north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 
 

 
 
 

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     John England, Bishop of Charleston, directed the Roman Catholic church in the Carolinas and Georgia for much of the antebellum period. The prelate arrived from Ireland in January 1820 at the age of thirty-three to take possession of his diocese. Owing in no small measure to his energy and steadfastness, the church took hold in North Carolina. On his first visit to the state in 1821, Bishop England found fewer than 150 adult Catholics and no organized churches. Small enclaves of Catholics in larger towns met in private homes and church buildings of other faiths and were served on occasion by itinerant priests.

     As the 1820s wore on, that situation began to change as two Roman Catholic churches were organized. The first to be erected was St. John the Evangelist in Washington, built in 1823. Fayetteville can claim two distinctions, the first statewide convention of Catholics and the first consecration of a Catholic church in North Carolina.

      In 1829, in Fayetteville, Bishop England, who had organized the local parish five years earlier, presided over the first convention of Catholics in the state. The Constitution of the Diocese of Charleston provided for the calling of conventions organized bicamerally, with a house of laity elected from local church communities and a house of clergy. In North Carolina, two such conventions were held, both in Fayetteville, in 1829 and 1831. In time these were replaced with general conventions of the diocese held in Charleston.

     On March 17, 1829 (appropriately Saint Patrick’s Day), Bishop England consecrated Saint Patrick Church in Fayetteville. The following week he traveled to Washington, North Carolina to dedicate St. John’s. The original church building in Fayetteville, constructed on a lot donated by merchant and parishioner John Kelly, burned in the town fire of 1831. (That original lot is now the site of the First Presbyterian Church). Church members built a new frame chapel on Old Street in 1835 and later moved to Arsenal Avenue. In recent years the church was relocated to Village Drive in southern Fayetteville.

     Subsequently, Catholic churches were built in Raleigh (1835), New Bern (1840), Wilmington (1847), Charlotte (1851), and Edenton (1858). The state remained part of the Diocese of Charleston until 1868 when a new vicariate was created and James Gibbons was installed as the first vicar apostolic.


References:
Stephen Worsley, “Catholicism in Antebellum North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review (October 1983): 399-430
Ignatius Reynolds, ed., Works of the Right Rev. John England (1849), IV, 376-82
J. J. O’Connell, Catholicity in the Carolinas and Georgia (1879; 1964 reprint)
United States Catholic Miscellany (Charleston), April 11, 1829
John A. Oates, The Story of Fayetteville and the Upper Cape Fear (1950)
Cumberland County Deeds, North Carolina State Archives
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Bishop John England

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