When Marianne Christinziano moved to Atlantic City from predominantly white Glendora, Camden County, in 1998, she experienced more than a little culture shock.
While the change was initially jarring, when Christinziano, a Catholic, joined the multicultural Holy Spirit Church shortly after her move, she quickly grew to appreciate it. In 1999, after Holy Spirit closed, she moved to the even more diverse St. Monica's Church, which she said has made the past 14 years a pleasure.
"I just felt very welcome," Christinziano said. "That's the best way to explain it. I enjoy the Creole Mass, too. I think it allows Americans ... that do not travel the opportunity to see things that they would never see."
St. Monica's recogznized its 75th anniversary as a parish the week of Aug. 19 with a celebration of the many cultures that make up its congregation. The week culminated with the homecoming celebration, a multicultural Mass and feast, Aug. 25.
The spiritual body that would become St. Monica's parish was created in the early 1900s by an African-American woman from Ohio named Emma Lewis as a place where the city's black Catholics, who were excluded from other churches in the area, could unite. In 1938, it became a parish under the direction of the Rev. Leo Hudzik and has opened its doors to believers of all cultures in the 75 years since.
Each Sunday, the church offers Mass in English, Spanish and Creole, and it serves as a spiritual home for the city's African and Filipino cultures. The church is led by the Rev. Yvans Jazon, who is a native Haitian.
Elva McGee, a lifelong Catholic and a member of the church for more than 50 years, said she has enjoyed becoming acquainted with the non-English communities of the church.
"You learn a lot of their different ways, and some of them are really quite interesting," McGee said. "Father, being Haitian, too, he tells us a lot of things that are very different from our culture, from what we practice, and it's interesting."
The church held a novena - a series of nine public prayers - over the nine days that led up to its homecoming celebration.
Each night, a different one of the churches' communities led the group in prayer, and each community entered the church for the homecoming bearing its native flag.
Parish Coordinator Blanche Toole is a relatively recent addition to the congregation, having moved to Atlantic City from Philadelphia in 2005. During her eight years, she has come to appreciate the church's long and unique history, much the same as its members have for 75 years now.
"The people that belong to this church are proud to belong here, and that makes the homecoming so special to them," Toole said.
Contact Braden Campbell: