PROVIDENCE AT WORK: A SHORT HISTORY OF ST. ALPHONSA PARISH
St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is a parish under the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago established by Pope John Paul II on March 13, 2001 to serve the Syro-Malabar Catholics spread over the US and Canada. Its short history began when a handful of the faithful came together under the leadership of Rev. Fr. Joseph Mullakkara MSFS serving the Latin Archdiocese of Atlanta. Rev. Fr. Mullakkara volunteered to offer mass in the Syro-Malabar rite once a month and on special occasions for the Syro-Malabar Catholics of Atlanta. The mass was celebrated at the Corpus Christi Church near Stone Mountain in Atlanta. As the numbers grew, the community engaged in many cultural and social activities after mass. This resulted in the formation of the Kerala Catholic Association of Atlanta for further organized development of the community. Over the next few years the community grew by leaps and bounds through migration from other parts of the country. The association organized a choir, annual retreats, annual picnics, graduation, birthday and Christmas celebrations. Gradually monthly mass turned into biweekly and biweekly into weekly. The growth in population and the multiplicity of activities demanded a venue of their own. A small house with six acres of land was purchased in July 2003 on Rosebud Road in Loganville where the church is located today. The property was fully funded with contributions from the community. In September 2003 a Catholic Mission was officially established in Loganville, GA under the Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago with Rev. Fr. Joseph Mullakkara MSFS as its director. In October 2003 a meeting of the organization named the mission after the first woman saint of India, St. Alphonsa (then Blessed Alphonsa). At that meeting several committees were formed in order to streamline the process of building a church. Now that land was acquired and the Mission was named, attention was focused on the appointment of a full time director to facilitate the building process. In July 2004 Rev. Fr. Joseph Kuzhuppil MSFS was appointed full time director of the Mission.
The tiny house on the property was woefully inadequate to accommodate the large number of parishioners attending mass on Sundays. So funds were raised again for the construction of a large enough building to accommodate the ever-growing community. Mar Jacob Angadiath, Bishop of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago laid the corner stone of the new church building in July 2004. The same year a building committee was formed to plan and execute the construction of the new church. Mathew Simon Vazhakalayil, Mathew Jacob Thottumarickal, Mathew Varghese Vellaringat, Joe Koovakkada, Thomas George Kizhakethalakal, Jose Kannukkaden, Jose Athimattam, Thomas Cawanan, Thomas Sebastian, Philip Illikkatil and Abraham Augusthy were nominated to the committee. Jose Kannukkaden, with his engineering background, led the building committee and Abraham Augusthy took the leadership of the Finance Committee.
In 2005 Rev. Fr. Kurian Karickal, MSFS succeeded director. He brought a unique leadership style that injected a fresh dynamic spirit into the whole Mission. He was a great community organizer, very popular with everybody. He persuaded all to contribute whatever way they could, whether it was in the form of prayer, financial support, or talent. Several self-less leaders came up to support his hands reminiscing Aaron and Hur in the book of Exodus 17:11-12,” As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight. Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they took a rock and put it under him and he sat on it. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady until sunset.”
The land development and construction of the approximately 7500 sq. ft. church building was started with the ground breaking ceremony in May 2005. The Building Committee and the Finance Committee members worked zealously day and night under the leadership of Fr. Karickal and Jose Kannukadan who completed the construction in October 2006. The formal blessing of the new church building was performed by Mar Jacob Angadiath on 17th December, 2006. This was perhaps the most memorable day in the short history of our parish.
The Knanaya Catholic community in Atlanta was an integral part of this parish. Their contribution in financial and human resources is unforgettable in the history of St. Alphonsa parish. In 2007 about 70 Knanaya families came together and established their own Knanaya Holy Family Catholic Church a short distance away from their mother church on Rosebud Road.
A new chapter began with the appointment of Fr. Johny Puthiaparambil’s appointment in December 2007. He served the parish until December 2012. He carried the Alphonsa community in its journey of continued progress. During his time the parish passed several important milestones. In 2010 the parish purchased six acres of the adjoining property with a building that is currently being utilized as the catechism school and rectory. The 12 acres of land enabled the parish to build several amenities like a basketball court, a volleyball court, a children’s play area, a soccer court and adequate number of parking spots needed for an ever-growing community. And, above all, it laid the groundwork for the currently contemplated church building.
With utmost humility we submit that the year 2012 was a year that placed St. Alphonsa as a significant parish on the map of the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago. From July 26 – 29 of that year, St. Alphonsa Parish hosted the 6th Syro-Malabar Diocesan Convention at the Georgia International Convention Center. It gave a paradigm of cooperation that is worthy of emulation. Some 600 families from across the US and Canada participated in the four day convention. Separate programs were held for adults and youth with speakers from the US and India. The youth program was lauded to be exceptionally fruitful with establishing a wide network that was intended to last for a very long time. The question raised by the convention was simple: Why did the Lord bring so many of us to this great land of America? Is it just to make a lot of money and live a comfortable life for ourselves? Certainly not. In God’s great plan, we have a mission here, namely, to evangelize and perhaps re-evangelize this nation.
On December 17, 2012 the current vicar of the parish, Rev. Fr. Mathew Elayadathamadam MSFS was appointed to lead the flock. He is a man of prayer and he works and prays very hard to realize his vision of a praying community. The thrust of his teaching is that every member of the parish put Jesus first in their lives. With this goal in mind, he actively engages the youth of the parish encouraging them to be an integral part of every aspect of the life of the parish. At the moment he is single-mindedly engaged in a gigantic effort to build a facility that will include a larger church and classrooms for CCD program.
There are more than 300 families registered with some 1400 individual members in the parish now. Faith formation through religious education has been the mainstay of the parish from the beginning. There are more than 200 children registered for CCD program with 50 plus voluntary teachers. Today St. Alphonsa is a fully operational parish with numerous activities. Mass is celebrated every day of the week. Sunday masses are attended by an overflowing crowd. Faithful from all over Georgia and the neighboring states come to participate in the annual retreats and the feasts of St. Thomas and St. Alphonsa. St. Alphonsa is the only parish in the entire Syro-Malabar Church with an active Chapter of the Knights of Columbus. This parish has become such an important centre of the Syro-Malabar Catholics in the South-east that it was elevated to a Forane Church in 2014.
The pastor is assisted by a Parish Council of 25 members in the day-to-day administration of the parish. Besides there are many committees and subcommittees that take care of the various aspects of the parish life. The uniqueness of it all is that all work is done by dedicated parent and youth volunteers.
St. Alphonsa is a continually growing community. This year alone more than a dozen families have joined the parish. Because there is no adequate space to hold religious education classes and other youth activities, Fr. Mathew Elayadathamadam has been relentlessly working to raise funds for a new church. With God’s grace this ambitious project is likely to find its fruition in the next three years.