St. Mary Basilica: Life center opens

Published 12:01 am Monday, September 24, 2012

ROD GUAJARDO / The Natchez Democrat — Belinda Garrity, right, and Kenneth and Courtney Rushing look at a tree mural painted on the wall of the new St. Basilica Family Life Center Sunday afternoon during a dedication ceremony. The leaves have names of supporters of the church and new building. The new 15,000 square-foot building will be used to host church functions and new church programs for the parish youth.

NATCHEZ — When the Rev. David O’Connor cut the ribbon to the new St. Mary Basilica Family Life Center Sunday, it marked the end of a 25-year dream, but a new beginning for the church.

Parishioners, elected officials and community members packed the assembly area to celebrate the dedication of the new 15,000-square foot family life center.

“This is a very happy day for us as a church and personally satisfying for me to see the finished product of so much hard work and dedication,” O’Connor said. “Today marked the end of the planning and construction of the family life center, but it also marked a new beginning in terms of new programming for our church.”

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The new programming will mainly revolve around the youth of the parish, O’Connor said, which now have a 6,000-square foot wing in the northeastern side of the building.

ROD GUAJARDO / The Natchez Democrat — Parker Claire Maxwell, left, and Olivia Waycaster play a friendly game of foosball in the new St. Mary Basilica Family Life Center. The new building features a 6,000 square-foot wing for the parish youth program. Church and community members gathered at the new family life center on Sunday afternoon for a dedication ceremony.

The youth wing includes a snack area, a reading/prayer room, breakout rooms and technology areas for education and social purposes.

But it was the pool and foosball tables that attracted the majority of the younger generation at the family life center Sunday while all the adults socialized.

“I like the foosball table,” Olivia Waycaster said as she played an intense game with friend Parker Claire Maxwell. “It’s fun.”

The new family life center, O’Connor said, is the first building constructed for programs for the congregation since the basilica was built in 1842.

“The church has helped build schools and other things, but nothing specifically geared toward the youth of our church,” O’Connor said. “We’re extremely happy to have built a building that so many people in the community seem to enjoy.

“We’re also happy to have contributed something to the beauty of this City of Natchez.”

The Main Street property on which the family life center is located was purchased in 1991.

It was leased to the City of Natchez and Alcorn University from 1999-2009 to be used as a farmer’s market and coffee shop.

Seeing an existing building on the streets of Natchez repurposed and transformed is something Mayor Butch Brown said he enjoyed watching.

“When you start losing your corners, you start losing your cornerstones,” Brown said about using every inch of historic downtown property. “I’m a recycled mayor and this is a recycled farmer’s market.

“So many people of this congregation have been a great part of my life, and I feel comfortable with my family here.”

That feeling of comfort was something Pat and Karen Biglane, long-time members of the church, said was instantly noticed when stepping inside the new building.

“This is something that will help tie in the school and the church with the family life center,” Pat said. “It all comes full circle.”

The only sad part of the dedication for the Biglanes was that the family life center took so long to get to Natchez.

“We were all for this project because we’re the parents of two children,” Karen said of her now adult children. “We would have loved to have something like this available when they were growing up.”