The History of the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
The Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception used to be a plain Catholic Church in 1848 by Irish missionary Jon Barry. The first church was as it says on the history map, “A simple wooden frame structure similar to the construction of the surrounding buildings” (Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Church History Page) This would be the first Catholic Church in Atlanta and also first in North Georgia. By 1851, the Atlanta church being more of a mission than a “real” church became an official church and Father O’Neill became the pastor.
By 1861, Father O’reilley became the pastor of the Atlanta Catholic Church and its missions. He was known to be a friend to everyone including both with the union and confederates; even after an explosion that occurred from one of the shells during the Civil War which damaged the structure of the church was used as a temporary hospital where the soldiers and those who needed a safe haven could go and he would help not only spiritually, but medically, and with immense guidance. At one point as I went to the Catholic Shrine, I found out more information from a Ralph O’reilley who told me how besides this part of its history, he said Father O’reilley even talked out Sherman before he was going to burn Atlanta so that the Catholic Church and the churches surrounding the area including the Capitol, city hall, and the court house would not be burned down since it says in the Pamphlet of The Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where, “If you burn the Catholic Church, all Catholics in the ranks of the Union Army will mutiny.” (Pamphlet of the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception)
Ralph O’reilley told me how many Irish Immigrants were populating Atlanta at the time which was the first reason why they built it and the majority were Catholics, so the Church became a stabilizer for the community because it helped the people spiritually but also in many other ways as well. Father O’reilley was honored by the Atlanta Historical Society in 1945 since he was a hero for Atlanta in saving the churches and City Hall and in the same year, the Church was redecorated and designated a Shrine. “Normally churches become shrines because a miracle and more happens like in Fatima and other ones, but this one no, it was an exception due to all its history and importance since it was a “spiritual center, and a stabilizer for the City of Atlanta” as Ralph had told me.
There was even an academy (The Immaculate Conception Academy) that was finished and a complete renovation of the Shrine in 1951 due to a campaign that happened in the community. The official year being 1954 when it was said to become a Shrine.
Now due to the destruction of the Church, instead of fixing the church, they decided to build a new church right where the old one used to lay, and Father B Duggan became the new pastor since Father O’reilley became sick and died September 6, 1972; buried in a vault in the crypt area placed below the church, now being observed by people in tours although tours do not happen very frequently anymore as to what Ralph explained to me.
On the other side of the story, Unfortunately, in 1982 there was a fire that destroyed a tremendous part of the Shrine. Even though this unfortunate event happened, they renovated and remodeled the Catholic Shrine.
The idea of Msgr. Grady and Donald Kiernan during the renovation of the Shrine was to, “Restore the original beauty of the church, while updating it where necessary to provide modern conveniences.” (Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Church History page)
The Pamphlet of the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
My experience in the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
As I let my eyes rest on The Catholic Shrine of The Immaculate Conception, I could immediately capture how this beautiful Shrine illuminated its Gothic medieval themed exterior, constructed with brick, stone, and stained glass on the outside and interior windows of the Shrine, which gave a mixture of modern yet antique feel in general. But, there are two parts of the Shrine, one where there is an area where the offices of the shrine are in which you have to pass through some brick steps and ring a type of doorbell; from there, you can directly observe the originality of the church just through the design of the door and gate all together. As the man in charge opens the door, in this case Ralph O’reilley, he started to guide me down where the crypt was located with the bodies of Father O’reilley, another father and deacon, but I do not remember their names; he then started talking about the historic highlights about the whole church. I felt extremely horrified about the crypt, but I was able to take pictures of that part and the photos, and I was also able to get valuable information.
As you see what I have seen so far that the Shrine has gone through a lot of change in its structure, and some of its liturgy over the years for different reasons. The beauty of this place impacted me when I came inside, and even the nature of this church came out to me as such a marked theme of being ancient and Gothic with a touch of medieval but modern as well. The only thing I know that has not changed is the way a Catholic Church is supposed to function, and some pieces of art of the Stations of the Cross have been restored and Ralph also told me about the statue of The Virgin Mary and Jesus that has been restored as well.
Having visited The Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception always gave me a feeling of peace, like I was in a safe haven and I felt that essence like I was in a very historic church. I only needed to see the outside doors and I immediately thought it was ancient. I also thought it was a beautiful masterpiece the whole church, maybe not so much on the outside, but the inside is marvelous.
I was able to go to Mass here which was at 12:10 during the week. Only few people went, and I went with my mother. The priest was an old man who had a very calm voice. The homily he have was very short, but that is expected during a weekly mass. The only thing that surprised me was how the Priest sat on the benches just like us, in the way I depicted was to have respect for the area of the altar. Overall I had a great experience in The Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
More images (In general that I took)