout the sanctuary, the Crucifix and Stations of the Cross are carved from Po Mu wood and were made at the Huu Thao Sculpture Workshop in Vietnam by hearing-disabled young men. Father Staib saw the work and learned of the mission of that studio while at a friend’s church in Saigon. It was the first time that studio made any items for a church in the United States.
Stained glass windows depicting biblical references to St. Mary Magdalene were acquired from two closed churches in New York and were the first items purchased for the new church.
The Rite of Dedication included sacred moments that emphasized the joyful blessing of having a building in which to worship as a community. The walls of the church and the people within were anointed and sprinkled with holy water. The altar was anointed and incensed. Candles of the altar were lit for the first time and, in a moment of profound and silent reverence, the Blessed Sacrament was placed in the tabernacle during the Inauguration of the Tabernacle.
Bishop-elect Shlesinger began his homily by praising the faithful work of Father Staib. The congregation responded with a standing ovation lasting several minutes. The bishop-elect focused his homily on how this is only the first of so many sacred rites that will take place within these walls. “People will come worship God here. Baptisms will be celebrated, people will join in marriage, the Holy Eucharist will be celebrated,” he said.
After Communion, Monsignor Shugrue, who served as diocesan administrator since December, congratulated the congregation on the beautiful sanctuary. He noted that the parishioners of St. Mary Magdalene have always proven that the holiness of Mass is not about the building, but about the people within.
“I remember celebrating Mass here in the gym, and the young people would run in to get the seats on the upper bleachers,” Monsignor said.
Father Staib stood to give final remarks joking, “You see who gets the last word.”
He thanked the congregation of St. Mary Magdalene for their contributions, community and faith. He told them that they had accomplished something that he did not think was possible. He recognized outstanding volunteers and staff, without whom, he said, the day would not have been possible. He also recognized representatives from the Huu Thao Sculpture Workshop who were in attendance.
He asked his family to stand so he could thank them for their support. Nearly 50 family members from throughout the country were there to celebrate their loved one on the momentous dedication day. Father Staib’s nephew, Father Michael Letteer, who is a pastor in Pennsylvania, said that it had been more than a decade since this much of the family had come together in one place.
Bishop-elect Shlesinger was principal celebrant of the Mass. Concelebrants were: Father Staib, Mosignor Shugrue, Father Letteer, Monsignor David Brockman, Monsignor Gerald Lewis, Monisgnor John Wall and Father John Forbes.
- Mandy Howard