Our Divine Saviour Catholic Church in Tifton will celebrate its 60th anniversary in February.
Father Justin Ferguson, pastor at Our Divine Saviour, invites Catholics from throughout South Georgia and everyone from the Tifton community to attend the celebrations planned for the occasion.
The anniversary Mass will be celebrated in English and Spanish Feb. 2 at 11 a.m. Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Savannah, will serve as the principal celebrant. Former pastors at Our Divine Saviour along with other priests from South Georgia will join current Ferguson as celebrants as well.
The Catholic presence in Tifton can be traced to the 1920s and 30s when priests from Albany visited Tifton, occasionally offering Masses in the homes of Catholic families. The land where the church now sits, on 12th Street and Love Avenue, was purchased by an Albany-based priest in 1929.
Sunday Mass began on a regular basis with the arrival of Franciscan friars in 1943. Franciscan priests belong to a religious order founded by St. Francis of Assisi. The Franciscans served as pastors in Tifton until 1993. Since then, diocesan priests have been assigned to Tifton by the Bishop of Savannah.
Father Godfrey Weitekamp OFM was the first Franciscan priest based in Americus whose mission territory included Tifton. He offered his first Mass in the Tifton Courthouse. Four people attended. Father Weitekamp later moved the Mass location to a brick building known as the Tifton Women’s Club on the corner of 12th Street and Central Avenue. Mass was celebrated in this building for the next 11 years.
Weitekamp also organized an altar society to help raise money for the new church. The altar society sponsored numerous spaghetti dinners served from the American Legion hall on Moore Highway and from the Tifton Women’s Club building.
In addition to the spaghetti suppers, Catholics in Tifton also hosted barbecue dinners and bingo games to raise money for a new church.
In 1952, Father Rayner Dray, another Franciscan priest assigned to Tifton, was given permission to raise money directly from parish families. Each family contributed $200 to the new church and a $10,000 grant from the Catholic Extension Society allowed construction to begin in May of 1953. The original church cost just over $22,400.
Father Dray celebrated the first Mass in the new church on Dec. 20, 1953. The church was formally dedicated by the Most Rev. Francis E. Hyland, bishop of Savannah, Feb. 2, 1954.
Ferguson describes the growth of the Tifton Catholic community as “a garden tended by many hands, all guided by the Holy Spirit.”
In 1962, a parish hall was added to the church. A religious education facility was built in 1977, and it was expanded in 1995.
As the Catholic population of Tifton grew, the main church building was more than doubled in size with construction during 1982 and 1983. During this construction, weekend Masses were held in the nearby chapel of Tiftarea Funeral Home.
In recent years, a parish activities building was constructed on the church property and an office building was purchased on the same block of land.
During the 1990s, the growth in the Catholic population of Tifton was highlighted by the arrival of many Hispanic Catholics. The first Mass in Spanish was offered in 1991, and weekly Masses in Spanish have been a regular offering since then.
Our Divine Saviour has been a sacred stopping point for many tourists traveling to and from Florida on I-75. Pastors over the years have made a tradition of welcoming travelers and inviting them to return to worship at Our Divine Saviour during future trips through South Georgia.
This year’s 60th celebration will include a 60/40 raffle conducted by Tifton members of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. In the raffle, 60 percent of the proceeds will go to the church’s building fund. The winner of the raffle will receive 40 percent of the funds collected. The Knights hope to sell at least 1,000 tickets for the raffle. Ticket prices are $5 each or $20 for five tickets. Bishop Hartmayer will draw the winning ticket during a luncheon in the parish activities building following the anniversary Mass Feb. 2.
The church’s Council of Catholic Women will offer coffee mugs and travel mugs for sale to commemorate the 60th anniversary. Photographs, chronicling the history of the church, including previous pastors, former members and parish activities throughout the years will also be on display.
To conclude the celebration, the church will sponsor an Italian-themed meal following the Feb. 2 11 a.m. Mass. This meal will pay tribute to the early spaghetti suppers prepared by parishioners to fund construction of the church 60 years ago.
Ferguson welcomes one and all on Feb. 2.
“Come join us as we look back in gratitude and forward in anticipation of the great things to come here at Our Divine Saviour,” he said.
For more information, contact the church by phone at 229-382-4600 or visit the church’s website at: www.ODSparish.org.