OUR CHURCH HISTORY
The early stages in the history of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church were intertwined with developments in the growth of St. Paul Catholic Church in Athens, AL. St. Paul's had functioned as a mission of St. Ann Catholic Church in Decatur, AL (now Annunciation Parish) during the late 1960’s. In, Madison a small, but spiritually dedicated, cluster of about 22 families met in February 1970 in their homes to attend liturgies led by Father Timothy Hill, the pastor of St. Paul’s Catholic Church. The first Mass led by Father Hill was at the home of Ron Travis at 903 Nolan Blvd in Feb. 1970. The first ‘official’ Mass of ‘St. Timothy’s Mission’ Parish was held in April 1970 at the Madison Community Center on Maple Street. Arrangements were made to use Emmanuel Lutheran Church on Highway 20 for Mass on Saturday evenings. The first Mass at this location was held in May 1970. Mass continued to be celebrated at this location until November of 1973. Fr. Hill was transferred to Tuscaloosa in 1972 and was replaced by Fr. John O’Brien.
Fr. O’Brien formed the first Parish Council and began work to raise funds for purchasing land and building a church for the congregation. Twelve acres of land were purchased near the north end of Shelton Rd. in Madison (1025 Shelton Rd.) and plans were set in motion to build a ‘Butler’ building with metal exterior walls on a concrete slab. The groundbreaking ceremony was held April 25, 1973. It was decided to name the church St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. The Church was dedicated on May 13, 1974, to St. John the Baptist by Bishop Vath, who presided at the inaugural Mass on this date.
Much of the initial furnishings for St. John’s came from used donations from various churches around the Diocese. The original altar, vestments and some sacristy furniture came from St. William’s in Guntersville and the St. John the Baptist marble baptismal font from St. Paul’s Cathedral in Birmingham.
During the years of 1972 to June 1986, Father John O’Brien, Father Jonathan Franklin, O.S.B., Father Francis Craven and Father Bernard Mulcahy (Pastors at St. Paul-Athens) served as acting pastors for St. John’s Mission community. In June 1984, Father Bob Marsicek, Father Leonard Walker, and Father Gerald Sirois, (Salvatorian priests from St. Joseph’s Parish in Huntsville), served the spiritual needs of St. John’s families at the Shelton Road location. Fr. Leonard actually took up residence in the church on Shelton Rd. During Fr. Sirois’ tenure Sr. Julie Rein Schmidt was hired (1985) to coordinate the CCD program and other parish functions.
As the Catholic population of Madison continued to increase, Bishop Vath recognized that a resident pastor needed to be assigned to St. John’s. In June 1986, Father Patrick J. Murphy arrived from Our Lady of Lourdes in Birmingham to minister to the expanding parish community. Father Murphy not only met the pastoral needs of St. John’s Parish, but also, planned for a new and larger Church. Under his direction, building, finance, and pledge fund committees were formed to implement the Bishop’s goal of expansion to meet the parish’s increasing needs. The current 14-acre tract (initially 20 acres) was selected and purchased for the site of the present church in 1987. The church was designed, under the direction of Joe Moquin, Chairman of the Building Committee, to comfortably seat 600 worshippers.
On August 6, 1989, Bishop Raymond J. Boland, officiated at the solemn blessing and dedication of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, in Madison. The Dedication Mass was celebrated on the Feast of Christ’s Transfiguration. St. John’s had gone from a small community of 130 families in June 1986 to 375 families at the time of the dedication. The ‘old’ building and property on Shelton Rd. was initially rented in 1988 and was sold in 1999. During the building of the St. John the Baptist church on Hughes road, masses were temporarily moved back to the Lutheran church located on Highway 20.
A year after the ground breaking ceremonies took place in May 1988, the financial sacrifices, planning, and prayers of our parish community culminated in the celebration of the first Mass by Father Murphy in our new home of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church on Hughes Road.
In 1991, under the direction of builder and parishioner, Lori Yamashita, the Rectory was completed and dedicated. In early 1993, many parishioners expressed a need to include a religious education building with a library in the expansion plans. Goodrum Knowles completed architectural drawings for what would become the ‘Father Patrick J. Murphy Religious Education Building’.
This school was opened with 128 students—serving grades K through 4th in 1996. On March 14, 1994, St. John’s paid the final mortgage payment on the church building and rectory. By 2005, St. John school had expanded both in size and in students. In 2015 there were 475 students (double grades in K-8th). In January 1993, St. John’s received its first ‘Permanent Deacon’, Deacon Daniel Laurita.
In July of 2017, Fr. Bryan Lowe became the fourth pastor of St. John’s. As St. John’s continued to grow, Fr. Murphy saw the need to expand the original Sanctuary. He expanded the seating capacity by 300 parishioners by incorporating the original vestibule into the main sanctuary and adding a ‘new’ vestibule with a ‘drive-thru’ for rainy days. This raised the seating capacity for the sanctuary to 900. The contract for this modification was let in early 1998 and the construction was completed in September 1998. Fr. Murphy took up his new assignment in Birmingham in June 1998 and was replaced by Msgr. Michael Sexton at that time. A new larger, wooden altar and presider chairs were added to the remodeled sanctuary on April 4, 2001. These items were fabricated by Wayne Sovocool a parishioner. Mr. Tom Hagel hand-carved the wooden centerpiece on the front of the altar. Relics of St. Lucy and St. Cecelia were placed on the altar. Msgr. Sexton obtained these two relics from the estate of Fr. James O’Reilly who had said his ‘last Mass’ in this sanctuary in 1996. Msgr. Sexton also added a wooden statue of the Holy Family and a wooden statue of St. John the Baptist on July 22, 2001. St. John’s received its first associate pastor in 2000, Rev. Alan Macky. The ambry for the Holy Oils (fabricated by Wayne Sovocool) was added to the sanctuary on May 8, 2005.
As the enrollment in the St. John's Catholic School continued to grow, Msgr. Sexton approved the expansion of the school. A new gymnasium and cafeteria were added. The addition of the cafeteria and the gym to the school was dedicated on January 27, 2002, by Bishop Foley. And a 4-foot high statue of St. John the Baptist (for the school) was donated on January 5, 2003.
As the parish staff increased to minister to the needs of the growing parish community, Msgr. Sexton began plans for a new office building and the contract was set in early 2007. The construction started in June 2007 when Msgr. Sexton was re-assigned to Pell City and was replaced by Fr. Phil O’Kennedy. Fr. Phil oversaw the construction of the new office building which was completed in Aug. 2008. St. John’s continued to grow and the congregation was at 2100 families in 2007.
Fr. Phil used the existing building committee to begin construction of a new Parish Hall (formally in the church basement), a new Day Chapel, and a new Nursery in July 2010. The construction of these new facilities was completed in 2012. Bishop Foley (Emeritus) dedicated the Day Chapel, Nursery, Parish Hall, & Mother’s Room on June 26, 2012. The chapel sanctuary furnishings (altar, ambo, credence table, presider chair) were fabricated by Wayne Sovocool, a parishioner. Seven relics were donated by another parishioner and so a reliquary was fabricated by Mr. Sovocool to display these seven relics (in the chapel), one of which is a relic of our patron saint, St. John the Baptist. New siding was placed on the exterior of the church to match the outside of the new parish hall. The renovation of the church basement began immediately to make the space usable for religious education, St. Vincent DePaul, Knights of Columbus meeting areas. The basement renovation was completed in December 2012. In January 2013, the parking lot around the church was resurfaced, the parking islands were landscaped and a new wall on the front of the church property was completed in April 2013.
St. John’s has been blessed with tremendous growth in the preceding years. It has come from being a mission church of 60 families in 1984 to 2650 families in 2013.
In July of 2017, Fr. Bryan Lowe became the fourth pastor of St. John’s.