By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published September 30, 2021
STONE MOUNTAIN—Hundreds gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Corpus Christi Church.
Jubilarian festivities on Sept. 10-12 included a historic exhibit of parish life, Masses and a celebration of culture. Parishioners represent more than 40 countries and four continents. It is one of the most diverse parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Father Paschal Amagba, CMF, has been pastor of the parish since 2016. A native of Nigeria, he felt at home at Corpus Christi when he arrived because much of his ministry has been serving people in various countries.
“When you see God present in everyone, that part brings us together,” said the pastor.
Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., celebrated the anniversary Mass at Corpus Christi on Sept. 12. In his homily, the archbishop shared how the parish is an example of “unity in diversity.”
Each has their own customs, traditions, music and food, said Archbishop Hartmayer. Yet all are united under one Catholic faith to profess, celebrate, live and pray, he said.
At the vigil Mass on Sept. 11, honoring founders and lifelong members of the Stone Mountain parish, Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III called them “living stones, built upon the foundation of Christ.”
“This was not simply a beginning to build a worship site, but this was a beginning to build a community of love, a community of faith,” said Bishop Shlesinger.
Kay DeLafosse is a founding member of the parish. More than 50 years ago, she and her husband, Roy, attended a meeting for residents in the Stone Mountain and Tucker areas looking to start a Catholic Church. In 1971, Corpus Christi was designated a parish by Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan. The first pastor, Father Joseph Beltran, organized the parish with more than 200 registered families.
Sunday morning Masses were held at Stone Mountain Elementary School until the church building was dedicated in 1974.
DeLafosse remembers the early years of the church with many young families and children, which helped the parish grow. Working in religious education at the parish for 32 years, DeLafosse recalled having classes five days a week because there was not enough space to host class only on Sundays.
“People really grew together and made it such a vibrant parish because we had to work together in order to keep it going because it just kept growing,” she said.
Today, DeLafosse continues to volunteer in the altar linen ministry, which she has done since it began, and volunteers with other ministries as needed. While Roy isn’t Catholic, he has been involved with Corpus Christi since its beginning, working with the Men’s Group and helping with religious education. He and Kay have been married for 62 years.
I thank God for giving me the many years that I’ve had at Corpus Christi, said DeLafosse.
“I’ve met the most wonderful people, the greatest people that are very spiritual, who are so giving of themselves,” she said.
In 1992, the Claretian Missionaries were appointed to serve Corpus Christi Church. Father Greg D. Kenny, CMF, became the fourth pastor. He still lives in residence at the parish today.
A native of Mexico, Hector Villanueva came to Corpus Christi in the early 1990s. He came to church occasionally, but had a love for soccer. Father Severino “Sevy” Lopez, CMF, parochial vicar at the parish, would visit Villanueva on the soccer fields. They built a great friendship, which encouraged Villanueva to be more engaged in the parish.
God saved me from the soccer field, said Villanueva.
“It’s been a blessing,” he said.
Father Lopez married Villanueva and his wife Lourdes in 1994. In the late 1990s, Villanueva was the director of Hispanic ministries at Corpus Christi. Currently, he is the head of the eucharistic ministers for Spanish Masses.
“We had a good, very good relationship,” said Villanueva of Father Lopez, who died in 2012.
Annmarie Hendriks has stayed in touch with priests who previously served at Corpus Christi. She and her husband Brian came to Corpus Christi 30 years ago and have been married 54 years.
“Those priests have a great influence on my life,” said Hendriks. “They impacted my spirituality and make you more aware of the presence of God in your life.”
After coming to the United States from Jamaica, the Hendriks started looking for a church home. They attended a few parishes in the archdiocese, but the parish motto at the front entrance of Corpus Christi made a compelling statement for Brian.
Over the main entrance doors, the motto reads: “This is my church. This is my house. This is my family.” This motto left an impact on Brian.
“That hit me. You’ve never seen that in a church before,” he said.
Both Brian and Annmarie have been active members of Corpus Christi over the years. Two of their four children were married at the Stone Mountain parish and one was engaged there.
“I’m very happy and blessed to know that all my children are still in the church,” said Brian. “All my children are still Catholic, and grandchildren.”
The Hendriks also value the people they’ve met and friendships made over the years at Corpus Christi. “I just love the warmth and the embracing of each other,” said Annmarie. “No man is a stranger. Everybody is a family.”
Villanueva has met other parishioners that share the same last name. They all consider themselves brothers. “When I get to see them, it’s just beautiful,” he said.
“Corpus Christi is and has been a part of my life,” said DeLafosse. “And I thank God for giving me the many years that I have here.”
“Everybody follows the same cross of Christ,” said Father Amagba. Come to Corpus Christi and appreciate how people of different places walk together and follow the same God, he said.