Church on the Move: Basilica Style Church to Be Moved 900 Miles to Georgia

Historic building will head south, piece by piece.

ByABC News
November 7, 2010, 2:21 PM

Nov. 7, 2010— -- Sharon Wilbur clings to the rosary she carried as a child as she looks through old family photographs of weddings, baptisms and first communions. The three generations of memories all took place in the same church, St. Gerard's Catholic Church, in Buffalo, N.Y.

But like so many children of the rustbelt, Wilbur left those memories behind many years ago when the south promised better opportunities.

For Wilbur, Sunday mass is now in suburban Atlanta, at Mary Our Queen, in a nondescript building that looks more like an office park than a Catholic basilica.

She never dreamed she'd see her family's church again until her pastor announced one Sunday what seemed like a crazy idea: He wanted to have traditional place of worship by moving an existing church, piece by piece, to the open lot next door.

The real surprise came when he revealed where he'd found the perfect transplant.

"I said, 'Ah, that was my parish. That's where I was born,'" Wilbur says. "I thought it was just amazing."

When Father David Dye went in search of more space for his growing congregation, he says he didn't want a church from typical suburbia.

"I don't mean to offend the people who built those churches, but some of them look like Pizza Huts," he says.

Dye first asked for blueprints to build a church that would look and feel old. But then the diocese of Buffalo came up with a unique idea for solving their problem of closed and empty parishes. They offered to sell him an entire church if he could move it 900 miles south to Norcross, Ga.

Dye soon discovered the idea could be pulled off for less than half the cost of building a new church from scratch. If his parish can raise $16 million, they'll be able to move St. Gerard's, piece by piece on flatbed trucks.

Disassembling the church will take six months and the reconstruction another year, but architects have already created 3-D models of the church so that it can be put back together like a puzzle.

"If you were to go to Home Depot and buy pieces and build a church, well you've got to get the pieces from somewhere," Dye says. "This is just coming here to get the pieces and the parts of the church."