RIPLEY – After 12 years of holding services in old motels and storefronts, Catholics in Ripley will soon have a church of their own.
Last month, before the rains came, the community broke ground on a new 13-acre plot that will be the home of the first Catholic church built in Tippah County.
Since 1997 the mission of St. Matthew has scratched and clawed, pulling together members and resources from around the area to worship together and to build a community.
In the absence of a full-time pastor, lay people, like Polly Duncan Collum, St. Matthew’s first pastoral coordinator, have done most of the heavy lifting, coordinating outreach and holding communion services in which wafers that have already been consecrated by a priest are distributed to the congregation.
The community’s first gathering place was in the old Ripley Motel, then in 2001 they moved into their present home, a vacated drug store at 103 Hospital Street.
Kate Regan, a nun with the order of St. Joseph, took over as coordinator in 2003. By that time the community, which had grown to over 300, including a sizable Hispanic congregation led by lay coordinator Sigifredo Bonilla, had already started talking about building its own church. They’d been saving money from fundraisers and had begun seeking approval from Bishop Joseph Latino of the Diocese of Jackson.
In 2006 the Glenmary Home Missioners, the Cincinnati-based order that directs the mission, received a generous bequest from an Ohio couple named Gardner who had long supported the order’s work in rural America.
In their estate planning the Gardners stated that the money should be used to build a Catholic church in a rural area where there’d never been one before.
“This was the answer to a lot of prayers,” said the Rev. Dominic Duggins, Glenmary’s director of development, adding that the community’s preparedness was a big reason why the Gardner’s trustees picked Ripley to receive the church over locations in two other states.
The new facilities, located next to the Ashley Furniture plant on Hwy. 15, will include a fellowship hall with classrooms and a kitchen. The sanctuary, according to Regan, will be simple and contemporary. Weather permitting, the project should be done in eight months at a total cost of a little under $1 million.
Regan said it’s hard to overstate how much the new building will mean to the people of St. Matthew.
“We were like sojourners,” she said. “This will be our home.”
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or email@example.com
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal