St. Anthony Church, Blue Ridge
I eventually found my way to St. Anthony Church, which began as a mission of St. Joseph Church, Dalton, in 1967. Back on June 13, 1986, the feast day of St. Anthony, the parish of 60 families at the time, gathered for a Mass as the mission was elevated to a parish and the first pastor Father Steven Yander was installed.
Father John Conway is the current pastor, but Thursday is his day off so he wasn’t around. It was cleaning day at the church. A group of parishioners were working on the inside and another woman was sweeping outside. I took over the task of sweeping for a moment because I had to photograph the church’s exterior, and I was trying to remove some of the leaves from the sidewalk.
After I finished photographing I prepared to head over to Blairsville, my next stop. Blairsville is approximately 28 miles east of Blue Ridge. It was a gorgeous day for such a scenic ride among the Cohuttas and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Fannin County. God’s color palette of fall colors was quite stunning. I arrived at St. Francis of Assisi in Blairsville with no problems. I was greeted by Mary Smith when I got there. I had never met Smith in person, but we had exchanged emails before I drove up. Smith is also the pastoral assistant and director of religious education, and back in 2009 during The Way Of The Cross photo project I was working on for Holy Week she organized a group from the parish Life Teen to write personal reflections on some the Stations of the Cross.
St. Francis of Assisi Church, Blairsville
While the first weekly Masses in the area took place back in the mid 1960s, St. Francis of Assisi did not officially become a parish until March 1982. Father Bob Poandl served as the first resident pastor. Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue presided over the dedication of the existing church in May 1996.
St. Francis of Assisi is nestled in a beautiful setting at the base of the Ivy Log Ridge mountain range. I had not visited the parish in over a decade. A multipurpose building that houses classrooms, a social hall, office space and a new commercial style kitchen are the newest additions to the property. While I was taking photographs of the church, Father Richard Wise, the pastor since 2002, was walking his 14-year-old dog Rusty around the grounds. As the lunch hour approached members of the Union County Rotary Club were arriving for their weekly meeting at the parish.
One of the things I enjoy most in my role as a member of the Catholic press is the people I meet and the friends I make. I was about to drive back toward the Blairsville commercial district when a member of the St. Francis kitchen crew that prepares and servers lunch for the Rotary Club, invited me to have lunch with them in the kitchen. I had a healthy portion of spaghetti and meatballs, corn and a cup of water. It was very nice of them to offer me a meal. The seven-person kitchen crew consisted of Paula Bachman, Chip Clendaniel, Joan Kirkman, Ron Koerber, Cindy Kopec, Bill Rogers and Bob Scoda. Their team leader, Betty Furka, was vacationing in Florida.
The return drive that would eventually take me back to Georgia 400 South took me up, over and down Blood Mountain. The mountain road is filled with curves. I was reminded of all the twists and turns that can exist in our lives. Sometimes life gets so crazy and we just want God to straighten things out for us. In the same way I finally descended the mountain and the crooked roads became straight, we can always count on God to be nearby and help set us on the right path.
Every valley will be filled and every mountain and hill will be brought low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Luke 3:4-6
Michael Alexander, Staff Photographer