Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
Fifteen-year-old crucifer Kevin Kim leads a procession of St. Andrew Kim Church parishioners from the site of their patron saint's statue (background right) to the entrance of the church. On this particular Sunday last June the parish was celebrating the enshrinement of a special relic of St. Andrew Kim.


Korean Enclave In Duluth Served By St. Andrew Kim

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special To The Bulletin | Published March 14, 2013

A Korean Catholic mission in the heart of Gwinnett County’s vibrant Korean-American enclave of Duluth has more than doubled its membership in 18 months.

St. Andrew Kim Korean Catholic Church is located on a stretch of Duluth Highway known as church row, amidst several other Korean churches. Since August 2011, it has grown from 98 registered families to 228 families.

Led by a group of altar servers carrying a relic of St. Andrew Kim, the pastor and congregation approach the church for the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass. Photo By Michael Alexander

Led by a group of altar servers carrying a relic of St. Andrew Kim, the pastor and congregation approach the church for the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass. Photo By Michael Alexander

The community expects to continue to share in the fast growth in Gwinnett, where the Korean population overall is 22,001, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. That reflects a doubling since the year 2000. The Korean American Association of Greater Atlanta estimates that there are 100,000 Korean-Americans in Georgia.

“It is wonderful to see this St. Andrew Kim Korean Catholic Mission is growing so rapidly, and I am glad to be a part of it. To see new and returning faces every week is just amazing,” said the mission’s vice chair, John Choi.

“We’re talking huge (growth). There is a Walmart that is converted to a Korean supermarket and five or six grocery stores on one road, on Pleasant Hill Road,” said Choi, owner of the real estate firm Atlantic Brokers. “There are 19 churches on the main stretch (of Duluth Highway) and out of those, nine of them are Korean. Since the Catholic church is right there, there are a lot who are coming back to this church. … It’s good exposure. There’s a Catholic church right there on church row. The archdiocese liked that.”

Its founding parish, Korean Martyrs Catholic Church in Doraville, has not lost any members and remains constant at 350 families, Choi said.

“The immigrants from Korea basically used to live in Doraville and transferred to this area in Gwinnett. … Many are coming to Atlanta from New York, Chicago, some from California,” he said, choosing to live in Duluth, along with Suwanee, Lawrenceville, Johns Creek and Alpharetta.

Led by Jesuit Father Hyong-Nyol Ryu, the mission church is located on 10 acres at 2249 Duluth Highway in a red brick, former Baptist church. It was purchased by the archdiocese, but both Korean Martyrs’ and St. Andrew Kim parishioners have helped to pay off $1.65 million of the debt already. They are working to pay off the balance of $1.5 million over the next 10 years.

Masses are celebrated in Korean except for a children’s service in English. The website is in Korean and the mission just began offering a Korean language school for English speakers. Having attracted many older members they are carefully planning senior programs, even nontraditional ones like how to navigate smart phones.

Father Hyong-Nyol Ryu delivers his homily during the Sunday liturgy as the relic of St. Andrew Kim rests at the foot of the altar. The remains are from the spine of St. Andrew Kim. Photo By Michael Alexander

Father Ryu, who arrived from South Korea three and a half years ago, loves serving in the archdiocese and eagerly works to bring in more young adults and families. He is challenged to minister to immigrants who arrived in different decades with very diverse backgrounds.

“I am very, very happy. I’m a very, very blessed person because I have a chance to serve people at this nice place. … I encourage people to grow in faith and want them to be united with Christ our Lord, to become ardent believers,” he said. “Most of the Koreans are living in this area so they want a priest who celebrates the Korean Mass and provides Korean ministry. And because of the language barrier they typically have difficulty going to the American church.”

While fluent in English, vice chair Choi also feels blessed to be part of the Korean mission. He arrived in Stone Mountain from South Korea with his family about 40 years ago, long before any Korean Catholic church was present. Korean worshippers first gathered as a community at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Atlanta and then moved to St. Thomas More Church in Decatur. In the early 1990s, Korean Martyrs Church was established in a former Baptist church on Buford Highway in Doraville and was elevated to a parish in 2008. Choi now gladly welcomes visitors to the mission, including many Catholics who had been attending the nearby Protestant churches for convenience. He estimates that two-thirds of St. Andrew Kim members were already living in the United States while others moved directly from South Korea to the region, including those working at Kia and Hyundai plants.

The mission is named after the first native Korean priest, St. Andrew Kim, who attended seminary in China and returned to Korea before being martyred in 1846 at the age of 25. The Korean Catholic Church was established by laypersons in the late 1700s and an estimated 8,000 Catholics were killed during fierce persecutions, with religious freedom finally coming in 1883. Pope John Paul II canonized St. Andrew Kim and 99 other Koreans and three missionaries martyred between 1839 and 1867. Today South Korea is 31 percent Christian, including 7.6 percent who are Catholic.

The mission has a monument outside to St. Andrew Kim as well as ones of Jesus and Mary and inside has a relic of the saint on display.

“I’m very proud to safeguard the relic of St. Andrew Kim,” said Father Ryu.

St. Andrew Kim members also savor their native cultural flavors, most recently with a Korean New Year celebration, held according to the lunar calendar on Feb. 10. Children gave a deep bow of respect to their elders for good health and the mission served the Korean version of black-eyed peas and collard greens called dduk gook, a soup with flat oval rice cakes, cooked egg slices, dried seaweed and chopped scallions.

A statue of the parish’s patron saint looms prominently on the side grounds of the church. Photo By Michael Alexander

The mission will observe the Korean harvest celebration in September, a family-oriented affair with special prayers during Mass. Then everyone will give a traditional bow to deceased parents and grandparents and enjoy a Chuseok feast.

Throughout the year, the leadership is working to beautify the building and grounds. This year they will install tile in the fellowship hall and expand a driveway entrance.

“The building is old and rundown and a lot of help is needed. But that is always the beauty of it, that people work together,” said Choi.

Joonbum Park joins Choi in committed service to the mission and now has a shorter drive from his home in Suwanee than he did to Korean Martyrs Church. Dr. Park, a research chemist at Emory University, was active at Korean Martyrs and now helps the mission with its computer network, webpage and video production.

“I am always happy if I can do any better things to improve my church in any way,” said Park, who has a brother serving as a priest in Korea. “I earned all my technology skills and expertise partially by my effort and partially as a gift from God. I need to pay it back. That’s why I spend so much time for the church.”

St. Andrew Kim Korean Catholic Church

2249 Duluth Highway


(770) 622-2577