Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church was established in August 1959. Father Michael Manning, a native of Ireland, was our first Pastor. He previously was assigned to parishes in Savannah, Thomasville and Gainesville. Father Manning spearheaded the construction of our first parish building.
Saints Peter and Paul received a construction permit from Dekalb County on April 25, 1960 and began construction within one week.
Before the parish buildings were completed on Tilson Road, Mass was held at two other locations. Our parish’s first Mass was held in the chapel of what was then known as the Horis Ward Funeral Home (today, the site of Lincoln Funeral Home) on Candler Road. Later, services were held at Gordon High School (now McNair Middle School) on Tilson Road.
The first Mass held at Saints Peter and Paul was Sunday, December 4, 1960. The formal dedication of our Church was held on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul on January 25, 1961, and the first Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Atlanta, Most Reverend Francis E. Hyland, presided at the dedication.
Construction continued, and in the fall of 1962, Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School opened for classes. The first principal of the school was Mother Edmunda, a Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM). Initially, four IHM Sisters lived in the new convent that opened at the same time as the school. The Ladies Auxiliary (now, the Women’s Council) organized the school’s first library room. By the fall of 1966, there were six Sisters teaching at the school, and eleven classrooms plus a formal library were added to the school.
In space originally envisioned as the school’s gymnasium, the parishioners of Saints Peter and Paul continued to hold Mass and other services. During different points in the parish’s first seven years, several Pastoral staff members joined Father Manning, including Rev. Eusebius Beltran, Rev. Dennis Durea, Rev. Joseph Beltran and Rev. Edward O’Connor.
In 1967, Father Joseph F. Ware was appointed Pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. A native of Savannah, Father Ware had been assistant Pastor at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Decatur for five years. Father Michael P. Hogan, a native of Ireland, who served as Parochial Vicar, joined Father Ware at Saints Peter and Paul. By 1968, the school’s faculty included six IHM Sisters and six lay teachers, plus a kindergarten teacher. Sister Maria Laetitia was the principal of the school. During Father Ware’s tenure, the Pastoral staff included Rev. Michael Woods, Rev. Paul Reynolds, Rev. John Lawrence, Rev. Michael Redden and Rev. Paul Berny. At the time, the parish supported two mission churches – St. Pius X Chapel near Conyers and St. Augustine’s Chapel in Covington.
In 1972, Father Henry Gracz became the Pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. He restructured the church layout so that the altar was situated in a central area of the worship space. Father Gracz encouraged the parish to become more involved in community affairs, and he hired a full-time neighborhood outreach coordinator, Larry French. Father Gracz also recognized the importance of women in ministry and appointed women to the Pastoral staff. Sister Jean Booms and Sister Mary Zoghby headed the Parish’s school of religion and youth ministry. During Father Gracz’ nine years as Pastor, the Pastoral staff included Sister Lynn Nault, Sister Betty Leon, Miss Bette Ekeye, Rev. John Kelly, Rev. Pat Bishop, Mrs. Delores Waters, Rev. Steve Churchwell, Rev. John Henley, Rev. Anthony Green, Mr. Dan Elder and Rev. Ignatius Ndibalema.
At the school, Sister Miriam Kathleen was appointed Principal in 1974. Sister Ursula Marie Hughes came on board as Principal in 1975. And Sister Mary Owen Mulhearn was appointed Principal in 1979.
Father Raymond Horan became Pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in 1981. Father Ray was well known for the inspiring and humorous nature of his homilies. Many also remember his beloved dog, Dolly and for the vintage auto he housed in the garage on the parish grounds. During his six years of leadership, Associate Pastors Rev. Patrick Arnold, Rev. Ignatius Ndibalema and Rev. Bruce Wilkerson joined him. During the time, the Parish developed a covenant relationship with Saint Pius X Parish in Kingston, Jamaica. Upon Father Ray’s departure from the parish, Father Wilkerson served as Administrator for a short period of time.
In 1987, Father Richard P. Wise began what would become a 15-year term as Pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. Father Wise worked on Candler Road Redevelopment, the South Dekalb Business Incubator and many other civic projects. Father Wise remodeled the interior of the church to a more traditional design, which increased the seating capacity for the growing congregation. The Haitian Community began to worship at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in the mid- 1990’s. Many seminarians from various countries worked at our parish, and some are now priest for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
By the late – 1990’s , the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, could assign very few nuns to our parish school. Sister Mary Jane McDonnell, Principal and two of her colleagues, Sister Mary King and Sister Jeanne Baker, represented the final IHM presence at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church during the 1998-99 school year.
In 2000, Mrs. Queen Grady, the first lay Principal of our school, successfully helped make the transition from over 35 years of IHM leadership. Within just a few years, our parish school was regionalized into what is now St. Peter Claver Regional Catholic School.
In 2002, Father Kevin Peek became Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church Pastor. Father Peek’s assignment was brief (2002 – 04), but his youthful and reverent approach to worship is remembered well. He is responsible for completely remodeling the altar area of the church and installing a beautiful new altar and tabernacle. Father Peek also orchestrated the move of the Parish Office from the house on Collier Drive to the larger building that was formerly the rectory (and years before that, the convent). The former office was transformed into the rectory.
Father John Murphy succeeded Father Peek in 2004, and while his tenure as Pastor at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church was short, he continued the remodeling and updating of the church facilities. Father Murphy is responsible for the addition of the Cry Room in the rear of the church sanctuary. More importantly, Father Murphy’s influence on our parish leaves memories of his caring and loving approach to our parish community.
In 2005, Father Eric Hill arrived at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. Prompted by a growing congregation, several projects were assigned and completed including landscaping, a new sound system, a new organ and new security system.
Under Father Eric’s leadership, Capital Campaign was initiated. The Campaign grew out of the recognition that the Parish’s congregation needs a much larger worship space. The campaign – named “United in Prayer, Building on Faith” . The Campaign kicked off in February 2009.
In January 2011, Father Kevin Hargaden was assigned Pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, and while his tenure as Pastor was short, he continued the Capital Campaign.
In 2011, Father Bryan Small was assigned Pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. Father Bryan has lead the parish in the ground breaking ceremonies in early 2012.