Saint Joseph Catholic Church celebrates 70 years

March 24—MARIETTA — Organizers of the 70th anniversary service at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church were pleasantly surprised.

They expected some 400 people to show up and instead found around 800 people gathered in its pews last Friday.

Founded in 1952, the church has more than 4,000 families, according to Bishop John Walsh. The faithful filled it to the brim on the anniversary of its founding, which, not coincidentally, is also the birthday of the church’s namesake.

Walsh was happy to see such a vibrant crowd.

“People are ready to come back after COVID-19,” Walsh said. “When I looked outside tonight, especially around 6:30 p.m. and saw a large group of people there, I thought we would have a really good product tonight.”

The two-hour service brought together high-ranking religious leaders, including Bernard Edward Shlesinger III, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and those present offered prayers and clergy good wishes for Ukraine.

Since Walsh came to the church 14 years ago, he has seen it diversify, with large Mexican and African populations joining the parish. To accommodate this diversity, certain parts of the Mass are celebrated in Spanish depending on the number of faithful present.

“We have different cultures,” Walsh said. “We always have people from different fields, and they all seem to mingle and work together, which has been great.”

During its 70 years in Marietta, the congregation underwent many changes, including the construction of a larger church to accommodate a growing population.

After the anniversary service, church members spoke of the sense of community they feel as they walk through the doors of St. Joseph.

Stephen Bird first attended church school in 1966.

“It’s changed a lot, but it’s always been a welcoming community,” he said.

Bird and his wife, Romi Rivera Bird, a Mexico City native, appreciated Walsh and the church’s involvement with the Mexican community of Marietta.

“We came here to start a ministry (in 1999) to serve the Hispanic community that was riding a lot in Marietta at the time,” she said, “so that’s something I appreciate about Saint Joseph.”

Chinonso Akano, 45, moved to Marietta from Nigeria in 2012 looking for a parish to settle in and found it in Saint Joseph. Akano is president of the church’s African community and sits on the parish council.

“We met people of African descent (here) so it felt like home,” Akano said. “They want your input. They want people to be heard because we’re all one church, we’re all one community.”

Now more than a decade after joining the congregation, Akano, whose four daughters and wife attend the service with him, believes he made the right choice when it came to a place of worship.

“If I had to do it again, I would still come back to Saint-Joseph,” he said.

Jerry B. Hatch