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Monastery breaks ground on visitor's center
Members of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and special invited guests broke ground on its Monastic Heritage Center on Tuesday. From left to right are the Most. Rev. J. Kevin Boland, Bishop of Savannah, Richard Oden, Rockdale County Commissioner, Bob McGinnis, Co-Chair of the Monastery Capital Campaign Leadership Committee, Vince Dooley, former Athletic Director and Head Coach of the University of Georgia and Co-Chair of the Monastery Capital Campaign Leadership Committee, Father Francis Michael Stiteler, Abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and Kelly Jordan, Chair of the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance. - photo by Bryan Fazio
As a dozen shovels stood ready to bite into a fresh patch of Georgia clay, members of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and their esteemed guests paid tribute to the grounds and celebrated a groundbreaking for its new $6.5 million Monastic Heritage Center set to open in February 2011.

The event featured 10 guest speakers, including Father Francis Michael Stiteler, Abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Rockdale County Commissioner Richard A. Oden and Conyers Mayor Randy Mills.

Following the local politicians, the Archbishop of Atlanta, the Most Reveared Wilton D. Gregory spoke a message of the scope of the Monastery and the day's event.

"This Monastery is known for its bonsai, and bonsai are miniature trees," Gregory said. "In a sense the monastery is a bonsai of God's Kingdom in Conyers, Georgia."

That representation is attempting to grow as the monastery begins construction on a 17,000 square foot project which will feature a monastic center and renovated historic barn featuring exhibits, galleries, meeting hall and bonsai garden. The new center will also feature a gift shop, café, gallery barn, bonsai nursery and greenhouse.

"The whole point is to get self-sufficient," Stiteler said. "We're very hopeful that we can continue to bring people into Rockdale County."

One person who has been coming to Rockdale County to visit the Monastery for more than 40 years is former University of Georgia football coach and Athletic Director, Vince Dooley.

Dooley originally came to the Monastery during a retreat when he was first hired in Athens.

Since then he has come back repeatedly and was present on Tuesday to share his thoughts and memories with the more than 100 people gathered for the groundbreaking.

"It's very special for me," Dooley said. "It's a great place for reflection, and renewal. I always enjoy it."

The reflection will be able to continue both for guests who come to the new center and for the monks, who will be more seperate from the visitors area.

More visitors are expected to come now, as the future center will allow for busses to bring in groups and field trips.

While Tuesday's events took little effort by the group of people who grabbed hold of the shovels, it could pay big dividens for the monastery to become self sufficient and provide a tourism boost to Rockdale.

"It's a historic day," County CEO Richard Oden said. "It's a collaboration of the county, the city, school system, and the Catholic Church. It's a great occasion."

Others concurred with the sentiment as Kelly Jordan, Chairman of the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance, Michael Jansen, Capital Campaign Leadership member, Co-Chair of the Monastery Capital Campain Leadership Committtee, Bob McGinnis, architect Cooper Pierce and the most revered J. Kevin Boland, Bishop of Savannah all said in their speeches.

"This is an opportunity for people to feel God's arms," McGinnis said.