OLD FOURTH WARD — There's a saying that Sundays remain the most segregated day of the week in Atlanta.
But one house of worship, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, seems to have bucked that trend, boasting a multi-racial and multi-generational congregation that draws parishioners from across metro Atlanta.
It's a bit of a shift from the church's original mission since its founding almost 101 years ago.
As the first church for black Catholics in Atlanta, it was founded at a time when social customs and norms of the day barred them from attending Mass at white churches.
So the Rev. Ignatius Lissner a member of the the Society of African Missions, sought to build a church and enlisted the help of Jack J. Spalding, the prominent attorney who founded what is now King & Spalding, and Katharine Drexel, the Philadelphia heiress who became a nun and spent her fortune on building schools and churches for blacks and Native Americans.
The church was officially opened in November of 1912.
Founded out of that sense of social justice, Lourdes, has continued to carry that banner, creating a number of ministries focused on the Old Fourth Ward ranging from tutoring children at nearby Hope-Hill Elementary School to fighting child sex trafficking to helping those who are HIV-positive through its Simon's Call initiative.
And while some Catholic churches have seen attendance rolls drop, Lourdes has flourished. So much so, the church embarked on a major fundraising campaign and purchased the adjacent property as part of a long-term planned expansion.
"We focus on welcome and hospitality," the Rev. Jeffery Ott, Lourdes' pastor, told East Atlanta Patch. The church's custom is to welcome first-time visitors with a loaf of bread.
That act of welcome has moved some to tears, but in addition to that, Ott said the tradition of social justice and the many ministries there also is attractive to to folks looking to contribute to their community.
"With all of these ministries, we seem to have a cross section of people; we tend to welcome them and try to find a way to fit people in."
Lourdes' place in Old Fourth Ward and its impact on the community is the subject of a current exhibit at the Auburn Avenue Research Library: Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and School: A Journey of Faith, Spirituality and Social Justice, which is being shown through Feb. 24.
Patch recently sat with Ott discuss Lourdes' first 100 years and its role in the community. Please click on the video to hear excerpts from that interview.