Welcome to the History Page!
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
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
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
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.
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
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 fathers 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 bachelors 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
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. Lukes in Raleigh. He was drawn to the area because his late parents had
retired in Pinehurst where he still maintains his parents home.
After the year at St. Lukes, he returned to the seminary to complete his studies
and was ordained in the Raleigh diocese in 1998. Fr. Macs 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. Patricks several years ago. "I really
liked Our Lady of Lourdes, but Im happy to be here at St. Patricks," Fr.
Mac commented as he moved boxes from his car to his new office. "I hope to broaden my
ministry skills while Im 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
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
hasnt 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 didnt particularly like. Apparently, preferring the middle name
MacLaughlin, she called her son (Fr. Macs father) Mac. When Fr. Mac was born he
became "Little Mac" and then just Mac. Ive 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:
Patrick - Ascension Research Center: Complete story including St.Patrick's
Autobiographical Confession, "Confesso." The background music is a cool
Patrick - Catholic Online Saints: A short, concise biography of Saint
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