Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Retiring planner says Atlanta Archdiocese should prepare for continued growth

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff writer | Published August 18, 2016

ATLANTA—The Catholic community’s expansion in the Atlanta Archdiocese could continue at its quick pace. Indeed, the number of parishes and missions needed to serve these newcomers could increase by 50 percent.

Peter Faletti presented this forecast in April to archdiocesan leaders, preparing for what he called “the inevitable future growth.”

“We think we’ve been through growth,” he said. “We have another big wave coming.”

Faletti, who has served as the planning director of the archdiocese since December 2009, retired this year. The Missouri native moved into the archdiocesan role and headed a new Office of Planning and Research after helping to conduct a strategic planning project for the Atlanta Archdiocese as a consultant beginning in 2006.

He is a member of Christ Our King and Savior Church, in Greensboro, where he has also served as the choir director. He and his wife, Maureen, cared for their friend and pastor, Father G. Philip Ryan, during a long illness before he died in February.

One of Faletti’s responsibilities has been to help understand the needs of the more than 100 parishes and missions so senior archdiocesan leadership could better focus the archdiocesan administrative offices on serving them. He periodically would check in with each pastor and other parish leaders. Faletti said a fall 2015 survey of pastors showed the relationship between parish leaders and archdiocesan operations had improved significantly over the past few years.

At Faletti’s retirement, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory saluted his work, calling him “a great treasure for this local Church.”

“Peter has earned the respect of the bishops he has served, as well as the priests, deacons, religious, parish staffs and his colleagues in the Chancery. … Peter will always enjoy my sincere esteem and affection for his yeoman service to his friend, his parish, his archdiocese, and to me,” the archbishop wrote in a memo.

His strength was to share “wisdom, insight, and invaluable information about our growth and development as an archdiocese,” wrote the archbishop. He developed a style where he would listen to pastors, in addition to other clergy and staff, with great respect, said Archbishop Gregory.

“He helped us understand and evaluate the demographic developments that we face as well as the resultant challenges of providing for the pastoral care of our people,” the archbishop said.

The Office of Planning and Research that he established “continues to track new data and provides ongoing insight into our growing local Church,” Archbishop Gregory said. “Because of his abilities to plan and to create structures and processes, we can continue his work even without his daily presence. He has offered to be a consultant in the future and I look forward to taking him up on his generous offer.”

Shaping the 2015 Pastoral Plan

One of his largest tasks was organizing and crafting an open and broad consultation that shaped and culminated in the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan. The plan is a five-year blueprint for growth of the faith community in the Atlanta Archdiocese in four areas: knowing the faith, living it, sharing it, and the evolution of parishes.

Archbishop Gregory said the Pastoral Plan is being used in different ways by various parishes, with some very actively implementing its vision and others using it to set benchmarks by which to measure their efforts on each of the four pillars.

In an interview this summer, Faletti stressed that the population growth forecast for Georgia will continue to transform parish life.

Initially Peter Faletti managed the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s strategic planning project as a consultant for the North Highland Group. In December 2009 he came on staff with the archdiocese as director of the Office of Planning and Research. Faletti, a parishioner at Christ Our King and Savior Church, Greensboro, retired May 1. Photo By Michael Alexander

“The sooner we embrace it, rather than try to ignore it, the better off we are going to be,” he said.

More Catholics are moving to the region due to a strong job market in the state and the growing international character of Atlanta, Faletti said.

In 2000, the Catholic population in north and central Georgia numbered about 630,000. Ten years later, it was estimated at 880,000 people.

Estimates put the number now at more than 1 million Catholics, with an additional 200,000 expected by 2030, Faletti said.

Atlanta will be among the fastest growing regions in the country, which means more jobs and more people, he said. Everything changes if the economy suffers, but economists currently put the Atlanta area on an upward trajectory, he said.

There are at least a dozen large economic development projects on the horizon that are within the geographic area of the archdiocese. The list ranges from the new State Farm regional headquarters campus in Dunwoody, with its estimated 1,500 new jobs, to a manufacturing plant of health care conglomerate Baxter International, Inc. in Covington with another 1,500 jobs, said Faletti.

Planning experts forecast that these are opportunities to draw people to Georgia, many of whom will come from Catholic-rich parts of the country in the Northeast and the upper Midwest, he said. The analysis is done with a complex algorithm, taking into consideration people’s ethnicity, census statistics, and information from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and other research on the demographics of moving.

The decline in American baptism rates and the smaller number of millennials who self-identify as Catholic could work against the growth trend, he said.

Faletti expects these new companies will be anchored in their Georgia locations within the next five years, which means the new residents could arrive in parishes very soon.

International draw

The continued diversification of Atlanta as an international city also affects the Catholic community.

People from around the world will come to the metropolitan area, drawn to its universities, international organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control, and global companies headquartered here, he said. And since some 40 percent of international immigrants are Catholic, they will need a place to worship.

With more people and an international flavor, what about parishes?

“We are now an international city. We are attracting people from around the world and we are attracting Catholics from around the world,” Faletti said.

“One of the things we must do is learn to live comfortably in a multicultural environment. Some parishes have experienced it much sooner than others; some have not experienced it at all. But in the next 10 years, all of our parishes will be faced with the issue. The reality is it’ll be a part of the world,” he said.

Gwinnett County is one example, where local marketing promotes the confluence of Korean markets and restaurants as “The Seoul of the South.” The Gwinnett Daily Post reported some 22,001 Korean-Americans live in the county, nearly 42 percent of all Koreans in Georgia.

There are two Korean Catholic churches in the archdiocese, Korean Martyrs Church in Doraville, DeKalb County, and St. Andrew Kim Church, in Duluth, Gwinnett County.

According to the latest figures compiled by the archdiocese, in the past four years, some 1,100 new Asian Catholics have moved into the four zip codes around Korean Martyrs Church on Buford Highway. And while plans are preliminary, St. Andrew Kim Church is looking for a new larger campus property to accommodate its parishioners. From 2011 to 2013, the church more than doubled its community from 98 families to 228 families.

The 2015 Pastoral Plan identified the evolution of the parish as a key point and welcoming newcomers as a vital part of evangelization. Parish leaders will have to form creative ways for people to worship, receive religious education, and socialize, Faletti said. “Our parishes will continue to have a changing face.”

“It is not behind us. It is still in front of us,” he said. “If we think we were chasing growth before, don’t relax.”

If the numbers are correct, in 25 years as many as 1.4 million Catholics could live here.

What would that mean for parish sizes? A decent-sized parish is made up of about 3,000 registered families, he said. To keep that as a goal in the face of the population increase, Faletti estimated between two dozen and 50 new parishes would have to be established.