In 1873, Bishop William H. Gross of Savannah, accompanied by Father James O'Brien of Washington, Georgia came to Athens to search for a location for a boy's orphanage. They were not successful, and eventually the orphanage was established in Washington. During their visit, however, they were approached by ten Catholic men of Athens and asked to purchase a site for a church. Prior to this time, Mass had been celebrated in the home of various Catholics by priests who visited from time to time.
The bishop listened to the pleas of his people and as a result Saint Joseph's Parish was organized. There was no priest available, so the needs of Athenian Catholics were served by Father Michael Reiley who visited once a month. The first person to be baptized, in August 1873, was Mary Ellen Safferty, child of William and Mary Ellen McNamara Safferty.
The next visiting priest was Father James O'Brien, the founder of the Washington orphanage. He served Saint Joseph's from 1874 until 1876. He was followed by Father Joseph Heidencamp, S.J., who came from Augusta during the next two years. By 1878, Father Thomas O'Hara was the visiting priest, and he served for three years. In 1880 Father Charles Wightman was a regular in Athens.
A fund drive to raise money for the purchase of land was begun. Dr. Robert L. Bloomfield, an Episcopalian, had initiated the drive with a gift of one hundred dollars. By 1881 the drive apparently was successful and Bishop Gross purchased a lot and building from the estate of Thomas R. R. Cobb for two thousand dollars. This, the first Catholic church in Athens, was located in a small wooden building at the corner of Prince and Pulaski Streets, approximately on the site of the present church building. This historic structure had formerly been used as a law office for Joseph Henry Lumpkin, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia. Occasionally the State Supreme Court had met in this building, and it also had been at one time the site of the law school for the University of Georgia. The Confederate Constitution of Georgia was drawn up here.
From 1881 to 1885, the regular monthly visits were being made by Father Thomas A. McConville, and from 1886 to 1893 by Father A. J. Semmes. The records indicate that from 1893 to 1910 visiting priests to Saint Joseph's were supplied by the Marist fathers from Atlanta, but no names of individual priests are available.
In July 1910, the parish took on some permanence when the first resident pastor, Father Harry F. Clark, was appointed. For the next two years, Father Clark spent most of his time in northern cities including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New York, raising funds for a permanent church building. One unconfirmed story has it that as Father King travelled about soliciting funds he stopped whenever he passed a brick factory and ordered bricks to be shipped to Athens for the eventual construction of Saint Joseph's Church.
Construction began on November 17, 1912, and the building was completed during the early months of the next year. It was dedicated on Sunday, March 30, 1913. A few weeks later the first marriage ceremony took place in the new church. It was the wedding of Anthony and Nina Costa on April 16, 1913. A month later, on May 18, 1913, Akina Pauline Costa, adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Anton Costa, was the first child baptized in the new church. The first baptism of a male child was celebrated on September 6, 1913. He was William Edward Hines, son of William Edward and Elizabeth Hines. The first funeral in the new church took place two years later. It was that of a black youth, Francis S. Harris, 16, who died on March 23, 1915 and was buried March 24, 1915.
Father Clark boarded with a family in Athens until a rectory could be completed. Although construction began on December 5, 1915, it was not finished until November 11, 1916. Father Clark, with considerable foresight, planned a rectory large enough to house a school; but that would have to wait.
The jurisdiction of Saint Joseph's included Athens and twenty-three counties in northeast Georgia. This tremendous mission parish stretched from the Alabama line on the west to the South Carolina boarder on the east. It was estimated by the Catholic Missionary Society that the Georgia missions covered a territory comprising approximately 15,000 square miles, or almost twice the size of the state of Massachusetts.
With Athens serving as a base of operations, missionary activity stretched out in several directions. The first mission church was built in Griffin in 1920. In time, priests working from Saint Joseph's Parish would found missions which were to develop into parishes in Griffin, Gainesville, LaGrange, Newnan, Hartwell and Monroe.
In November of 1921, a branch of the Catholic Laymen's Association was organized in Athens. This took place after a High Mass in Saint Joseph's Church attended by approximately one hundred Catholics from all over the state, including State President Rice and State Deputy McCallun of the Knights of Columbus. The officers of the new branch were: President, L. N. Roberts; vice-president, Mrs. John Fowler; treasurer, Mrs. Anita Costa; secretary, Mrs. Josephine Costa; executive committee, T. H. McHatton, chairman, Mrs. Walter Porter, Lawrence Costa and J. E. Hord.
For sixteen years, Father Clark labored to bring the sacraments and the Faith to Catholics scattered throughout this extraordinarily large mission parish. Upon the occasion of his transfer to Saint Anthony's parish in Atlanta, he wrote with considerable satisfaction that "a lot in Gainesville has been purchased this day, Jan. 2nd, 1926. I leave Athens and the missions free of debt to my successor."
It is possible that Father Clark penned the above sentence with tongue in cheek, for his replacement, Father James King, reported that the entire treasury of the parish lay on the rectory mantel when he arrived. It totalled exactly thirteen cents.
The smallness of Saint Joseph's resources did not deter the second pastor from continuing the pioneer work commenced by Father Clark. Father King was responsible for the construction of Saint Michael's mission church in Gainesville, which was dedicated by Bishop Michael J. Keyes on April 30, 1933. He also managed the renovation of the church in Griffin and the construction of Saint Peter's mission church in LaGrange, which was dedicated by Bishop Gerald P. O'Hara on April 26, 1936.
Another notable accomplishment of Father King's administration was that with the assignment of Father Nicholas Quinlan as his assistant, it became possible to offer Masses every Sunday in Athens and Griffin. In Athens, there was a Mass at 8:00 every Sunday and a second Mass at 10:00 on the first and third Sundays. A similar schedule was followed in Griffin, except that the second Mass was at 10:30. Daily Mass in Athens was at 7:30.
The Mass schedules in the missions expanded as well. In LaGrange there was a 7:30 Mass on the second, fourth and fifth Sundays while at Saint Michael's Mission in Gainesville, Mass was at 11:00 on the same Sundays as LaGrange. During week days, Mass was celebrated in various towns scattered throughout the mammoth Saint Joseph's Parish. In addition to his other duties, Father Quinlan was also appointed the first Newman Club chaplain at The University of Georgia.
In 1936 a new parish was created at Griffin and the missions of LaGrange, Griffin, Newnan and West Point were removed from the jurisdiction of Saint Joseph's. With their mission territory thus narrowed, Fathers King and Quinlan could thus attend to the needs of Saint Joseph's Parish and its missions.
The next two decades were lean times for Saint Joseph's and for the country as well. The congregation was small -- not much larger than the original ten families who had approached Bishop Gross in 1873. The people were poor and activities were few. A portion of the rectory was leased to a Mrs. Hancock who established a boarding house style restaurant. The business was operated from 1929 until 1938. It was customary for family groups to eat there and one of these former customers reported that Father King also took his meals there and was quite popular with the young children.
Evidently Father King was popular with the entire community, for when it was announced that he was to be transferred to Valdosta to establish a new parish, a petition was drawn up by thirty of the leading citizens of Athens and presented to Bishop O'Hara requesting that the popular priest be allowed to remain in Athens. In a courteous but firm letter dated October 14, 1936, Bishop O'Hara informed the petitioners that it was precisely the qualities of Father King which made him so popular in Athens that prompted the bishop to choose him for the exacting and difficult task of establishing a new parish in Valdosta.
The third pastor of Saint Joseph's Church, Father Harold J. Barr, was the former rector of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Savannah. Father Barr was interested in several projects during his short administration. One of these was working with the Catholic students at the University of Georgia. The Newman Club, an organization of Catholic university students, met at Saint Joseph's rectory. In 1937 a convention of the Federation of Catholic College Clubs of the Southeast was held at Saint Joseph's. Bishop O'Hara was present at the meeting.
Of greater impact on the community was Father Barr's work in helping to acquire Saint Mary's Hospital. The hospital had been organized by two Athens physicians, Dr. H. M. Fullilove and Dr. J. P. Proctor. With the demise of both doctors the hospital had been inherited by their widows, who had difficulty in operating it, so it had closed in 1935. Father Barr, at the request of parishioners, began negotiations to purchase the hospital from Mrs. Fullilove. On October 14, 1937, he reported to Bishop O'Hara that she had agreed to sell the hospital for $30,000 cash and a $10,000 promissory note.
Bishop O'Hara then invited the Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus to come to Athens to assume administration of the new hospital. Upon their arrival, they were met at the train station by Father Barr and a committee of parishioners who brought them to the rectory where the ladies of the parish gave them breakfast. The women of Saint Joseph's had also equipped and stocked the kitchen of the hospital convent with appropriate food and cooking utensils.
When the renovation of the hospital was completed, it was dedicated by Bishop O'Hara on Sunday, July 10, 1938. The ceremony was held on the front lawn of the hospital, which was then located on Milledge Avenue. It was one of the first times that large numbers of Athenians had participated in a Catholic ceremony.
In order to assist the sisters in their work of caring for the sick of the Athens area, the women of Saint Joseph's organized the Saint Mary's Hospital Auxiliary on April 27, 1939. Mrs. T. H. McHatton was elected the first president.
Possibly the most important accomplishment of Father Barr during his term as pastor of Saint Joseph's Parish was the renovation of the church. It was discovered that termites had destroyed the flooring. In order to prevent such damage in the future, a concrete slab was poured to serve as the base for a new floor composed of asphalt tile. The interior of the church was enhanced when all inner walls were taken down to make one large chamber. Removal of the plaster ceiling exposed the trusses supporting the roof which were then enclosed in decorative woodwork, and the underside of the roof was covered with a pine ceiling. The effect was to match the English Gothic style of the exterior architecture with the new simplicity of the interior. The newly renovated church was dedicated on January 4, 1938.
The fourth pastor of Saint Joseph's Parish, Father John J. Kennedy, replaced Father Barr in February of 1938. Father Kennedy was active in working with university students. He received permission from Bishop O'Hara to convert part of the rectory into a dormitory for Catholic students, which was accomplished in 1939.
Because of the relatively large number of Catholic families in Elberton, a lot was purchased there in 1941, and Saint Mary's Mission Church was completed using the famous Elberton granite. It cost $15,000 and was dedicated on November 23, 1941. Music for the dedication was provided by the Saint Joseph's choir directed by Professor Byron Warner of The University of Georgia music department. In his address at the dedication, Bishop O'Hara made it a point to praise the musical excellence of the Saint Joseph's Choir. Priests from Saint Joseph's traveled to Elberton every Sunday to celebrate Mass until this responsibility was taken over by priests from the parish in Washington.
Monsignor King returned as pastor of Saint Joseph's when he replaced Father Kennedy in March of 1943, but his health was poor and he had to take several leaves of absence. He finally resigned in September of 1944. It was during these war years that many new parishioners were added to Saint Joseph's, as northern Catholic men were stationed at the Army Signal Corps School and also at the Navy Pre-Flight Training School in Athens. Church attendance was so heavy that it became necessary to add a third Sunday Mass. On Mother's Day in May of 1943, several hundred of these young Catholic men marched from their barracks through the streets of Athens to attend Mass and afterward to a Communion breakfast held at a local hotel. The ceremony had been arranged by the Saint Joseph's Holy Name Society, whose president, Robert Arthur, had initiated the practice of the military men joining the Holy Name Society for their monthly Holy Communion.
Father King served as chaplain to both the Signal School and the navy Pre-Flight School. Every Saturday a special Mass was offered for the graduating classes preparing to leave Athens for the fighting fronts. Many socials were arranged for the young men of the Signal Corps School by the National Council of Catholic Women under the leadership of Mrs. Byron Warner and Mrs. H. B. Harris. As an expression of gratitude for the hospitality shown them by the parishioners of Saint Joseph's, the students of the Signal Corps School presented Saint Joseph's Church with United States and Papal flags.
A Priest from the Parish
Early in 1944, one of the most momentous events in the life of a parish took place. John C. Kirk, son of Mr. and Mrs. E. C. Kirk of Athens, was ordained a priest by Bishop Gerald O'Hara on February 6, 1944, in Saint Joseph's Church. Father Kirk celebrated his first Solemn High Mass with Monsignor King serving as priest-assistant and with Bishop O'Hara preaching the sermon. The first assignment of the newly ordained priest was as assistant pastor of Saint Joseph's parish.
Father Robert Brennan was appointed pastor of Saint Joseph's on September 17, 1944. He had served as an assistant pastor in 1942, and was pastor of Saint Peter's Church in LaGrange when he was transferred to Athens. Father Brennan has the distinction of being the first native Georgian to serve as pastor of Saint Joseph's. A Savannah native, he was remembered for his work with the Newman Club.
There was considerable interest on the part of parishioners in establishing a school, but no move could be made until the debt incurred in the renovation of the church was paid off. At this time active parish organizations were the Holy Name Society for the men and the National Council of Catholic Women for the women. They met in the rectory. Dr. T. H. McHatton, a member of the faculty of the College of Horticulture of The University of Georgia, was president of the Athens branch of the Georgia Catholic Laymen's Association and also a member of the National Executive Committee of the organization.
Another pastor who influenced the development of the parish was Father Walter J. Donovan, who served from 1948 until 1953. It was under his leadership and direction that Saint Joseph's School was established and opened classes on September 12, 1949, with thirty-five students in attendance. Sister Maria of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart was the first principal, and the sisters who taught at the school lived at the hospital. The school was located on the bottom floor of the rectory building, and the pastor inhabited the upper level. In order to enlarge the basement, the men of the parish began digging out the earth under the front part of the building. When completed it became a cafeteria for the school and also a meeting room for the parishioners. Funds for equipping the cafeteria were raised in part by the Holy Name Society, which held a benefit spaghetti supper and dance.
By this time the congregation must have increased considerably for there were now three Sunday Masses: 5:50 (at Saint Mary's Chapel), 8:30 and 11:00. A free lunch was made available in the school cafeteria for small children during the 11 o'clock Mass. Mass was offered in private homes in Hartwell at 8:30 and at 10:15 at Saint Mary's in Elberton. A typical Sunday collection totalled $86 plus $46 in the school collection. Retreats were available for the women at Mount de Sales Academy in Macon.
In 1950 Father Donovan attended to the needs of the university students when he negotiated the purchase of the former home of the Patrman family at 1344 South Lumpkin Street, which was to be the site of a Catholic Student Center. He was assisted in this project by Father Francis Clougherty, who had been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II. Father Francis was the first director of the Newman Center.
Again looking to the future, Saint Joseph's Church purchased 16 acres on Timothy Road. It was announced at that time that this would be reserved as a site for a Catholic High School. (This was later sold to help finance the 1985 church renovation).
In 1950, Father Donovan received several families of displaced persons. One of these, the John Totis family, lived in the rectory until housing and employment could be found. Other such families were sponsored by Saint Joseph's parishioners who helped them become established in Athens. One of these families lived for a time at Saint Mary's Hospital. Parishioners sponsored fund raising activities to help families of displaced persons with their new living quarters.
The religious life of Saint Joseph's parishioners was enhanced when Father Donovan invited Father Francis Broome of the Paulist Fathers to preach a mission from January 20-25, 1952. The highlight of the mission was the "Question Box" -- a standard practice in Paulist missions which allows people to submit questions concerning the Catholic faith and practices.
On April 1, 1952, the First Communion class listed the following parishioners: Mary Hill Gerdine, Virginia Hamby, Judith Embry, Barbara Mize, Josef Christof Karl, Dorothy Wilder, Penelope Wright, Joseph Hollis, Kenneth Ross, John Wood and Nicholas Vasvary. After Mass the children were guests of the parish Council of Catholic Women at a Communion breakfast
By 1953 Father Donovan reported 170 children in Saint Joseph's School and he received permission to expand it by adding a seventh grade. Also in this same year, he asked for permission to establish a mission in Monroe where fifty-five people were attending Mass in the REA building. A lot was purchased, but construction of Saint Anna's Church did not begin until 1955.
In July, 1959 a new parish was created in Athens. This was Sacred Heart Mission Parish with a special ministry to black Catholics. The church was located on Julious Drive and Father Dale Freeman was the first pastor. Father Freeman was also responsible for the establishment of Sacred Heart Camp in a rural area north of Athens which was to provide a healthy and secure wilderness experience for black children who were not allowed to use public recreational facilities.
The next pastor of Saint Joseph's, Father James Patrick Boyce, arrived in October, 1960. Unfortunately, Father Boyce was stricken with a serious illness and had to spend some time in the hospital. The parish was administered by Father Leonard F. X. Mayhew during the time Father Boyce was incapacitated until his death in an Atlanta hospital. He was the first resident pastor of Saint Joseph's to die in office. The funeral took place at Saint Joseph's and grieving parishioners held an all-night vigil in the church prior to the requiem Mass. In memory of their deceased pastor, the parishioners of Saint Joseph's, assisted by the family of Father Boyce, purchased the large crucifix which was placed on the wall directly behind the main altar, and which now is located directly below the rose window on the south wall of the church.
Liturgical Renewal and Social Outreach
With the arrival of Father John J. Mulroy as pastor in March of 1962, Saint Joseph's Parish entered a decade of outreach and community involvement. It began with an article in a national magazine which featured Father Mulroy and Saint Joseph's Church as one of the first parishes in the United States to implement the Vatican II reforms by celebrating Mass completely in English. Father Mulroy also removed the Communion railing, Stations of the Cross and main altar. He conducted a program termed "Operation Understanding" in which many of the articles used in celebrating Mass and other Catholic ceremonies were displayed. Citizens of the community were invited to view them and an explanation was given for each article and its use in Catholic ritual.
An important step in the progress of Saint Joseph's was taken in 1962 when Father Mulroy negotiated the purchase of the T.R.R. Cobb house for $75,000. The property upon which the antebellum mansion stood was so extensive that it more than doubled the size of the Saint Joseph's parish grounds. On March 30, 1963, the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of Saint Joseph's Church was celebrated in Athens by opening the Cobb House for public viewing. The old mansion constructed in the 1830's had been purchased by General Cobb in 1848 and had been owned by a variety of persons since. The house was renovated by the diligent efforts of the men of the parish who were assisted by volunteers from the Athens community interested in preserving the old structure. The Cobb House now became the rectory thus leaving the original rectory entirely for Saint Joseph's School.
On September 10, 1963, ground breaking ceremonies were held for Saint Mary's Hospital at its new location on Baxter Street, and operations began on January 16, 1966.
In May of 1964, Sacred Heart Parish was consolidated with Saint Joseph's and once again there was only one Catholic church in Athens. The building which had served as the rectory at Sacred Heart was moved to the front of Saint Joseph's property on Prince Avenue and after renovation became the rectory. The sisters who served Saint Joseph's School then moved from Saint Mary's Hospital to the Cobb House, which became their convent.
The early 1960's saw the beginning of the civil rights revolution in the United States, and Father Mulroy took a strong leadership position. Athens was a center of Ku Klux Klan terrorism at the time, yet the local press and national news services remained silent. Sunday after Sunday, Father Mulroy denounced the brutality of the Klan. Threats followed, but he was not intimidated. He was active in the Human Relations Council and under his direction Saint Joseph's School was the first school in Athens to be integrated. A parishioner, Anita Watson, led the first integrated Girl Scout troop in Georgia.
In 1964, the Saint Joseph's Board of Education was constituted. Elected by the parishioners, it began to take an active role in formulating policy for the school. One of its more controversial decisions was to begin charging tuition for parishioners, which was set at ten dollars per family.
By 1964, the boundaries of Saint Joseph's parish had been reduced from the original twenty-three counties to only eight: Clarke, Oconee, Walton, Barrow, Jackson, Madison, Ogelthorpe and Morgan. There was a mission church, Saint Anna's, in Monroe. The parish, which had begun with ten families, now numbered approximately 450. Where formerly one Mass sufficed, now there were five, and priests from Saint Joseph's also journeyed to Monroe every Sunday to celebrate Mass at Saint Anna Mission.
On November 29, 1966, under the leadership of Faher Mulroy, a grant of $56,591 was secured from the Office of Economic Opportunity to establish an adult high school. Sessions were held during the evenings in Saint Joseph's School and the Sunday school classrooms of other Athens churches. The purpose of the program was to educate adults to an equivalent of a high school diploma and thus enhance their employment opportunities. The supervisory board of the new adult high school was as follows: Judge James Barrow, President; Father John Mulroy, Vice-president; Mrs. Sophie Deutschberger, Secretary and Dr. William White, Treasurer. Within a few years the adult high school was made a part of the Clarke County Independent School District.
The following year construction began on the Catholic Center on Lumpkin Street. The Newman Center, which had been located in a renovated house, was replaced by two structures: the Bishop John Lancaster Spalding Memorial Chapel , and immediately behind it the Catholic Center. Work was completed in 1966, and on February 12, 1967, Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan came to Athens for the dedication ceremonies. Much of the financing of the Catholic Center was provided by a prominent Atlanta Catholic layman, Hughes Spalding. Father Christopher Malone became the first director of the new Catholic Center. Once again there were two Catholic churches in Athens.
With the arrival of the next pastor, Father Jarlath Burke, the Saint Joseph's parish council was constituted with twelve members who were elected by the parishioners. Mr. Edward Fechtel served as president.
In 1976 one of the more important activities of this first parish council was to negotiate the purchase of the adjacent public school property. The Childs Street School had burned down and the school district had decided to sell the property rather than rebuild the structure. Despite reluctance on the part of some school board members to allow the property to be sold to Saint Joseph's, negotiations by parish council president Fechtel were successful. The main purpose was to secure additional space so that the children of Saint Joseph's School could have sufficient playground area. In the process, the parish acquired two new buildings. One was the former Childs Street School cafeteria. This became the Saint Joseph's parish hall. The second building was a small two-room concrete block structure a little distance north of the cafeteria. This building was made available to the Model Cities Head Start program, and was known for a time as the Head Start building.
Another first for Saint Joseph's occurred when Sister Rosaire Bree left the faculty of Saint Joseph's School and became the first director of religious education for the parish. The Saint Joseph's school of religion was organized formally, although since their arrival at Saint Mary's Hospital, some of the sisters had volunteered to hold catechism classes for the children of the parish on Sunday mornings.
Father Burke called for the organization of women's circles. They were set up on a neighborhood basis and met in the homes of the ladies. Socials were held and husbands were invited. One important outcome of these circles was the beginning of the annual Christmas bazaar. The ladies made various types of Christmas decorations which were sold to raise money for needed improvements to the church and the parish. The proceeds of the first bazaar were used to carpet the sanctuary of the church.
The year 1968 brought dark days when it seemed that Saint Joseph's School would have to close. The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred heart were withdrawn by the superiors of their order. At a parish-wide meeting parishioners pleaded in vain with one of the directors of the order, not to remove the sisters. Fortunately, Dr. John Rees, the president of the parish board of education, made a tape recording of this meeting. When a committee of the P.T.A. began contacting other orders of nuns to serve the school, copies of the tape were sent to them. This action was instrumental in persuading one group, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Thus they undertook the administration of Saint Joseph's School.
One of the first results of the coming of the IHM religious order to Saint Joseph's was that the sisters had to vacate the Cobb House. Their superiors refused to allow them to continue to use it as a convent. So they moved into the small building on Prince Avenue which became their convent once the P.T.A. had constructed a chapel on one end. The priests moved into the Cobb House and it became a rectory again.
Father Burke continued the tradition of social outreach by Saint Joseph's. The abandoned Sacred Heart camp on Smokey Road near the Danielsville Highway was reopened and renamed Camp Hallinan in honor of Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan. One of the first integrated recreational facilities in the area, the camp was made possible by the almost superhuman efforts of three parishioners of Saint Joseph's: Dr. Joseph E. Berrigan, Dr. Walter Kimble and Dr. David Dwinell. They were assisted by many parishioners including a supportive parish council and a large variety of dedicated volunteers from a number of local churches. In 1971, Camp Hallinan became a United Fund agency. The camp provided summer recreational facilities for hundreds of Athens children between the ages of six and fourteen, most of whom were non-Catholics from inner city neighborhoods.
Parishioners greeted their next pastor with joy. Father Henry Gracz was well known to many of them because he had served as assistant pastor during the administration of Father Mulroy. Although he did not remain at Saint Joseph's very long, he was very active. Father Gracz served on the board of directors of Camp Hallinan and was cubmaster of Pack 326, Cub Scouts of America.
The tradition of helping refugees was continued when Father Ed Danneker, an associate pastor, sponsored several families of refugees from Vietnam. Several members of the parish were involved in helping them, and the children attended Saint Joseph's School.
Social outreach continued at Saint Joseph's during the pastorate of Father Michael Woods. It was at this time in the early 1970's that the Saint Vincent de Paul Society was established in Athens. One of the first activities of the society was to institute an emergency food bank.
During the late 1960's, when Saint Joseph's School was in trouble, the decision had been made to eliminate the seventh and eighth grades. The seventh grade was reinstated in 1973 and the eighth followed in 1974. Addition of new grades created a space problem for the school which was solved with the purchase of a double trailer by the P.T.A. to house the first and second grades. A short while later a second trailer, also purchased by the P.T.A., became the home of the kindergarten which was moved out of the parish hall. The new seventh and eighth grades were moved to the former Head Start building.
In 1972, the parish council, following several several public meetings and responding to the urging of many parishioners established a parish youth ministry. Jim Aiello was appointed the first youth director of Saint Joseph's parish.
Also during the administration of Father Woods, the T.R.R. Cobb house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The date of this transaction was June 30, 1975. Father Woods was also present for the establishment of the Eugene Whitney Council number 6514 of the Knights of Columbus. Also, Troop 326 of the Boy Scouts was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.
It was during the administration of Father Woods that the parish finances began to improve. The parish debt amounted to more than $125,000. The finance committee of the Parish Council, working with Father Woods, instituted a tithing program and a system of regular debt retirement payments. By the time he left Father Woods had the satisfaction of seeing a substantial portion of the debt reduced.
On May 7, 1978 Saint Joseph's made history once more when it received Father William E. Calhoun as pastor. Father Calhoun was a native Georgian and one of the first black Catholic pastors in Georgia. Under his administration the debt reduction program begun by Father Woods was completed. Saint Joseph's Parish was completely out of debt and began a savings program to provide for much-needed construction.
Refugees were once more arriving in the United States during the late 1970s, this time as a result of the Mariel boat lift from Cuba. Two of these men were sponsored by a joint committee of parishioners of Saint Joseph's and the Catholic Center.
All of the shuffling of school classes from building to trailer to building had convinced parishioners of Saint Joseph's that new buildings were needed. The parish council established a special building and development committee. It was appointed by Father Calhoun, assisted by the president and the two immediate past presidents of the parish council: Ray Broussard, Frank Watson and Kathleen Gratzek. The new building and development committee secured permission from the Archdiocese to build a new school and to renovate the rectory and church buildings. A fund drive was begun and $800,000 was pledged to be paid in three years.
An architect was employed and plans were drawn for a twelve-classroom school with a science lab and media center. Construction of the new school was begun shortly after the arrival of Father Richard Kieran as pastor in June of 1983. Designed for 400 students, with room for expansion, the facility was completed in time for the 1984 school year. Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan celebrated a Mass of dedication on October 22, 1984.
An addition to the parish life of Saint Joseph's introduced by Father Kieran was the Noche Hispanica. On the first Friday evening of each month Mass was celebrated in Spanish. This was followed by a covered-dish social in the parish hall with a variety of dishes provided by Hispanic parishioners representing a number of Latin American countries. It was well attended and served to encourage the new Hispanic ministry at Saint Joseph's.
On May 31, 1984, Mr. Albert Jowdy, who grew up in Saint Joseph's Parish, who worked as a staff member at Camp Hallinan and who was active in the youth program, became Father Albert Jowdy when he was ordained by Archbishop Donnellan. In an interview Father Jowdy stated that it was the rich parish life of Saint Joseph's which led him to his priestly vocation.
In 1985 a grant was secured which provided for the establishment of a social worker at Saint Joseph's who operates under the direction of Catholic Social Services in Atlanta. Office space was provided in the rectory and the new position was filled in October. Subsequently the parish provided a trailer office for this operation.
The building program which had begun with the construction of Saint Joseph's School continued under the pastorate of Father Kieran. Now that the school was completed, the second objective, renovation of the rectory, commenced. Since the school had been moved out of the original rectory building, it was decided to renovate that structure in place of the Cobb House. Work began in the spring of 1985 and was completed by July. This left the Cobb House as an unneeded and superfluous building. It was offered for sale for $1.00 to anyone who would move it off of Saint Joseph's property. Purchased by the Stone Mountain Authority, it was disassembled and moved to Stone Mountain Park where it was reconstructed.
Finally work began to enlarge the original church building so that is could accommodate the growing parish which by 1985 numbered approximately 900 families. During the summer while construction was underway, Sunday Masses were moved to the parish hall. The first Mass in the newly-renovated church was celebrated on October 15, 1985, and dedication ceremonies were held on December 6 with Archbishop Donnellan presiding. George Minor headed the building committee at the time.
Father John C. K. Fallon began his assignment as pastor in June of 1987. During his time at Saint Joseph's Parish he was known for his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. In an effort to encourage eucharistic piety he restored the parish monstrance and instituted Benediction during Advent and Lent.
Father Fallon encouraged various forms of musical expression in the parish, and during his pastorate an annual joint concert was established to bring together Saint Joseph's and the New Grove Baptist Church choirs. He also held a Christmas musical prayer service in the church featuring the music of various nationalities represented in the congregation.
In October of 1989 Father Peter A. Dora was appointed pastor by Archbishop Eugene A. Marino S.S.J. Beginning with his seminarian summer assignment at Saint Joseph's in 1968, Father Dora had served the parish as a deacon in 1971, and twice as assistant pastor before returning as pastor.
The two greatest challenges facing the parish at the time were a debt of $500,000 and a growing Spanish-speaking population. With the assistance of a priest from Gainesville (a daughter parish of Saint Joseph's) Sunday Mass was offered every week in the Spanish language. The parish council began exploring ways to integrate these newcomers into the overall life of the parish, and the Athens branch of the archdiocesan Catholic Social Services office offered English classes, developed employment opportunities and sponsored a Spanish radio program on a local station.
During these years the parish Saint Vincent dePaul office had to
disaffiliate from the international organization because of difficulties
resulting from the physical distance from Athens to the archdiocesan
headquarters in Atlanta. Operating under the new name of Saint Joseph's Charities, the organization continued to
provide direct, personal service to the poor.
In September of 1997 Monsignor Dora was recalled to Atlanta to serve as vicar general of the archdiocese.
Father Joseph Chaloux, who was already serving the parish as assistant pastor was named the next pastor of Saint Joseph's.