'We Are All One Community': Saint Joseph's Catholic Church Celebrates Its 70th Anniversary

From left: Chinonso Akano, Kathy Bearden, Monsignor John Walsh, Chris Gibbs and Esther Honori are pictured after the 70th birthday service at Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Marietta March 18.


— Organizers for the 70th-anniversary service at Saint Joseph Catholic Church were pleasantly surprised.

They had 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 Monsignor John Walsh. Congregants filled it to the brim for 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 out tonight, especially around 6:30 and saw a big group of people there, I figured we would have a very good product tonight."

The two-hour service was attended by high-ranking church leaders, including Bernard Edward Shlesinger III, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and those in attendance offered prayers and well-wishes by the clergy for Ukraine.

Since Walsh arrived at the church 14 years ago, he's seen it diversify, with large Mexican and African populations joining the parish. To welcome this diversity, some parts of the Mass are conducted in Spanish depending on the number of worshippers in attendance.

"We have different cultures," Walsh said. "We still have people from different areas, and they all seem to be mingling away and working together, which has been great."

In its 70 years in Marietta, the congregation has undergone plenty of changes, most notably building a bigger church building to accommodate a growing population.

After the anniversary service, members of the church spoke of the sense of community they feel coming through Saint Joseph's doors.

Stephen Bird first attended the church's school back 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 native of Mexico City, appreciated Walsh and the church's involvement with Marietta's Mexican community.

"We came here to start a ministry (in 1999) to serve the Hispanic community that was rolling a lot into 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 in search of a parish to call home and found it at Saint Joseph's. Akano serves as president of the church's African community and has a seat on the parish council.

"We met people of African descent (here), so we felt like we were at home," Akano said. "They want your input. They want people to be heard because we are all one church, we are all one community."

Now more than a decade into his time with the congregation, Akano, whose four daughters and wife attend service there with him, believes he made the right choice on a place of worship.

"If I had to do it all over again, I'd still come back to St. Joseph," he said.