Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo by Cindy Connell Palmer
Archbishop Gregory, J. Hartmayer celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for the Claretian priests at Corpus Christi Church June 16. The Claretians are departing from service in the Atlanta Archdiocese this month.

Stone Mountain

A heartfelt goodbye to the Claretian Missionaries   

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 17, 2024

STONE MOUNTAIN—Believers at Corpus Christi Church are saying goodbye to the Claretian community, an international missionary religious order, which has shepherded the parish for more than 30 years.  

In a heartfelt message to the nearly 2,000 families of the parish, the pastor encouraged the people in the pews to trust in God through the changes.  

“Trust in the Divine Providence as we continue to say the prayer of serenity bearing in mind the mission is not ours. It belongs to God!” wrote Claretian Father Paschal Amagba.  

On June 16, the church officially commemorated the handover, calling it the “passing of the torch.” The new pastor begins on July 1, with archdiocesan priest Father José Luis Hernández Ayala appointed as the new spiritual leader.  

Parish council president Marlene Lee-Seaton is a long-time church member, worshipping at the church since 1995.  

The community is grieving “as we have grown to love these priests,” said the native of Jamaica. People have been going through a sense of loss since the news was shared in the spring. The first response was to begin to pray for God’s hand to guide what would unfold, she said.  

Corpus Christi Church parishioners process with flowers during the offertory at a Mass of Thanksgiving for the Claretian priests June 16. Photo by Cindy Connell Palmer

The worshipping community is a kaleidoscope of ethnic and cultural diversity and is one of the most multi-national in the archdiocese. From refugees living in nearby Clarkston to Spanish-speaking families, the pews are filled with people from more than 60 countries, according to the parish.  

It takes a unique spirit to ensure unity with so many cultures under one church roof, she said. The Claretians, as an international order, had priests “who understood the struggles of a lot of cultures,” she said.  

Lee-Seaton said she is saddened by the Claretians’ departure but hopeful the congregation will see an outpouring of creativity to move forward, especially to connect with a youth ministry.  

Claretians came to heal a hurting parish

The DeKalb County parish was dedicated in July 1971. Archdiocesan priests served it for the next decades as the church and religious education buildings were erected on the campus.  

In 1992, Claretian priests were appointed to administer the parish, which was reeling. Two priests who served at the parish during the 1980s were credibly accused of abusing young people. 

After nearly 30 years, the parish is in a good place—standing on its own and enriched by its diversity. There are some 1,800 registered families.  

Father Amagba, who arrived at the parish in 2015, shared the hard news with the congregation.  

The parish “has witnessed changes in the past. We have seen priests come and go. Nevertheless, changes and transitions of this magnitude come with fear and uncertainties for the unknown,” wrote Father Amagba in an open letter. He said the Claretian Missionaries “will remain ever grateful” for serving in the Atlanta Archdiocese.  

Reorganization of the Claretian Missionaries  

Father Paul Keller, the Claretian superior of the province of the United States and Canada, recalled reading a line capturing missionary life: “a missionary goes where they’re needed and not wanted and leaves when they’re wanted and not needed.”  

The move comes as the religious community, formally known as the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, has been re-organized in North America.  

The Claretian Missionaries, founded in 1849, has 88 members in the United States and Canada, with 50 priests and brothers active in ministry. It has some 3,000 members worldwide.   

“Leaving is painful. We think we’re doing it for the right reasons, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult when there’s a place you put your heart into it and you have a significant history and you’ve done good work,” said Father Keller.  

Father Paschal Amagba, CMF, at left, praises the work of fellow Claretian Father Gregory Kenny, center, who preceded him as pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain. The Claretians will be leaving Atlanta to serve elsewhere following a re-organization by the religious order. Photo by Cindy Connell Palmer

As part of the planning, Father Keller said the goal for the Claretian Missionaries is to focus on building larger communities of men and concentrating their ministries. This spring, the communities are withdrawing from three dioceses, Atlanta, Phoenix and Vancouver, Canada, while expanding in British Columbia.  

Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., thanked the Claretians when announcing the changes in priest assignments 

“We are grateful to Father Paschal Amagba, CMF; Father Malachy Osunwa, CMF, and Father Gregory Kenny, CMF, for their service in the Archdiocese of Atlanta,” he wrote. Father Osunwa is the associate pastor at the Stone Mountain parish, and Father Kenny is its pastor-emeritus. 

The archbishop celebrated a June 16 Mass of Thanksgiving for the priests at Corpus Christi. The parish community enjoyed a meal afterward.