Among the most important Roman Catholic leaders in North Carolina history, James Gibbons (1834-1921) was the first Vicar-Apostolic in the state. Born in Baltimore, Gibbons returned to his parents’ native Ireland for his education. He served as a chaplain in Baltimore during the Civil War. At age thirty-four, he became a bishop and was assigned to serve the Diocese of North Carolina. He arrived in Wilmington in October 1868 and took up residence in the rectory of St. Thomas Church on Dock Street between Second and Third Streets.
Original Date Cast:
While in Wilmington Gibbons worked on his best-known work, Faith of Our Fathers, published in 1876. Gibbons brought to the city the Sisters of Mercy, who opened a school for girls. He traveled regularly during his years in North Carolina. The number of church members was so small at that time that it was said that he knew all adult Catholics in North Carolina personally and could call them by name.
In 1872 Gibbons left Wilmington to become Bishop of Richmond and in 1877 became archbishop in Baltimore. In 1886 he was made a cardinal. He is considered the founder of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., which lay within his jurisdiction. He is buried in Baltimore.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 294—sketch by William S. Powell
James Gibbons, Faith of Our Fathers (1876)
James Gibbons, A Retrospect of Fifty Years (1916)
St. Thomas, the Apostle Catholic Church, 1847-1947, copy in Research Branch files, North Carolina Office of Archives and History