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An Anecdotal History of North Carolina's Oldest Catholic Church
by Van H. Stryk

St. Patrick's Church, the oldest church in the Diocese, did indeed have Irish roots--from its first bishop and priests to its first trustees.

Bishop John England arrived from Ireland in 1820 to administer the diocese of Charleston which then covered both Carolinas and Georgia.  In 1821, the 33 year old prelate made his first visit to Fayetteville where he met another Irishman named John Kelly.  Kelly and other Irish émigrés formed the nucleus of the Catholic Church in Fayetteville.  Bishop England urged them to meet for prayers and instruction regularly.

By 1828, Kelly, well on his way to becoming a philanthropic Cape Fear plantation owner, was able to deed land near historic Liberty Point to Bishop England, and the first St. Patrick's was on its way to becoming a reality.

Before dedicating the tiny new church on March 17, 1829, Bishop England deeded back the land to St. Patrick's first trustees:  John Kelly, Edward Sweeney, Lawrence Fitzharris, Patrick Dailey, and the Dillon Jordans, father and son.

Although Bishop England dedicated the church in 1829, it was many years before St. Patrick's had a permanent pastor.  Sunday mass was not a weekly celebration.

Traveling missionaries stopped in Fayetteville every three months or so to say Mass and hear confessions.  In the meanwhile, lay leaders, including Kelly, conducted services.

When the little two year old chapel was destroyed in the Great Fire of May 27, 1831, Kelly, always zealous, generous, and active, offered his home as a temporary chapel.  Not only did he then deed additional land for a second church, he also sawed lumber at his mill for the new church and hauled it to the new site on Old Street.

Kelly was an active and aggressive supporter of St. Patrick's until his death in 1842.  A death request that his body be buried, soaked in alcohol, was honored but enroute to the cemetery, the lead coffin and rough terrain competed with each other and, the road won.  The coffin split open, and all the alcohol leaked out.   Repeated legend says that he did not lie in peace.  The story goes that his lead coffin was dug up by the Confederates during the Civil War to make bullets to use against the Yankees, coming up the Cape Fear River.

BY July, 1831, two months after the devastating fire, a plea to help rebuild the young church in Fayetteville was sent forth.  Taking on what may have been the first "Bishop's Annual Appeal" was Fayetteville's first traveling missionary and another Irishman, father John Maginnis.  By October, he had raised enough money to begin building.

In late 1833, St. Patrick's still shared a priest with Raleigh and Wilmington.  Sunday Mass was celebrated every other month.  By 1837, two priests had been assigned to Fayetteville on an occasional basis.  In 1839, the congregation numbered "40 to 50 old and young."

In 1859, Father Thomas Murphy wrote to the bishop supporting the idea of a full time priest in Fayetteville because of an anticipated rapid increase in Catholic population due to the "Arsenal, the coal fields, and the railroad."

In 1867, the church was assigned to a young priest, Father James Gibbons, destined to become a noted cardinal and author.  Father Gibbons traveled from Fayetteville by rail, stage, and steamboat.  During these trips over his mission territory and whenever he had a chance, he wrote in his journal.  The result was "The Faith of Our Fathers," an explanation of the Catholic religion which was translated into 12 languages.  He became bishop in 1868 and served as first vicar of North Carolina until 1877.

Another noted priest also served at St. Patrick's.  Father Thomas Price, one of the founders of the Maryknoll missions, was assigned in 1896 and again in 1900.  In an entry in the church registry for October 5, 1900, he noted that he had performed a Nuptial Mass in St. Patrick's, the first in 69 years.  Before then, the previous Nuptial Mass entry was dated October, 1841.

The little church at Liberty Point served the little Fayetteville congregation for more than 100 years until it moved to its third location at the corner of Arsenal and Broadfoot Avenues.

Dedicated on March 17, 1938, now home to Archangel Michael Maronite Church, had a seating capacity of 200.  In 1936, the year of the move from the church at Liberty Point, the congregation numbered 120 including 50 males and 70 females.   According to the U.S. Census in 1936, the church was valued at $4500 and total expenditures including salaries, repairs, charities were $1918.

In 1963, St. Patrick's congregation moved to its present location on Village Drive.  The congregation in 1999 is made up of more than 4500+   people, 30 full and part-time employees, and an annual budget of more than $1 million.

Many records of the early church were destroyed in the fire of 1831.  Records after 1831 were transcribed into a new registry in 1872.   Although the spine of the fragile 1872 book is titled "Records: Marriages, Deaths, Births," it contains some fascinating facts, comments, statistics, and conclusions.

Transcribed from April 7, 1836, Father Peter Whelan wrote, "At the request of the Rev. J. McGuinnes I register the following baptisms, being those that could be called from memory and family records, the church register being burned in the Great Fire in this town in the year 1831...(The names, however, were not transcribed.)

On August 18, 1842, Father Thomas Murphy recorded the funeral of John Kelly, the generous founding father, with this entry, "I performed the funeral obsequies over the body of Mr. John Kelly, a native of the country of Dublin, Ireland, and resident of this town for the past 55 years..."Father Murphy does not mention the burdensome and leaky funeral procession over the rough road with the lead coffin.

On November 2, 1901, Father P.F. Marion baptized and gave Eucharist to a 20 year old youth about an hour before the young man was hung.  The pastor commented, .."he was one of the bravest men that ever died on the scaffold.  The rope broke first and he came back and proclaimed that he was innocent.  I am convinced that the man was innocent without a doubt."

On March 21, 1910, Father William B. Hannon conducted a Funeral Mass for Aunt Annie Brown, a liberated slave.  Originally a slave on John Kelly's plantation, she died at age 107.

In 1933, an aspiring Fayetteville actor was buried from St. Patrick's after he died in Los Angeles from pneumonia.  "The popular young man was about to embark on a career in the movies when death overtook him.  Due to his tremendous bulk (475 pounds) he was looked upon as having a very fine change of succeeding in his chosen profession," the priest wrote.

In 1941-42, 265 marriages were performed at St. Patrick's.  Of these, 101 were between Catholics and non-Catholics, and 112 were performed with dispensations from the required three-ban announcement between Catholics.  Most of the newlyweds were from out of town emphasizing Ft. Bragg's impact on the city.

The earliest record of Confirmation is dated May 26, 1851.   The first Holy Communion class recorded was registered in 1922.

Official data was not the only thing entered in this old registry.   On September 25, 1925, Father George Watkins inventoried the rectory furniture as he took on his new assignment as pastor.  The items he recorded included "a small black settee, a chair (wired together), a kitchen coal range, about 10 religious pictures, and a wood safe."

The old register, brittle and delicate as it may be, kindles curiosity.  After the last official entry of a Confirmation class in 1947, new record books were used.  There are separate records now for baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and funerals, and they are just that....records.

Meet Our Clergy:

Father John R. Kelley: 

Father Jack came to St. Patrick from St. Francis de Sales in Lumberton.  He became a diocesan priest following his retirement as an Army chaplain in 1995.  Since his retirement, he has served as an advisor to chaplains deploying   to Bosnia, as pastor in Lumberton, parochial vicar at Good Shephard in Hope Mills, and administrator of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Newton Grove.

He hopes his latest assignment will be a long term one.  His reaction to being named pastor of one of the largest churches in the diocese?   "I'm thrilled and honored to be here.  I feel as if I've been pole vaulted," he remarked.

As a military chaplain, he was assigned to Ft. Bragg three times, once in 1977, again in 1984, and the last time in 1994.  These were interspersed with tours from New York, Korea, Georgia, South Carolina, Panama, and Germany.

A native of New York City, Fr. Jack was ordained in the New York Archdiocese in 1968.  From 1968 until 1973, he was an associate pastor in the Bronx and a National Guard chaplain.  He entered active military duty in 1973 at Ft. Benning, GA.

Fr. Jack studied at Yale University Divinity School where he received his Masters Degrees in Sacred Theology and Pastorial Counseling.  During his military career, Fr. Jack received the Army Meritorious Service Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters.

A Welcome Mat for Fr. Mac

How does an analytical chemist from Philadelphia named Frank Raffo become a parochial vicar named Fr. Mac in Fayetteville?

That road has had many turns along the way in the last couple of decades. It started in Baltimore where Fr. Mac spent the first three years of his life. After that it was move after move. He was educated in 13 different grade schools across the country (but never in the South). His father’s job as a civil engineer for DuPont provided a varied elementary school background. By the time Fr. Mac reached ninth  grade, however, he was able to spend his entire four years in high school in Seattle.

After high school and with an interest in biology, he enrolled and was graduated from the University of Santa Clara (CA) with a bachelor’s degree in general science. His eye was on a teaching career. After spending five years teaching high school science, Fr. Mac looked at other avenues on his professional journey, namely analytical chemistry. He enrolled in Drexel University in Philadelphia where he earned a masters degree in that field.

After graduation he put his education to work at National Environmental Testing, a private British company with a facility in the Philadelphia area. He was employed there for over 12 years where he eventually became the laboratory quality manager. Having toyed with a priestly vocation over the years, Fr. Mac was seriously steered onto that course by an enthusiastic associate pastor at his parish in Philadelphia. The priest actively recruited candidates for the priesthood. He found one in Fr. Mac.

In 1993, supported by the Camden (NJ) diocese, Fr. Mac enrolled at Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, MA, a seminary designed for those with delayed vocations. Beginning a pastoral year in 1995, the seminarian moved to the Raleigh diocese and spent a year at St. Luke’s in Raleigh. He was drawn to the area because his late parents had retired in Pinehurst where he still maintains his parent’s home.

After the year at St. Luke’s, he returned to the seminary to complete his studies and was ordained in the Raleigh diocese in 1998. Fr. Mac’s first assignment as parochial vicar was at Our Lady of Lourdes in Raleigh. His pastor was Fr. Jeffrey Ingham who had been an associate pastor at St. Patrick’s several years ago. "I really liked Our Lady of Lourdes, but I’m happy to be here at St. Patrick’s," Fr. Mac commented as he moved boxes from his car to his new office. "I hope to broaden my ministry skills while I’m here and I hope to continue improving my Spanish." Fr. Mac has studied Spanish for about three years and has been involved in special in-depth Hispanic studies.

When not expanding his priestly role and carrying out his responsibilities, Fr. Mac likes tennis, general interest reading and athletics. He admits, however, that he hasn’t had too much time to improve his athletic prowess.

Back to the question, "How did a Frank Raffo of Philadelphia become a Fr. Mac in Fayetteville?" Fr. Mac explained that Frank was a family name that his paternal grandmother didn’t particularly like. Apparently, preferring the middle name MacLaughlin, she called her son (Fr. Mac’s father) Mac. When Fr. Mac was born he became "Little Mac" and then just Mac. I’ve always been called Mac, sometimes maybe Frank, but I was never a "Big Mac," he insisted.

Welcome to the parish, just plain Fr. Mac.

The Story of Saint Patrick

There are numerous sites with Saint Patrick's Story.  There are two sites listed below:

Saint Patrick - Ascension Research Center: Complete story including St.Patrick's Autobiographical Confession, "Confesso."  The background music is a cool Irish Lullaby.

Saint Patrick - Catholic Online Saints: A short, concise biography of  Saint Patrick.  

After visiting those sites, please use the BACK button on your web browser to return to St. Patrick's Church Web Site.

 

Page Last Updated:  07/31/00