Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo by Jackie Holcombe
Members of St. Andrew Kim Korean Church carry the relics of the martyred St. Andrew Kim in a procession prior to the community’s 10th anniversary Mass Sept. 19. Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., elevated the church to a parish in late June. The church is located on Duluth Highway and serves a vibrant Korean community.


Korean Catholic roots deepen with new Duluth parish

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 30, 2021

DULUTH—Raising the golden cross-shaped reliquary holding bone fragments of the parish namesake and 19th-century martyr, Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., blessed the congregation at St. Andrew Kim Korean Church Sept. 19.

The community—smaller than usual with COVID-19 safety measures in place—celebrated its 10th anniversary. The archbishop officially elevated the mission to a parish in late June.

“Be witnesses, as were the martyrs, the Korean martyrs who gave their lives in teaching and preaching, by their way of life, imitating the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Archbishop Hartmayer to the masked parishioners filling every other pew.

St. Andrew Kim Korean Church is on Duluth Highway, one among several Korean churches dotting the street. It is one of two Catholic churches serving the vibrant Korean community, in what the local tourist board calls the “Seoul of the South.”

Stephen Kim is a fourth-generation Catholic. Born in Korea, he spent decades working in the automotive industry in Detroit before moving to Georgia to retire.

He said fellow parish members are committed to their roots, both spiritual and cultural. Kim drives some 17 miles from Cumming to worship at the church. When his family was young, he wanted his three children to know both the Korean culture and their Catholic heritage, he said.

“This place can be the cultural home as well as the faith-based headquarters,” Kim said.

Jesuit Father Kolbe Chung, administrator of St. Andrew Kim Church, at left, and Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., center, visit with the church’s youth following Mass at the new Duluth parish. The archbishop elevated the 10-year-old mission to a parish in late June. Photo by Jackie Holcombe

Connie Pyo, who lives in Lawrenceville and manages a mortgage firm, discovered the church as she drove between her home and office. She moved to the area in 2015, relocating from California, her home for 40 years.

Pyo said she felt a crisis of faith after being away from the church for nearly 10 years. One day she was looking for a quiet place to pray.

 “I just walked in because I just want to pray to God because I feel so afraid of life, raising kids all by myself,” she said

Now, the 56-year-old is a community leader.

“Thank God I found this church myself to be with them. They’re like my husband, my sister, my brother. I’m a very strong, aggressive member of the church now,” she said.

Church plans to grow

Since opening its doors in August 2011, the faith community has grown from around 100 registered families to about 600.

Volunteers prepare Korean food for take-out meals in celebration of the 10th anniversary of St. Andrew Kim Church in Duluth. Photo by Jackie Holcombe

Worshippers are drawn to it from across Metro Atlanta, although most of its members live in Gwinnett County. The county is home to some 24,000 people of Korean heritage, according to the 2019 American Community Survey. Georgia has about 56,000 Koreans.

Now parish leaders are envisioning new goals. The church sits on 10 acres in a red brick, former Baptist church. Masses are celebrated in Korean except for a children’s service in English.

Its sanctuary feels full with some 300 worshippers, but before the pandemic, the people attending Mass outnumbered available seats.

By the end of 2022, the parish hopes to unveil a five-year plan to update the campus and enlarge the church.

Korean faithful persevere

More than 40 years ago, Korean Catholics first attended Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Atlanta and then moved to St. Thomas More Church in Decatur. In the early 1990s, Korean Martyrs Church opened its doors in Doraville and was elevated to a parish in 2008.

The new Duluth parish is named for the first native Korean priest, St. Andrew Kim, 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 persecutions. Pope John Paul II canonized St. Andrew Kim, 99 other Koreans and three missionaries martyred between 1839 and 1867. Today about 3 in 10 South Koreans are Christian, including nearly 6 million Catholics.

Relic of St. Andrew Kim

The parish cherishes its heritage as an immigrant church. There is a shrine outside of St. Andrew Kim as well as statues of Joseph and Mary inside.

Andrew and Elizabeth Ahn of Charlotte, North Carolina, attended the anniversary Mass of St. Andrew Kim Korean Church in Duluth Sept. 19. They gave the relics of St. Andrew Kim, which had been gifted by a community religious sisters to Mr. Ahn’s family, to the new parish. Photo by Jackie Holcombe

The relic in its place of honor at the foot of the altar was a gift from Andrew Ahn, 73, and Elizabeth Ahn, 68. They live in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Religious sisters in Korea gave the relic to Andrew Ahn’s mother many years ago. She handed it to the Ahn family before she passed away. Elizabeth Ahn carried the relic to spiritual retreats as a focus for adoration. The Ahn family gave the relic a permanent home after a former pastor at the church persistently asked her to donate it. The Ahns traveled from North Carolina to sit in the front row during the anniversary Mass.

“I’m so glad,” said Elizabeth Ahn. “I am much, much happier now than if I kept them in my house,” she said.

Continuing the path set by Christ

On the eve of the Sept. 20 feast day of St. Andrew Kim and his companions, Archbishop Hartmayer celebrated Mass, accompanied by Father Mark Starr, Father Gerardo Ceballos-Gonzalez, Jesuit Father Kolbe Chung, the administrator of St. Andrew Kim Church, and Jesuit Father Kim Yong-su Paschal, the provincial of the Korean Province.

In his homily, Archbishop Hartmayer urged the congregation to continue the path set by Christ.

“We rejoice today, but we know that with an elevation to a new position also requires responsibility. It requires participation. It requires evangelization. It requires service to others, especially the elderly among us, to take care of one another, to be involved in the ministries of the parish, visiting the sick, teaching the children participating in the liturgy of the Mass on a regular basis,” he said.

Drawing on the history of Korean people and the Catholic Church, the archbishop linked Jesus’ sacrifice to the service of others.

“The path to glory involves the cross because his passion was for justice,” he said. “This was the path of the Korean martyrs, men and women, husbands and wives, young and old, priests and laity from across the social spectrum.”