Forty years ago, 16 families carried in lawn chairs from home and arranged them in rows on a cement floor facing a homemade altar inside a small building in Buford. Then without any heat to warm their bodies, 30 to 35 people worshipped together in a Christmas Eve Mass. And the day before the celebration of Christ’s birth, the Prince of Peace Catholic Church was born in 1975.
“It was our family,” said Eleonora Reeves, one of the founding members of the church. “We all came from different places. All our friends were part of the church.”
Since its inception, the 16 families have been fruitful and multiplied. The church’s membership reaches up to 3,600 families and almost 10,000 individuals, and it is still growing.
“We just grow, and grow, and grow,” Deacon William “Bill” Speed said.
The growth has been so exponential in the past four decades, the church has been expanding its facilities this year. But the current renovations were set to be complete just in time for Christmas Eve mass and to mark the church’s anniversary of its first Mass.
BIRTH OF A CHURCH
Prince of Peace Catholic Church started with a promise.
Bona Allen, the man behind the Bona Allen, donated 10 acres of land in 1956 to his longtime Catholic employee Leo Lawler with the stipulation a church would be built on the land in Buford within 20 years.
By the early 1970s, no foundation for the church had been established. Then with only three months left in the timeframe, Lawler hired architect Vic Maloof to erect a simple facility.
Then in December 1975, Prince of Peace Catholic Church opened its doors and welcomed the community.
People came from places all across the region including Jefferson, Duluth, Cumming and Winder to attend services at the new church.
“We pull from a large geographical area,” said Father Eric Hill, the head priest at Prince of Peace.
And the church started its tenure in Buford.
GROWTH OF A CHURCH
Fast-forward 25 years and Prince of Peace was bursting at its seams. The once small congregation that barely filled the 500-seat church was now in search of a property to build a larger facility.
“We soon outgrew the 10 acres,” Speed said.
In 2002, the church’s prayers were answered. A 65-acre plot of land was for sale in Flowery Branch. The expansive site could accommodate the church and its array of ministries.
The new church building was completed in December 2005. They opened just just in time for Christmas Masses and the church’s 30th anniversary. A new altar was dedicated Jan. 7, 2006, by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
The new location in Flowery Branch added new facilities the old one didn’t have, such as a preschool, choir room and offices for church staff members. The much larger sanctuary also seat about 800 congregants.
This year, Prince of Peace has been renovating its facility since August.
One specific renovation is adding more wooden pews to fit the church’s growing population. It will now seat 1,000.
A choir room and a 24-hour worshipping area for people who wish to use it have are new additions.
While the renovations have taken place, church members have met in a temporary worship area not too different from the first church. Stackable chairs were laid out in rows in the space.
The congregation also used its temporary worship area for the 40th anniversary celebration Dec. 20. But director of music and liturgy, Brian Bacon Jr., ensured the service last week was no small affair. The anniversary program featured a full orchestra and professional singers, mixed in with church members. The songs ranged from classical to contemporary.
The hourlong concert is the kickoff to the yearlong celebration. The second program to mark the anniversary was the dual Christmas Eve Masses: a 3 p.m. children’s Mass in the newly renovated sanctuary and a 3 p.m. teen Mass in the youth room.
Then next month, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta will dedicate the church Jan. 21.
DEVELOPMENT OF MINISTRIES
While the church’s services and its congregation factor into the growth, Prince of Peace’s 89 ministries draws in more people.
One example is the Amigos for Christ ministry. Founded in 1999, Amigos serves the country of Nicaragua by helping to clothe, feed and shelter its people. The church sponsors at least 12 mission trips per year to the country and offers help with building homes, educating and providing other services to the Nicaraguans.
The ministry is run by volunteers with Prince of Peace, as are all of the church’s ministries.
“I’d say it’s at least 80 percent volunteers,” said Carmen Luisa Coya-van Duijn, communications coordinator for the church.
The church is also important to the migrant and immigrant communities in the Hall County area. Prince of Peace offers church services such as Mass in Spanish, allowing the Hispanic congregation to worship in its native language. Even the church’s bulletins are printed twice — once in English and once in Spanish — to eliminate any language barriers. The church also employs a Spanish-speaking priest, Father Luis Alvarez.
“It connects them back to their homes,” Coya-van Duijn said.
While the church reaches the Hispanic population in the community, it also connects to the younger generation. Prince of Peace’s youth program meets weekly and serves more than 1,300 attendees, 300 of whom are in high school.
The youth group goes on mission trips, retreats and visits soup kitchens together.
The church also runs a preschool for local children with eventual plans to provide a kindergarten through 12th-grade education.
With these plans in place, the newly renovated facility will accommodate the church’s needs.
“It gives us a permanent home for worship,” Hill said. “Plus, we took advantage of the renovation to add new technology such as projection media.”